A Somali refugee is a “superstar” in mayor’s VISTA contingent.
The jobs don’t pay much, just poverty-level living stipends, in fact, but Willy Tully isn’t hurting for applicants, and St. Paul is a winner in the end.
Tully oversees the city’s AmeriCorps VISTA program, and this year he’s deployed 21 service volunteers across the city to assist organizations dedicated in some way to helping to educate young people.
To fill the cohort, Tully drew from a list of more than 200 applicants, many fresh out of college. But on it, too, was Dahir Nur, a 43-year-old father of six. And when it comes to passion, Tully says, “he’s clearly got it going on.”
On Tuesday, Mayor Chris Coleman will lead the city in the first-ever “Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service,” a national event highlighting the impact of AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and other national service programs on local communities.
The 21 people hired out of the mayor’s office are a small fraction of more than 1,000 AmeriCorps and Senior Corps volunteers working in St. Paul. Coleman plans to visit volunteers at three community sites before closing out the day’s activities with a “celebration of service” at Summit Brewing Co. Next month, he will have lunch with Nur, who said of the mayor’s support: “It’s amazing. Isn’t it cool?”
Nur, a former Somali refugee who recently became a U.S. citizen, is one of three VISTA participants assigned to the St. Paul Public Schools to work on a special project involving the district and its community partners.
The district has created a certification process to define what a partner is and does for the schools, Jackie Turner, the district’s chief engagement officer, told school board members recently. For Nur and his two VISTA colleagues, Claire Dunlap and Tsua Xiong, that means interviewing the leaders of nonprofit groups to nail down what services are being provided and at what time of the day. Nur has also taken the extra step of recruiting Somali-led organizations into the fold.
“He’s a superstar,” Tully said. “He’s been here eight months and I believe he knows more people than I do.”
Nur came to St. Paul last summer after leading a Green Bay, Wis., group, N.E.W. Immigrant Support Center, which offered translation services and workshops on Somali culture. A University of Washington graduate, Nur also has done volunteer work in refugee camps in Kenya, he said.
While in Kenya, he realized that “children here also are in need,” he said. Since then, Nur has decided that working in the education arena is the best way to accomplish his goals, and he hopes his service will lead to a paying job with public schools.
“I think he really elevates our group,” Tully said. “He sets the tone for professional conduct and what it means to be committed to community.”
Tully, who is nearing his third year as St. Paul’s VISTA program manager, brings enthusiasm to his work, too. He is looking forward to Tuesday’s activities, which he said are going to be “crazy,” and is excited about next year, too, when the city plans to increase the size of its VISTA cohort to 23 members.
The competition, one can assume, is going to be fierce. Information about next year’s program is expected to be available soon on the city’s website.