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Relate, Revitalize, Rebuild: Reflections of an AmeriCorps Serving on the East Side

After four months of serving with Rebuilding Together Twin Cities and two months located at our East Side office, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with dozens of East Siders and start learning about the rich histories and identities that make up Saint Paul’s East Side.  The neighborhood’s built environment is key to its history and Rebuilding Together’s role on the East Side will further support the area’s revitalization.

One doesn’t need to look far to understand the significance of the East Side’s buildings to its strong cultural history. Located in the old Swedish Bank Building, Rebuilding Together uses office space from the East Side Neighborhood Development Company (ESNDC). As described by Saint Paul Historical, the Swedish Bank Building, constructed in 1923, “was the financial backbone of the early Scandinavians, Germans, Italians, and other settlers who established their cultural life in the neighborhood.” After being abandoned for many years, ESNDC purchased the building in 1999 and created a plan for it in 2005, intending for it to “mirror its historic role in the neighborhood as a trusted institution where residents could go for services to build assets for their families.”

After spending only one full day in this building, the fulfillment of their mission became evident. Clients will often walk in unannounced to ask for help; and when calling potential volunteers on the East Side, it’s not surprising for someone to offer to walk over and meet with me in the familiar space. East Siders work hard and look out for each other in the process. This mentality of working for your own makes sense considering the area’s strong immigrant labor history; however, it also provides unique opportunities when intending to serve. Developing relationships and building trust is key.

ESNDC’s upstairs neighbor, Merrick Community Services, has also been a key partner in welcoming Rebuilding Together to the East Side. When attending their Holiday Party in December, I connected not only with the individuals who run established senior and youth programming on the East Side, but also met former Executive Directors and a police officer who were eager to learn about Rebuilding Together and share their stories of the East Side. As a Minnesota transplant, I still have a lot to learn about Saint Paul, but the people I’ve met along the way have made it clear that Rebuilding Together can support and be supported by this community. I’m excited to be involved in this part of the expansion process and look forward to serving the East Side community for the next seven months.

Author Molly Sir is a New Sector Alliance AmeriCorps Fellow.