Impact Maker Interview 3 – Amber N.
We have a lot to learn from others that are trying to build their communities and their woodpiles. Today’s interview picks another person we’ve identified as giving back to their community in some way and tries to learn from them.
If you know someone you would like to nominate for an interview, please drop me a note with a brief story about why that person should be featured.
My questions are in bold, their responses are in black.
Today’s Interview: Amber N.
Tell us about yourself, where you live, and your family.
I’m the youngest of three, born and raised in Bemidji, where I am now raising 16 year old twin stepsons with my husband Scott. We have a small house in Guthrie where I enjoy gardening and begrudgingly raise very mean bees. We have a busy, messy, noisy house and yard that we share with two dogs, two cats, and 16 chickens. I’m very proud of teaching my passion for kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and camping to the boys.
What makes your community special?
Bemidji is getting better every day. Having spent most of my life here, I sometimes catch myself taking it for granted, but then I’m pleasantly surprised by ways it’s evolving and always offering more. There are so many people here actively striving to make this a better community and their efforts are reflected in the plethora of cultural, educational, entertainment, supportive, and sporting events Bemidji hosts. It is very easy to find kindred spirits within our community. I’m not blind to the challenges still faced by many within our community, but the progress and support shown in the last several years makes me optimistic that our community is improving to the benefit of almost everyone here. The collaborations between organizations to ensure good things happen, is perhaps, what I’m most impressed by. I believe Bemidji collaborates really well.
What do you do to make your community better (volunteer, donate, etc.)?
Not nearly enough, but right now I feel a little overwhelmed by family responsibilities and a crummy health year. The near future looks very bright though.
Currently, I am on the Bemidji Area Arts Endowments board of directors. This is a wonderful organization that supports art in area schools, and local artists of all ages. As a board member, I solicit and review grant applications and help fundraise so that we can keep supporting artists.
I also loosely and neglectfully nurture a community of women through my Dinners With Amazing Women. Through this I have connected a diverse group of women over the past 8 years by giving them opportunities to come together and talk about themselves.
2019 will be my 5th year of volunteering with Fishing Has No Boundaries. When I mentioned community collaborations earlier, this is my favorite example. This event is organized by a committee, but requires at least 20 area fishermen and businesses to donate use of their boats for 2 days, 40+ volunteer captains and first mates, food is donated and served by several area businesses and associations such as the Lions, the Bemidji Fire Department, local Boy Scouts, and the Bemidji Jaycees.
I vote with my dollars and my time for local events and businesses that I want to encourage. I attend events that are organized by other change makers so that they know that I care and that I want to see more of this in our community. When there are community meals, such as the big Thanksgiving potluck at the Northwest Indian Community Development Center, I brought my family, a dish, and stayed to help clean up after. Our family attends local live music. We shop at local stores and farmers’ markets. We have a membership to the Headwaters Science Center. We participate in the Building Bridges series and the Women’s March.
How do you impact others with your work/vocation (or did you, if retired)?
This is a difficult question for me right now as I am currently transitioning.
If I had to put a title on what I’ve generally done to make money, I’d like to call it advocacy. I’ve been an advocate for quality local foods, for housekeepers at event centers, for people creating their own art and events, for under-supported adults and youth, and I advocate for women looking to be heard and seen.
Whatever I do, I need to feel as though I am making a positive impact and that my work is meaningful. The best way that I’ve found for creating positive impact is to listen to the needs of the people you’re working for. When I engage with an open mind and heart, listening hard, I impact lives positively and feel energized.
Currently, I’m happily honing my research and writing skills working behind the scenes for others as an independent consultant.
Tell us about how you build your family up for success?
As a wife and mom, I am my family’s number one cheerleader, chauffer, chef, and champion. My husband works in North Dakota 3 out of 4 weeks a month, so most of the household and day to day parenting stuff falls to me. I’m not a natural parent, but I am a natural coach and advocate and they all share important similarities.
It’ll be a good thing in the long run, but right now is an especially difficult time to be a young man, ergo, it’s also a challenging time to be raising young men. There are so many conflicting, but important messages that young men need to embrace in order to be decent and successful going forward. However, they’re getting mixed messages everywhere they turn. It’s been very hard on my boys’ sense of self-esteem and pride in their identity. In between well-intentioned lectures, character building chores, and so much structure, I try to make sure they’re getting access to exercise, diversity, community, culture, and fun. This means we go to a lot of events as a family on weekends. It means the world to me that my boys are embraced and looked after by so many in this community.
When I run the household well, my husband feels supported to enjoy and thrive in his very stressful career. Which pays the bills. Then he comes home and crams as many supportive spouse and dad stuff into his time home as possible. He’s amazing and makes me feel very appreciated.
Which area – your community, vocation or family – do you feel you are the best at, and why?
Well, I certainly love the most and try the hardest for my family, and I have to believe that will generate good overall. Though a large part of that job seems to include lots of worrying and feeling terrible at it every single day. Parenting is the most humbling thing I’ve ever done. It’s likely that coming into it with adolescents and being a primary caretaker as a step-parent has added to my stress, but I feel like many moms can relate to my experiences.
Community comes naturally and feels rewarding every moment. There is something so freeing about knowing that just trying is enough for most people. Of course, I always see ways that I could improve and do more, but without the significant pressure of potential failure. Presently community gets the least of me, even though I feel like I could be the best at it. Someday, once the boys are thriving on their own, community will get most of my attention.
What have the results of your efforts been? Feel free to share a story about a time you knew you made an impact.
Just as my Dinners With Amazing Women was born out of inspiration from existing organizations, I believe that they galvanized other women to create new groups and conversations that continue to enrich our community. I love seeing women who met at a Dinner years ago collaborating on new projects. It’s impossible to calculate how much of an impact I’ve had, but there have been many women who have thanked me for making an introduction that has changed their life. That feels incredible.
On the other hand, my work at Evergreen, in collaboration with everyone there, probably actually saved lives and futures. Youth who were homeless, got housing. Youth who probably wouldn’t have graduated without support, graduated. Youth got sober and became better parents to their babies because they had a little help and knew that someone believed in them. That kind of impact, can make everything else seem trivial.
Talk about the event, organization or activity you’ve been involved in that made the biggest impact. Why was it impactful, and how did you help?
As I mentioned above, working for Evergreen Youth and Family Services gave me a chance to literally participate in saving lives. My job was to manage a Youth at Work grant from DEED. What I did was listen and offer support in the areas youth needed, but might not get from anyone else. When there is so much need as there is in our community, I felt privileged to have the leeway to mentor and connect young people to a vast community of caring individuals so that youth could meet their goals. Again, there was an emphasis on collaboration. I couldn’t do my work without the work of YouthBuild, Bemidji Adult Education, Northwoods Battered Women’s Shelter, Planned Parenthood, Face It Together, Churches United, NWICDC, and the broad umbrella of Evergreen services, to name just the tip of the iceberg.
Who or what inspired you to give back of yourself?
My mom and dad valued generosity above any other characteristic. They were both helpers who encouraged me to be a helper as well. My health and my mind have allowed me to have the resources to get the privilege of giving back.
What has been the biggest obstacle for you personally in trying to be a community builder, and how did you or do you hope to overcome it?
Time and energy. Once I’ve survived parenting teens, I expect that the next stage of my life will allow me to devote more to community building. I’ve gotten over the imposter syndrome and the jitters, which slowed me down when I was younger. Now, I’m much more confident in what I have to offer and I have some really great ideas for how I’m going to help.
What legacy do you hope to leave?
I want to inspire my children and other young people to connect through volunteering and serving others. Especially when it isn’t their career. It’s essential to our personal and community’s well-being that everyone participate, but it can seem overwhelming at times. Hopefully I can accomplish this is by creating meaningful opportunities for people to help others in their spare time through connecting people with needs to the right people to help them and then encouraging everyone to pay it forward. Especially the receivers of past generosity who need to be empowered by learning healthy ways to give back. Even if right now, that just means being recognized for the important work they do every day, such as taking good care of themselves and their children.
What advice to you want to give someone trying to build their woodpile?
Don’t give up. Even if it seems like you can never do enough or like one area of your life suffers whenever you nurture another area. Keep at it. You’ll improve your skills over time and that confidence and generosity is contagious.
Any questions you would like to ask our Woodpile community?
How can I help you? Is there anyone I know who you’d like to be introduced to? Do you have any dream collaborations?
Be sure to leave your questions or comments for Amber below!