This National Service Spotlight submitted by Helen Bisioulis, AmeriCorps VISTA Leader
Melanie Bressler is an AmeriCorps VISTA working at the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque (CFGD) in Dubuque, Iowa. She is a graduate of University of Northern Iowa and received her degree in Leisure, Youth, & Human Services. While she attended college, she studied to receive her Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) certification. Originally from Dubuque, she moved back when she finished college because she realized how much she missed it and wanted to live there long-term. When she got back to Dubuque, she knew the opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA would be both a way to give back to the community that had helped her grow as a child, but also give her the professional experience at the Community Foundation that would help her grow as a young professional. Her interest in philanthropy and her love for Dubuque made choosing her AmeriCorps VISTA position an easy one.
Melanie grew up in a single parent household and for much of her childhood, lived with her grandparents with the assistance of social security and child support. She didn’t realize as a child that she was living in poverty or how hard it was on her grandparents, as many children would not see past anything but a loving and nurturing home. While as a child she felt that she wasn’t really missing out on much, she does frequently recall having a near empty fridge. “We ate a lot of hot dogs and ramen.” she reflects.
Her childhood shaped her into the person that she is today which has made her want to help others. “I’m sitting here today because of the adult role models that I had as a child. I had people and resources to help me get out of that. To me, it just makes sense to help others — to pay it forward. It baffles me that it’s not common sense to not help other people.”
At the Community Foundation, Melanie works hard on a variety of projects where she interacts with current donors or prospective donors. The biggest project that she’s been a part of so far is creating a survey for the Women’s Giving Circle. According to the Foundation’s website, the Women’s Giving Circle’s “Members share gifts of their time and intellect to study local needs and contribute annual financial gifts that continually build the WGC endowment fund.” The group was looking to make changes this year but wanted to ask their members first to help inform what changes the Foundation should consider. After looking at responses, the Foundation staff crafted ideas for solutions. Solution One: Create a membership guide to clear up confusion during the onboarding process. Solution Two: Develop a marketing campaign to clear up public misconceptions on what the Women’s Giving Circle does and who can become a member. Melanie is also quite proud of her work with donors from the local retail store, Theisen’s. She conducted site visits between the donors and the organizations they made donations to support. These site visits give donors a window into the impact that their donations are making on the communities that they love.
Currently, Melanie is working on planning a summit that the Community Foundation is putting on called “Welcome Home: Attracting and Engaging New and Returning Residents”. This summit aims to provide rural communities with tips and tools on how to attract and retain individuals in their communities, which is a huge push in the counties that the Foundation serves. Melanie says: “Any time you add population, it leads to a better economy and diversity which expands people’s minds. A small town will never prosper if they’re not being inclusive and offering amenities to stay, such as quality day care or young professional organizations.”
Melanie has been grateful for the professional experience that AmeriCorps VISTA has given her. She has particularly learned a lot about networking from one of Volunteer Iowa’s very own Commissioners, Anderson Sainci. Melanie met with Anderson a few months ago, along with a few other
AmeriCorps VISTAs. She’ll never forget the advice that he gave her to not only put herself in positions that will advance her career, but to be sincere while doing it.
When Melanie is not at work, she has a variety of things she likes to do in her free time. She likes working out, spending time with her grandparents, cooking, watching Netflix, reading, and writing letters to her other grandma in California. She also keeps a busy social life either hanging out with her friends or going to club meetings with the Jaycees or the Tri-T society. On the weekends, she works a lot at her second job as a server at Texas Roadhouse. It may sound like quite the busy life, but Melanie prefers it that way.
Melanie is more than halfway through her AmeriCorps VISTA year and when she wraps up in June, she hopes to secure a new position in the Dubuque community. This will allow her to not only be around her family, but to be around the community that she loves so dearly.