Winona Daily News Campus Connection
October 24, 2021
New to Minnesota, Addison Poffenberger is ready to face the wind chill factor this year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at MSC Southeast
After graduating from the University of Connecticut last spring, Addison Poffenberger decided to strike out on his own and try something different.
He packed up his car and took off cross country for a place he'd never been -- Winona, Minnesota. In August he began his role as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Minnesota State College Southeast, where he is helping the college address issues of student access to food, health care, and housing.
AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) member volunteers serve full time in non-profit organizations and public agencies for one-year terms. Through capacity building activities such as fundraising, grant writing, research, and volunteer recruitment, AmeriCorps members in the VISTA program gain experience and leadership skills.
Addison grew up in Milford, Connecticut, a coastal town with a New England atmosphere. He noted that Milford is about twice as big as Winona, and that on the East Coast, one city just connects to the next. "There's not a lot of open space out east. Winona is smaller, and it's more relaxed. In Connecticut, people move really quickly. Out here, people are more ready to chat."
He enjoyed life as a student at UConn, home of the famous women's and men's basketball teams ("They're still talking about 2014, when they won both NCAA championships"). He noted that the university campus was notoriously cold and windy in the winter, when the temperature dropped as low as 20 degrees above zero.
"I do like Minnesota so far, but I am concerned about the winters here," Addison admitted.
He graduated with a major in economics and a minor in history. While graduate or law school might seem like a natural next step, serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member is providing a "gap" year for Addison, who said he wasn't ready to make a final decision about what career to pursue.
"I wanted to take this as an opportunity to change it up. This is a year to find out new things about myself, explore new places, and find out what I want to do," Addison said. "I've never envisioned myself working on Wall Street. At this point, I don't want a job if I don't feel that what I am doing is like a net benefit to the world."
Helping launch monthly food drives in area stores
As a Basic Needs Outreach Specialist, Addison's role at the college is focused on organizational planning, locating resources, and connecting with community organizations.
For example, he has started a conversation with a local cab company to implement a coupon or voucher system so students could get cab rides to and from campus.
Addison has also initiated monthly local food drives for the benefit of MSC Southeast students. He spoke enthusiastically about the generous reception he's received at area businesses. "This community has been fantastic, especially the smaller stores. Some of the larger chains have to talk to corporate, but they have been really receptive too."
His goal to make sure the college's food pantries are stocked with a variety of packaged, fresh, and frozen food that is easy for students to access.
Through the month of November, look for a large Minnesota State College Southeast sign and plastic bin at Rochester Wholesale Fruit at 350 West 2nd Street in Winona. (There is also a food drive for the Red Wing campus at Buchanan Street Grocery in Red Wing during November.)
In December, Midtown Foods at 126 East 5th Street in downtown Winona will host a food drive for MSC Southeast students.
"I have been very blessed my whole life with being able to pursue what I want -- my parents have supported me," Addison stated. "When I'm done at Southeast, I want to be able to look back and point out specific improvements in students' lives that came as a result of the work I did."
He added, "There are students who haven't been as fortunate as I have been. I want to give them the kind of support I have had, to give them the tools that they need to excel."