Jessica Nelson is the Organization Evaluation VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) at CHARISM. She works on ways to organize and evaluate the programs more efficiently, as well as working on an organization history project. Jessica was born and raised in Moorhead and other than a few years away at college has lived in Moorhead all her life. This is her first year with CHARISM, but her third year with the Americorps program, the first 2 years were spent tutoring Kindergarten through 3rd graders at Dilworth Elementary. Although Jessica enjoys working with the community, her real passion is history. She has a PhD in history from Purdue University and enjoys doing research and writing. She has a published article based on her dissertation research in the Journal for the History of Childhood and Youth. In this article, Jessica highlights CHARISM - the mission, the history, the programs, and how you can get involved with the organization.
CHARISM is a non-profit, neighborhood center that seeks to provide outreach programs for at-risk individuals and families in the McCormick Park community, in Fargo, North Dakota. CHARISM stands for “A Community of Homes and Resources in Service to Many” and if you are wondering, it is pronounced “Care-ism.” CHARISM offers a safe and welcoming anchor point to underserved youth and families through relationship-based, skill-building programs and services that improve quality of life. CHARISM’s mission is to have safe and peaceful neighborhoods of self-sufficient, contributing residents. There are five values that we at CHARISM strive to teach: respect, trust, creativity, courage, and concern for others. CHARISM was created in 1994 and incorporated as a non-profit in the McCormick Park neighborhood by five local churches and Community Homes, a subsidized housing complex located in McCormick Park, to provide programming to low-income families in the neighborhood. CHARISM is located near the Nokomis Childcare Center, a Family Center, and a Youth Center.
As part of the neighborhood, many McCormick Park residents who live in the Community Homes take part in CHARISM events. Commenting on the impact of CHARISM on the McCormick Park neighborhood and Community Homes, Kay Leonhart, a member of the CHARISM board, says:
"Community Homes has been a stepping stone to many families since 1971, when it started. We have had a state senator live here when he and his wife first started out. Many people have gone to college while living here and have gone on to become very prominent people in the community in the profession that they chose out of college.
Many refugees [have lived here] over the years. [These refugees] lived in refugee camps all their lives or escaped wars in their countries, [many came] to this country and [worked hard, saved their money, became tax paying citizens, and bought] a house in the area and [are] raising their children to become American citizens also. [I] can’t think of any one individual [who] is inspirational…There are too many to just pick one."
As a non-profit CHARISM acquired the property of McCormick Park Youth Annex, this is where all of its programming was held for the youth programs, the Daily Bread program, and other adult programs. CHARISM’s Programming began in the fall of 1994 and continues there today. Early in the organization’s history, CHARISM offered the Daily Bread program with the Great Plains Food Bank (today known as the Grocery Assistance Program), a Computerworks training program, Playtown summer programs, parenting classes, nutrition programs, and a refugee education program. The organization staff also started a partnership with Fargo Police Department, a relationship that continues to this day. Throughout the years there have been many changes, like buying a laundromat and making it into the Youth Center, purchasing the Stonebridge building in 2004 and providing services there until 2013, and providing numerous other programs for youth and families. Throughout all these years one thing has remained the same, its goal of building stronger, better neighborhoods.
Today, CHARISM offers numerous programs, one of which is S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) programing, offered during the school year at Cheney Middle School and Ed Clapp, Jefferson, and Lewis & Clark Elementary Schools. These programs provide a variety of academic enrichment opportunities during out-of-school time for the children to learn and grow. CHARISM also offers the Check and Connect program during the school day, where mentors work with students who are disengaged from school with poor attendance, behavioral issues and/or low grades. In the summer, CHARISM continues to work with the children of the McCormick Park area by providing Kids Camp and C4 Youth Camp (CHARISM, Cops, Community, Character), both of these programs are an extension of the school year programs and provide the kids the opportunity to be involved in a safe, positive environment.
Another program example that CHARISM continues to offer the community of McCormick Park, in partnership with the Great Plains Food Bank, is a grocery assistance program, which has been offered since its inception in 1994. Great Plains calls it Daily Bread, but CHARISM started to call it GAP (Grocery Assistance Program) in 2010, GAP was meant to fill the “GAP” in the families’ grocery budget and wasn’t just about bread. CHARISM redistributes recovered food from local grocery stores to families in need of groceries. This is done twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays at the CHARISM Family Center. About 600 families are registered to receive food and we serve an average of 170 families and distribute an average of 12,000 pounds of food each week. In the spring until the fall harvest, CHARISM in partnership with Growing Together, organizes a community garden for neighborhood residents to work as a team to grow and harvest nutritious food for their families and neighbors. About 26 families participate each year. For more information about the programs that CHARISM provides, please see our program guide.
There are so many things CHARISM wants to do to bring the community together, but we at CHARISM can’t do it all alone. We are grateful for the time our volunteers give to help CHARISM build stronger neighborhoods in the area. With the help of volunteers, CHARISM can offer support, learning, and fun to youth and families in need. Staff are so excited to help others get involved in what we do. If you are interested in volunteering at one of the school year programs, volunteering at GAP, or would like to help out with a special project at one of the sites or one of the events like Over-the Edge or Light the Way, please visit CHARISM’s Volunteer Page for more information about how you can volunteer your time and skills to help CHARISM and the neighborhood we serve.
If you are interested in information on joining CHARISM, whether it be volunteering, joining a program, a VISTA opportunity, or a job, please visit the CHARISM website. We at CHARISM look forward to building a stronger, better neighborhood with you.