Minneapolis Climate Action group

Building relationships while building a nonprofit: CJ Denny's summer with Minneapolis Climate Action

CJ's Summer Recap

 

Hi, everyone! I’m CJ Denney, an intern working with the Great Plains Institute Communities team and Metro CERT. I’m a junior at Macalester College studying Biology and Environmental studies. This past summer, I secured some funding from the MacNest Climate Justice program to work with one of their partner environmental organizations in the Twin Cities. I was paired with Minneapolis Climate Action between the Lyndale and Kingfield neighborhoods of Minneapolis. Their broad mission is to make the transition to renewable energy rapid and equitable within the Minneapolis communities they serve.

My role within the organization was flexible and I wore many hats. I helped with social media management and graphic creation, did communications outreach to residents and councilmembers, and organized events. Some of the main projects I was involved in include their Community Solar Gardens and the Daryeel Cimilada Climate Ambassadors Program. The former is an inclusive way to provide renewable energy to low-income and BIPOC communities. 

Community solar gardens work on a subscription-based approach, where interested people can choose how much energy to subscribe to. There are no income or credit minimums for folx to subscribe to the gardens and it even allows for subscribers to get a rebate credit on their energy bill. My work on the solar gardens mostly involved outreach to communities through events like #POWERFEST, which brought environmental organizations to North Minneapolis on a large-scale for the first time. I was part of the planning and execution of PowerFest as well.

 

The Daryeel Cimilada Climate Ambassador program is a pilot youth climate education program. A fellow Macalester intern at Fortune Relief and Youth Empowerment (FRAYEO) and I created the curriculum and figured out the details to launch the program. Daryeel Cimilada translates to “Care for Climate” in Somali. It is a program aimed at teaching young people in the East African community about climate change, sustainability, and waste on a local scale. Being at the head of the program taught me a lot more about how to interact with youth and the best ways to teach them new and sometimes hefty topics. I also learned how to interact with communities to meet them where they are.

This summer I learned a lot about myself and my relationship with work, especially in the nonprofit sector. The idea that nonprofit organizations have to scrape by to get funding and engagement was really solidified. Because Minneapolis Climate Action is a relatively new and small organization, there were often times when my supervisor, Kyle Samejima, was stressed about where they would find the money to kick-start and maintain projects they have been working on. This is so difficult to observe, because these organizations are really trying to do inclusive and equitable work that will have a far-reaching impact, yet they are not advocated for as much because they do not have the respect or resources of a large for-profit corporation. I learned how to pursue creative avenues for funding and what it looks like to write a grant. But most importantly, I saw what it takes to start and build a nonprofit from the ground up and build deep, trusting relationships with people. 

You can never fully understand their needs unless you actually spend time with the people you are trying to vouch for. You have to understand their lives on a deeper level and open up so they can understand yours and your positionality as well. This is a direct path to strong relationships and building trust, which is so important in climate and environmental work.

CJ Denney, Metro CERT + GPI Intern
 

One of my goals when starting my internship with Minneapolis Climate Action was to connect more directly with Minneapolis communities. As a college student living in Saint Paul, it is sometimes difficult to get out of the Macalester bubble, but it is necessary for growth and learning. Actually speaking to your neighbors and the neighborhoods around you is what gets you connected and allows for relationship building. Many individuals and organizations create programs to help communities without actually consulting members of those communities. The irony of this is that you can never fully understand their needs unless you actually spend time with the people you are trying to vouch for. You have to understand their lives on a deeper level and open up so they can understand yours and your positionality as well. This is a direct path to strong relationships and building trust, which is so important in climate and environmental work.

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