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  • James Townsend

In Service to Portland, Michigan

AmeriCorps Week, March 8-14, 2020, is a celebration of all things AmeriCorps – from the programs and organizations that make this national service initiative possible in communities across the country, to the members who have pledged to “Get Things Done” since the program’s inception in 1994.

MI Portland Downtown has hosted AmeriCorps VISTA member Dana Hengesbach since August 2018. Dana will complete her two-year service term this August.

“Being able to serve right here in my home community of Portland has been amazing! It’s been an opportunity to give back, while learning skills that will help further my professional career,” says AmeriCorps VISTA member Dana Hengesbach.

During her first year of service Dana had several initiatives. The one she is most proud of is the Portland Block Captain Program. Block Captains are a group of volunteers whose role is to network with business and property owners and strengthen partnerships among members of their ‘virtual’ block. There are currently six Portland Block Captain volunteers.

Dana partnered with the Portland District Library, to introduce and host Business in a Box. This is an online collection of business of over 1800 documents, professionally formatted with fill-in-the-blank options, all free of charge. This program can be access at the Portland District Library or Portland DDA during regular office hours.

A small business workshop series was researched and launched with Dana's help. The series focused on relevant topics such as marketing/promotion, staffing, and business finance.

Based on feedback, the workshops evolved this year into Business Balance, a web page located at with links to blogs, vlogs, and podcast in the same topic areas to connect business owners to important resources when the time works for them.

During her final service year, Dana is working on a few different initiatives, she is planning Summer Park Parties. Ten nights of free activities in the park, that will run Tuesday Nights 6:30pm- 8:30 pm, June 9th through August 11th. She also played a role in the completion of Portland’s Market Snapshot and Market Overview, which were created to present a more in-depth review of the Portland area for entrepreneurs’ investors and developers.

Another initiative Dana is exploring would be to offer support and skill development in the areas of budgeting, soft skills development, getting the job offer, volunteering, and plan B for when transportation or childcare fall through. This coaching program would look to promote improving life circumstances and empowerment.

Dana is also exploring the opportunity of an incubator space for business startups. This program would promote foot traffic in a vacant building, while allowing new and small businesses a chance to prove the concept of their product as well as an idea of a storefront success rate.

In order to immerse herself in the Portland Community and build stronger relationships Dana has volunteered alongside Portland Downtown Development Authority (DDA) at numerous events such as Small Business Saturday, Holidayfest, Ionia Expo, Volunteer Appreciation, Beerfest on the Bridge, Community Days, and Sesquicentennial.

“Dana has been a true asset in her role as an AmeriCorps VISTA member here in Portland. We’ve been able to really move forward in a positive way and put key elements in place with her assistance. Beyond that, Dana is a natural ambassador of her Portland hometown and represents us very well.” said Tina ConnerWellman, Director of Portland Downtown Development.

AmeriCorps VISTA, or Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), was founded in 1965 as a domestic version of the Peace Corps. The program was incorporated into AmeriCorps and renamed AmeriCorps VISTA with the creation of AmeriCorps in 1993. VISTA provides full-time members to nonprofit, faith-based and other community organizations, and public agency to create and expand programs. Currently there are 5,000 VISTA members serving in 1,200 VISTA programs nationwide.

Pictured: Council Person Amanda Johnston, VISTA Member Dana Hengesbach, Downtown Director Tina ConnerWellman volunteering at the Sesquicentennial Classic Car Cruise in Portland MI.

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