02/13/2013 10:51 am ET Updated Apr 15, 2013

Our Common Denominator

By Trent Meidinger

Communities are a common denominator among us - they could even be a unifier - and yet not everyone ventures into them with open minds, curious eyes and ears, and a giving heart. For many years I was among the unadventurous. I could count on one hand the number of hours I spent volunteering.

But that changed four years ago when I took a trusted advisor's advice to "do something outside myself, for someone else."

I connected with Twin Cities RISE! (TCR!), our local anti-poverty organization that needed volunteers to conduct mock job interviews with its participants. It was a small start, and although I didn't realize it at the time, it was a defining moment for me. My perspectives about life and awareness of my community were about to evolve in wonderful ways through TCR!.

It wasn't easy at first. As with any change, I experienced a normal range of emotions, including fear ("what have I gotten myself into?"), self-doubt ("what do I have to offer?") and sadness ("why are there are so many people in Minneapolis/St. Paul who are really suffering in their lives?"). But something inside told me to continue on.

I conducted mock interviews and slowly expanded to help Twin Cities RISE! in even more ways over the years. And I'm glad I did so. Along the way I've made new friends, had heartwarming experiences and learned three valuable lessons:

We're really not that different from one another.
I met others with a wide array of backgrounds, interests, personalities, values, perspectives and life experiences. I learned we all can be incredibly different while being - simultaneously - incredibly the same. Twin Cities RISE! does a wonderful job helping its participants as well as our community understand that everyone wants to fulfill a dream, desires to be loved and valued, and longs to be happy, peaceful and safe.

TCR!'s Personal Empowerment classes teach that everyone has core value and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Over and over I hear TCR! participants proclaim how empowered thinking has transformed virtually every aspect of their lives - on the job, at home and in their communities.

We don't all get a fair start in life.
I used to think that if a person works hard, there are few limits to what can be accomplished in life. My inaccurate idea changed through volunteering at TCR!. I learned that not everyone receives a fair start in life. For example: How can you attend to your school studies if you're always hungry?; How will you learn to apply for your first job if your parents haven't had a job themselves or aren't around?; or How will you learn to value yourself and make good decisions in life if the people around you don't do that and push you down?

Twin Cities RISE! is highly effective in helping its participants reframe their thinking and take the initiative to build a productive, self-reliant and sustainable life - free of poverty. Imagine the transformation in your family's life and future when you increase your annual income from $6,000 (the average for people coming to TCR!) to more than $25,000. That's what happens to TCR! graduates.

We all make mistakes.
No one is perfect, and subsequently no one makes the right decisions 100 percent of the time. Whether the consequences are nearly unnoticeable or are so large they follow someone for a lifetime, people can and do learn from their mistakes. And because we're all imperfect, we owe it to one another to sincerely offer forgiveness. Everyone deserves a shot at redemption.

At Twin Cities RISE!, participants learn they can have a second chance. And they learn how to stay on the right path. The recidivism rate for TCR! graduates who are ex-offenders is only 16%, far less than Minnesota's 61% recidivism rate.

Please take a moment to learn more about Twin Cities RISE! and the work they do for low-income adults. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, check out their website at, and, if you feel compelled, help them with the JobRaising Challenge by donating at Crowdrise.