In early April, we heard from more than one person in the Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota St. Cloud office asking us to write a story on Christopher Klinkhammer, the AmeriCorps VISTA there.
Time was tight, however. A four-year member of the National Guard, Christopher had just found out that he would be deploying overseas for a year. The people in St. Cloud hoped we could work on his story before he had to leave.
We were able to interview Christopher in mid-April. At that time he thought he would be deploying in June, but instead left in early May. He leaves behind three young children.
Christopher had been the VISTA in our St. Cloud offices since August of 2014. A highly trained helicopter mechanic, his work as a VISTA helped to begin the process of creating a support system for members of the military – a support system he wishes had been in place for him when he needed it.
The opportunity happened to appear to Christopher at an important time. He was at a difficult period of his life – going through a divorce and moving out of his home. He had reached out for help but had been unable to find the resources and support that he was looking for.
In the midst of the turmoil, he received an email from Goodwill-Easter Seals that discussed a role they had with the AmeriCorps VISTA program that would help him be involved in supporting the military community. He was excited by the thought of being able to give back. “I jumped on it,” he told us.
The AmeriCorps VISTA position he took was created through a partnership between the Initiative Foundation and Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota. His work focused on building capacity to serve veterans in the St. Cloud area. Chris and Goodwill-Easter Seals staff, along with other community partners, have been working on creating a Military Resource Center. That work continues today.
By coincidence, the work he was involved in with for VISTA was to help create the sort of support system for military personnel that he had been looking for himself. “The most exciting thing is the Resource Center.” he explained. “If I had a place like that Resource Center to go to, I don’t think I would have struggled.”
He considers being a VISTA a great career move that provided him with plenty of personal rewards. “The people I had the chance to work with are incredible – it’s amazing how much you gain in leadership and experience.”