Alex Van Loh is one of Freshwater’s longest-serving employees. When he started as a Minnesota GreenCorps member in September 2015, Alex never imagined his time at Freshwater would start him on the career path of a lifetime – a path that led him to become the Education and Program Coordinator and project manager of the Minnesota Water Stewards program. His work as a GreenCorps member set him up with crucial professional experience in the environmental field, experience that he may not have otherwise had the opportunity to pursue. His dedication to water work and charismatic personality were unmatched – we just couldn’t bear to part with him! Read more about Alex’s experience in his own words – from becoming a GreenCorps member to a journey that ultimately turned Freshwater-y blue.
From Alex: The spring of 2015 I was living and teaching in Germany. I knew I would move back to Minnesota in the fall, but I had no clue where I would live or what I would be doing. I just knew I wanted to improve our natural environment and give back to the communities that raised me. My sister encouraged me to apply to Minnesota GreenCorps (MNGC) and I agreed it seemed like the perfect fit. One month later, I participated in a video call interview (before it became the norm!) and was on my way to becoming a MNGC member.
In the MNGC program, nonprofits, local units of government, and other organizations apply to host a service member for a year. The member helps the organization with a project or program and in turn receives a stipend and hands-on programmatic experience in the environmental field. Members do not actually choose their host sites; they are placed by MNGC staff. I listed my top interests and locations, and as luck would have it, I was placed with Freshwater!
When I joined the team in September 2015, I was working exclusively on the Minnesota Water Stewards (MWS) program. I was able to go through the program and obtain certification while also helping run and manage the program’s first year with an online curriculum. The new virtual format and our telecast workshops allowed for greater participation across the metro area. I learned a great deal during this year of service; I developed educational materials, exponentially grew my network of water professionals and volunteers, experienced working in a professional setting, attended conferences and trainings, and found a home at Freshwater.
When my service year ended, I was incredibly fortunate and grateful to be offered a fulltime position with Freshwater as a program assistant. My duties expanded to include supporting all of Freshwater’s programming and I was able to get a taste of just about every part of nonprofit work. I assisted with administrative tasks, helped plan conferences and events, worked on the expansion of MWS, managed the details of our Moos Family Speaker Series, and continued to grow professionally.
One thing I am so grateful for in my service year was the opportunity to attend an Art of Hosting training. It was a three-day, rather intensive training that was out of the budget range for what MNGC funds could support. Freshwater saw the value in me learning how to effectively facilitate conversations and offered to pay my tuition, even before they knew that I would be staying on as staff. That training has been completely foundational to the way I plan events and lead education initiatives. I frequently use its concepts and teachings in my work to this day. It also taught me one of my favorite phrases that has become a way of life for me: curiosity and judgement cannot exist in the same space. Since attending that training, I have even gone on to plan and co-lead Freshwater’s own Art of Hosting workshops.
These last seven years as a part of Freshwater have been a truly life-changing experience. I have grown considerably in my career and I so appreciate the opportunities and support I have been given. Freshwater is and will always be part of my identity. Our work to inspire and empower people to take action for water is exactly what I was looking for all those years ago in my tiny German apartment. I am excited to continue to learn and grow with our organization and cannot wait to see where we go next, together.