At first glance, Representative Rena Moran’s ascent to public office is not unlike other Twin Cities progressive’s – a career in early childhood education, a fellowship with Wellstone Action, leadership as a community organizer – that is until you learn that just ten years ago this mother of seven was homeless, in search of a better life for her family.
It’s fitting then that Rep. Moran (DFL-St. Paul), a self-proclaimed “mother who decided to get involved,” now serves on the Education, Health and Human Services, and Public Safety/Crime Prevention Committees.
The future, however, wasn’t always as bright. Having heard the Twin Cities was supportive of families and public education, she made the heart-wrenching decision to move her young family in search of a better, more stable community. As Rena said, “it’s about your kids and the outcomes you strive for.”
Rena and her family sought resources from Caring and Sharing Hands upon their arrival, appreciating the warm and welcoming environment provided by an array of volunteers who helped parents navigate the different networks of community support services. Rena and her family also utilized the resources of Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities in their first months in St. Paul.
When you’re living in transition like that, Rena says “it’s essential to utilize what’s available, make connections, and break down the barriers one at a time–child care, housing, employment.” Rena credits nonprofit organizations with filling so many of the voids on her path toward breaking down these barriers
After months of tirelessly navigating bureaucracy, Rena found employment–applying her Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education at the Midway YMCA. The barriers began to fall then on.
It wasn’t until she saw her neighbors up in arms about a half-paved city street that she felt called to action. “People were confused, concerned and insulted. So I began a petition drive. I knocked on doors, listened to my neighbors and shared their stories with officials, eventually getting the rest of the pavement completed. Along the way, we formed the types of relationships communities need.”
“It’s amazing what a group of people who want to have a voice and be a solution can do when there’s investment in the outcomes of their communities,” Rena explained.
But challenges for nonprofits and communities remain great. Rena preaches talking and connecting across nonprofits to avoid siloing skills and resources. Her advice: Continue to move toward a strengths-based model in work and relationships–seeing what’s good, and capitalizing on it. Nonprofits, for example, need to prioritize advocacy, specifically engaging clients in advocating for the services they rely on.
“I’m particularly looking at young people, our natural innovators – they believe in what they believe and, most importantly, they act on it. No one else can see your vision like you.”
And her door at the State House is always open, ready to listen and build upon the relationships or organizations that have meant so much to her family.