by Jung Fitzpatrick '01
Since August 2005, I have been serving in AmeriCorps VISTA as director of communications at ONABEN, a nonprofit organization that provides training and technical assistance to Native American entrepreneurs.
AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a one-year community service program. Often described as the “domestic Peace Corps,” it offers educational benefits, professional and personal development, as well as paid travel opportunities. I served one year prior in rural Northern California in a children’s health policy and advocacy position and liked it so much I decided to do it again, this time at ONABEN.
As the director of communications, I help tell ONABEN’s story through press releases, newsletters, and other mundane or niche media such as thank you letters to donors—all with the intent of reaching and connecting to a wider audience and community.
ONABEN provides a variety of services to Native American entrepreneurs that fall under the umbrella term “training and technical assistance (TTA),” including courses to help individuals research and write their business plans and develop other essential business skills.
While ONABEN’s services are available to any entrepreneur, the focus on Native Americans is important. In starting and running their own businesses, Native entrepreneurs often face additional barriers that stem from and are affected by historical, socio-cultural, economic, and political factors, especially those who live on or near tribal lands, which are usually isolated rural locations. According to the Small Business Administration, about half of all businesses started will still be in operation after five years. Providing Native entrepreneurs with TTA increases their chances of success. It is with this understanding that ONABEN was founded in 1991 by four Oregon tribes.
Originally standing for “Oregon Native American Business & Entrepreneurial Network,” ONABEN’s mission is to increase selfreliance by promoting the development of tribal-citizen-owned small businesses and the diversification of reservation economies. It has become a resource for the entire region, working with tribes not only in Oregon but Washington, Idaho, and Northern California. Now, ONABEN is more inclusively known as “A Native American Business Network.”
As a small organization operating on limited financial resources, we must be resourceful and creative. I have learned not only to budget, but to hustle. Instead of paying for events, I volunteer to get in free. Instead of buying things, I have taken recycling to a whole new level.
Before I started this position, I knew very little about Native American entrepreneurship, let alone how to pronounce the name of the organization (long ‘o’-nah-ben)! My VISTA experience at ONABEN has allowed me to satisfy several goals: learn more about entrepreneurship for minority and Native American communities, continue to do good work for society, develop my communication skills and resourcefulness, build my résumé while trying a career on for size, but most important, gain better insight into who I am and greater clarity on what I want from life.
While I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, I’m getting closer to figuring it out. I’ve realized that autonomy, creativity, and community building are essential to me and that working for myself may be the best way to live these values. My goal for this year is to develop and pursue my own entrepreneurial spirit.