Director of Arizona Serve at Prescott College, Ben Olsen, Recognized as One of Tucson’s 40 Rising Leaders

November 06, 2017 - By Prescott College

Ben Olsen

As the Director of Arizona Serve at Prescott College, Ben Olsen leads a dynamic team that supports Americorps members in the field. Arizona Serve engages nearly 200 AmeriCorps members implementing projects with community organizations working to address poverty. Americorps members help refugees find housing, support students in low income schools get into college, develop programs that assist previously incarcerated individuals find jobs, help expand services for people struggling with opioid addiction, and much more. Arizona Serve has created a dozen new positions in Prescott this year, designed as internships for Prescott College students in an effort to make more undergraduate positions available. Ben started with Arizona Serve back in 2009 when he moved from New York to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in Prescott. He helped expand the program down to Tucson in 2013. Ben’s work involves meeting with nonprofit partners to discuss new project ideas, planning with staff, working with funders and ensuring that Arizona Serve complies with grant requirements. As a result of the dedication, Ben has been recognized as one of Tucson’s 40 rising leaders under the age of 40.

For Ben, one of the most rewarding parts of his job is, “working with a group of nonprofit staff from multiple organizations to find ways we can use AmeriCorps members to address a pressing community issue.” He is grateful for the opportunity to meet creative and passionate people and learn how they approach their work.

While in college, Ben was actively involved in several community organizing efforts. This ultimately inspired him to pursue a career in a social justice related field. Graduating in the beginning of the 2008 recession, he was a bit discouraged about his job prospects until he heard about Americorps. When he moved to Prescott to serve, he only expected to stay for one year. However, Ben says that, “within a year, Arizona won me over,” and he moved into a staff role with Prescott College.

For students that want to make a difference in their community, Ben says, “If I could give students one piece of advice, it would be to listen more and know that you have a lot to learn, especially from those you disagree with.” When he graduated college and started his VISTA term, he described having a pretty rigid world view that had been shaped by spending the preceding four years in a progressive college community. He mentioned that it took a lot of effort for him to, “respect and learn from people who saw the world differently,” than he did. Ben holds this value very high, “to get anything done in this line of work, we need to be able to listen to others, especially when we disagree.” Ben encourages students to consider serving a term with Americorps, as they can be “challenging, frustrating, and incredibly fulfilling.” Open positions can be found at www.arizonaserve.org/apply-to-serve/