Jonathan Nisly, a senior at Eastern Mennonite University, is in his second internship with MANNA, a non-profit housing developer, while in the Washington Community Scholars' Program. Both he and CEO Jim Dickerson are hoping Nisly can return to a grant-funded paid position with the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit after graduation. (Photos by Joaquin Sosa)

Seeing real impact of advocacy work, intern returns for second stint with D.C. housing developer MANNA

Editor’s note: Within minutes of publishing this article, we were informed that Jonathan Nisly has been offered, and accepted, a job with MANNA. So maybe he really has found his calling! Congratulations, Jonathan!

With just a 20-minute walk to work, Jonathan Nisly considers himself “very lucky” — he can sleep in until 7:45. But don’t let his late-as-possible wake-up time fool you: Nisly may have found his calling.

During this spring semester at Eastern Mennonite University’s Washington Community Scholars’ Center (WCSC), Nisly is interning at MANNA, a District of Columbia nonprofit developer of quality, affordable housing. Nisly promotes its interests on social media and manages the housing advocacy team’s blog, where he writes about affordable housing issues, legislation and budget lines of interest. He also helps to plan events such as an upcoming home ownership town hall and prepares people in MANNA’s Homebuyers Club to testify before the city council about why the city needs continued funding for affordable housing.

Just one semester isn’t enough to seal one’s future profession, but this isn’t Nisly’s first stint at MANNA. Through a connection facilitated by applied social sciences professor Deanna Durham, he also worked there in the summer of 2016, and stayed in founder and CEO Jim Dickerson’s basement

During the summer, Nisly met a coworker who had been homeless until a homebuyer club connected him with the right city programs and helped him learn how to manage his credit score and start saving.

They were, Nisly said, “kind of simple things, but things that were crucial for him being able to [buy a home]. That was big for me, seeing the real impact of this work.”

Jonathan Nisly is passionate about helping people find simple, but powerful solutions to improve their housing needs — a basic “building block” for financial stability, he says.

After spending the fall semester on campus, Nisly returned to Washington with WCSC. Their ongoing relationship has left a strong impression on MANNA’s Dickerson.

“Jonathan has been a tremendous help,” he said. “Our hope is that he will stay with MANNA if we can find the grant funds to pay him, but we know he will have many opportunities with other groups, too, since he is such a great asset and skilled in many areas. The greatest gift is his spirit and his love and passion for justice and people who are at a disadvantage in our society and world. I think this experience here will enhance whatever he does in the future.”

Nisly, a peace and development and political studies major, credits the peacebuilding program with helping him to decide that he wanted to work for social justice through organizing and advocacy in an urban setting. His time at MANNA, he said, has helped him “hone those skills on housing policy and learn a lot about the day-to-day ins-and-outs of what works and what doesn’t in advocating for legislation. I would love to keep working with housing specifically because another thing I’ve learned through this internship is how much of a building block housing is for everything else both in positive and negative ways.”

He appreciates MANNA’s “explicit” confrontation of racism, which he said is “still alive in housing in a way that it’s not alive in many other places in American society. Certainly people’s minds and institutions can be very easily tinged with prejudice, but the kind of systematic segregation that we still see in housing is very striking.”

While in Washington DC, Nisly, from Bluffton, Ohio, is also soaking up city life. On one recent weekend — he called it “kind of crazy but not atypical” — he attended an annual rally for housing nonprofits and later a travel ban protest on Saturday, and then, on Sunday, went to church at Eighth Day Faith Community, spent the afternoon in the Theodore Roosevelt Island park, and ended the day at a free concert at the Kennedy Center.

Which maybe makes 7:45 not that late of a wake-up time, after all.

Join the Discussion on “Seeing real impact of advocacy work, intern returns for second stint with D.C. housing developer MANNA

    1. I trust that a grandfather may be permitted to be “Mennonite proud” of his grandson! Way to go, Jonathan!

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