2020 Millennial on the Move: Zach Nissen
35, Community Outreach Manager, Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, Norfolk
Business and Civic Involvement:
Alternatives to Violence Project Facilitator
What is something that makes you stand out professionally?
I think my diverse work and life experiences, from serving in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps to work in different states. I bring a global perspective to very local work.
Who or what keeps you motivated or inspires you?
The work that I do keeps me motivated. I don’t know what else I would do other than community-based work. The people that I serve keep me coming back, even when I am feeling stuck or frustrated.
Tell us about an accomplishment that you’re proud of.
I’m proud of the work that I continue to do outside of my career, and that is as co-facilitator for a conflict resolution program inside a federal prison. It is unlike anything I have ever done, and the goal of the workshops is to create community inside and train new facilitators inside the prison. It is a challenging but important program.
How do you feel your industry can best respond to the effects of COVID-19?
Food banks have had to respond overnight. We not only had to meet the need of folks that traditionally rely on emergency or charitable food, but as the crisis grows, we have to accommodate new people who have never been in this spot before. We have done so by engaging non-traditional partners and by doing what we do well—getting food to underserved communities. This time, it has just been many more people in more places. Change, adaptation, flexibility and the ability to pivot were not new in our vocabulary but have become the way to meet the new need while still maintaining and supporting our partner network.
What new idea or development are you excited about in Coastal Virginia?
I am excited about the HRT multi-modal transit plan. As a bike commuter, I am thrilled to see the direction the region is going, especially Norfolk, in moving people around. It will be exciting to see how it grows and changes.
What’s the most important aspect you look for in a workplace?
The work itself. Meaning, does the mission resonate with me and excite me? If it does, then the physical workplace can be anything—a shed or hut, a car or an office.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in your current position?
Something very similar! Food and food access have been a part of the work I have been doing for more than a decade, sometimes just on the periphery, but always present. I imagine it would still be related to making sure folks have food to eat.
What’s your favorite spot to relax in Coastal Virginia?
I love the Norfolk Botanical Garden; it is such a beautiful spot that also brings art, like the Art with LEGO exhibit, and nature together. Every season is different there and they are all great. I also love Back Bay and one day I will spot one of those wild horses there!