Wednesday, October 17, 2018

CHASING CURIOSITY BY JORDAN FERNANDEZ

Jordan Fernandez
It was a brisk and grey day at the end of September when Head Start came for a class to help illustrate positive parent and child interactions. Outside, the hills were dressed with heavy clouds, while the Missoula valley floor felt the sprinkle of light rain. The seasons were changing and you could feel it in the crisp breeze. I had been serving as a MTCC AmeriCorps Leader at Empower Place (as part of Broader Impacts Group, SpectrUM, Missoula Food Bank, and Community Center) for a few weeks.
A family came in that early fall morning that really shifted my perspective on the basis of the people of our community. The mother of two came in with her son Chase. Abigail is a hearing impaired single mother. Her bright smile showed her love and care for her kids. She was doing the best she could for them, and it showed from the way that her son listened to her while her infant lay silently in her arms. Before meeting this family, I really didn’t have a sense of the people that I was serving or the community that I had just become a part of. I was starting to come to understand that these people are no different than my family or the millions of families across America just trying to live a full and happy life.
Image may contain: Robert Jordan Fernandez, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature
While I was still getting my bearings at EmPower Place, this young boy approached me and engaged in a positive interaction right from the start. We worked on his motor skills, while building with Geometric magnet tiles and a Duplo train set. His smile was enormous and full of light, just like his mother’s. When he saw the battery powered train move across the track that we had just constructed together, his eyes lit up with amazement. He would turn and jump. He would grab the train and turn it off and on. He never lost sight of it.
At the end of our time together, Chase did not want to leave. He didn’t respond to his mother's attempts or those of the Head Start people. I couldn’t blame him, I did not want to see him go either. His curiosity was memorable. He kept turning the train off, to flip it over and examine the wheels. You could tell the gears in his head were spinning. With the support of his community and the model that is informal education, this boy is going to make an impact. Such is life that we go from one moment to the next, unsure, but always curious.

Friday, September 28, 2018

SERVICE MEMBERS MAKE A DIFFERENCE ON SEPTEMBER 11TH

In honor of the national day of service observed on September 11th, Montana Campus Compact national service members spent the last few weeks engaging in service projects around the state. VISTA members Rachel Juel, Eli Bowe, Andrew Prior, Kaleigh Mency, and Yanet Eudave Marin collaborated with other service members and a local farm to harvest 982 pounds of apples for the Gallatin Valley Food Bank in Bozeman.


Members in the Flathead Valley, Navraj Kaler, JJ Dynneson, and Courtney Olson also collaborated with service members from other projects to volunteer at the Montana Dragon Boat Festival in Lakeside, an event sponsored by Kalispell Regional Healthcare. The members were excited to play a part in a great community event! Tansy Remiszewski in Missoula also volunteered with a community event, serving food, beverages, and hospitality at the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project's annual garden party fundraiser.

Paxton McCausland, a VISTA member serving in Helena, participated in a service project at a Habitat for Humanity build-out site in East Helena. Paxton was thrilled to not only help build a house for a family in need, but also to learn how to use a reciprocating saw, a hand saw, and a nail gun (his personal favorite).

Missoula area VISTA members Emma Giron, Ashley Hettler, Alexi Corbett, Syed Hossain, Marlena Weiss and Maryelizabeth Koepele worked to pack snacks at the Missoula Food Bank to help out with their EmpowerPack Program, which sends snacks home with school children over the weekends.


Alexis Burton organized two community clean up events in Troy. Her first cleanup event was with a group of sixth graders. Alexis was pleasantly surprised to see how much the students enjoyed the event; they spent three hours happily picking up trash and asked her when they could do it again! Her second event was with another service member, and the two of them were able to collect twelve 10-gallon buckets buckets worth of trash from around Troy’s community dump and the back side of the Frisbee Golf Course.




AmeriCorps Leaders and VISTA members created care packages for first responders in their host site areas. Care packages were delivered on 9/11 to thank first responders for their service.  Leader Daniele Vickers presented her care package to Mr. Willy Torros, who is the Department Head of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital EMS. Maryelizabeth Koepele, Lana Petrie, Sabrina Quimby, Jordan Fernandez, Nicole Lemaster, Clara Moser, Loni Neilson-Kattel, Marlena Weiss, and Syed Hossain visited Missoula Fire Departments to show their gratitude. Not pictured: Dayton Smith, Adam Maes, Amber Dechaine, Chandler Padgett, and Amon Barry delivered care packages in their respective host site towns.

Montana Campus Compact service members were thankful to have the opportunity to engage in such a wide variety of projects in Montana!





SERVICE MEMBERS MAKE A DIFFERENCE ON SEPTEMBER 11

VISTA members at the Missoula Food Bank
In honor of the national day of service observed on September 11th, Montana Campus Compact national service members spent the last few weeks engaging in service projects around the state. VISTA members Rachel Juel, Eli Bowe, Andrew Prior, Kaleigh Mency, and Yanet Eudave Marin collaborated with other service members and a local farm to harvest 982 pounds of apples for the Gallatin Valley Food Bank in Bozeman.

Members in the Flathead Valley, Navraj Kaler, JJ Dynneson, and Courtney Olson also collaborated with service members from other projects to volunteer at the Montana Dragon Boat Festival in Lakeside, an event sponsored by Kalispell Regional Healthcare. The members were excited to play a part in a great community event! Tansy Remiszewski in Missoula also volunteered with a community event, serving food, beverages, and hospitality at the Missoula Urban Demonstration’s annual garden party fundraiser.

Paxton McCausland, a VISTA member serving in Helena, participated in a service project at a Habitat for Humanity build-out site in East Helena. Paxton was thrilled to not only help build a house for a family in need, but also to learn how to use a reciprocating saw, a hand saw, and a nail gun (his personal favorite).

Missoula area VISTA members Emma Giron, Ashley Hettler, Alexi Corbett, Syed Hossain, Marlena Weiss and Maryelizabeth Koepele worked to pack snacks at the Missoula Food Bank to help out with their EmpowerPack Program, which sends snacks home with school children over the weekends.


 Alexis Burton organized two community clean up events in Troy. Her first cleanup event was with a group of sixth graders. Alexis was pleasantly surprised to see how much the students enjoyed the event; they spent three hours happily picking up trash and asked her when they could do it again! Her second event was with another service member, and the two of them were able to collect twelve 10-gallon buckets buckets worth of trash from around Troy’s community dump and the back side of the Frisbee Golf Course.

AmeriCorps Leaders and VISTA members created care packages for first responders in their host site areas. Care packages were delivered on 9/11 to thank first responders for their service.  Leader Daniele Vickers presented her care package to Mr. Willy Torros, who is the Department Head of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital EMS. Maryelizabeth, Lana Petrie, Sabrina Quimby, Jordan Fernandez, Nicole Lemaster, Clara Moser, Loni Neilson-Kattel, Marlena Weiss, and Syed Hossain visited Missoula Fire Departments to show their gratitude. Not pictured: Dayton Smith, Adam Maes, Amber Dechaine, Chandler Padgett, and Amon Barry delivered care packages in their respective host site towns.

Montana Campus Compact service members were thankful to have the opportunity to engage in such a wide variety of projects in Montana!










Monday, August 20, 2018

CAMP REACH MORE CHALLENGES YOUTH TO REACH HIGHER


(Guest blog by Gina Wiezel , MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate with Missoula Parks and Recreation)

The Montana CampusCompact Summer VISTA and AmeriCorps Program offers Montana students and residents the opportunity to serve in their local communities, or across the state, to help run summer learning loss prevention camps, summer feeding programs, and summer college prep camps. This summer 53 national service members participated in diverse activities to help Montana community organizations fight local poverty, including increasing tutoring and mentoring resources, managing various summer activities and support services for children and families, supporting feeding programs to help alleviate hunger within the community, mobilizing hundreds of volunteers to assist with events, developing programs to help literacy rates among disadvantaged youth, and planning for future VISTA members’ efforts. We’d like to highlight one particular story from a member serving with the MissoulaParks and Recreation REACH MORE program.

The overall goal of our program is to support youth with disabilities in recreation summer enrichment programs to increase the chances of succeeding in and outside the classroom. Our program is incredibly successful.  We serviced 130 youth in the REACH MORE program, our 10 week summer program, that might of otherwise struggled to find summer enrichment programming appropriate least restrictive learning environments and abilities. Research has found that people with disabilities often fall within poverty guidelines.  Providing community based inclusive summer services has proven to enrich and increase their school and social behaviors and lead to a stronger likelihood for job placement.

During my time serving with REACH MORE, a 
Missoula Parks and Recreation camp for children of all abilities,  I had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of children. One boy came to our camp for multiple weeks. Every week we have our campers do a ropes course. The first few weeks that this boy was in camp he didn’t want to climb at all, preferring to just watch. After two weeks of him not engaging and not participating in the ropes course the other counselors and I decided that we would push him a little to try climbing the rock wall. We told him that he only had to take 2 steps and after that if he chose not to climb for the rest of the day he didn’t have to. That day and he only climbed two steps, but last week we had him try again. We had a great group of kids and they all cheered for each other. With everyone cheering, he climbed about halfway on the wall.
      I think this kid got stuck in a pattern of believing himself incapable of doing certain things, but once he had people believing in him, encouraging him to try his best he discovered that he was capable of climbing more than just the two steps we were challenging him to. With everyone cheering he pushed himself to go higher.

This experience taught me that it is important to have people that support you to challenge yourself and that when you decide to challenge and believe in yourself you can accomplish a lot. Too often we focus on what we can’t do and forget how much we truly are able to accomplish.  We put limits upon ourselves and don’t appreciate our capabilities. We fall into patterns and routine and don’t push ourselves or try situations that test our abilities. I believe it is important to challenge ourselves to things that may be difficult or scary, because when we challenge ourselves we discover capabilities we might not have known that we possessed. 

The ropes course in general taught me that it is important to challenge myself, to not compare and weigh my successes against others, that it is okay to step back from a challenge, and that if I don’t succeed or go as far with my ambitions the first time around that I can come back and perhaps will go further or accomplish more. I also learned that it is okay to not get as far as I wanted or expected. What is important is not how far you come, but how much you tried and how much effort you put into getting to where you are.




Wednesday, May 30, 2018

BATTLING HUNGER AND BUILDING COMMUNITY IN THE GALLATIN VALLEY!

Guest blog by Aubree Pierce, MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA with Montana State University
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My project is at the MSU campus food pantry, Bounty of the Bridgers (BoB). We began having pop-up pantries in October of 2017 so we are making adjustments and trying to improve the pantry as we go. My role with this project has been integral in building capacity and creating sustainability for the BoB Pantry. Through this project I have developed relationships with many campus and community partners who have helped push this project forward and are helping create permanence and sustainability on campus. These relationships as well as the support of student volunteers are so critical to the pantry’s success. 

Two of the most important relationships established are with the grocery stores, Rosauers, Safeway, and Albertson’s, and with the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. We currently serve mostly shelf stable items and bakery recovered from local grocery stores. We are greatly supported by the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. They provide us with some produce and we also pick up some produce from grocery stores. However, the supply is often limited and lacking in variety.

I had been in some communication with the campus research farm, Towne’s Harvest Garden, but I felt that this relationship could be stronger and would be a good source to bring more produce to the pantry. I reached out to the farm managers and they were very excited to work more closely with us. They gifted us a space to grow our own produce for the BoB Pantry and are growing extra rows of their normal crops to donate to us in exchange for occasional volunteer help.

After the partnership with Towne’s was established, I applied for and was awarded a grant from Youth Service America and the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation to host a Global Youth Service Day project. For our Global Youth Service Day event, we held a Garden Kick-off and Earth Day party. This event was a huge success because we were able to get more students involved with volunteering as well as some of the pantry clients, and this event helped raise awareness of the BoB Pantry and our dedication to providing fresh, healthy foods to the MSU community.

At this event, volunteers helped prepare the garden beds, plant seeds in the field, plant seeds for transplanting, and plant seeds to take home. We also had a kid's planter pot decorating station, a local food tasting station, and a farm to table educational station.

We will continue to have students and youth volunteer and be involved with the garden through the summer. We are excited to see fresh, nutritious food come to those in need, and we are excited to provide a learning opportunity for children to learn more about gardening, local food, and where their food comes from.

This event was so much fun and a great way to end the semester. I am filled with pride and I am in awe of the enthusiasm of the students and community who came together to work on this project. The students have made the pantry a success. It’s incredible to see so many young individuals engaged in service to better their community. The student volunteers that I am so lucky to be surrounded by are an inspiration and they have made my VISTA service feel so impactful. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

TROY HIGH SCHOOL VISTA HALEY SPURLIN UTILIZES STORYBOARDING!


Guest Blogger: MTCC VISTA Haley Spurlin
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In the Fall, I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 GEAR UP West Conference in Portland, Oregon with the Troy Junior/Senior High School (THS) GEAR UP team. During the conference, I attended a session titled “Storyboards – Collaborative Plans Connecting Students, Schools, and Families” led by Washington State GEAR UP team members. This session focused on explaining the value of collaborative goal setting throughout students’ time in high school so that students would have a clearly defined post-secondary plans upon graduation. Since my VISTA project revolves around creating resources to assist students in their post-secondary planning process, this session was a perfect fit.

Essentially, the Washington State GEAR UP team created individualized posters for each grade level so that students could begin to write down their plans and aspirations for the future. At the end of each year, the posters are displayed in the hallways for a “Gallery Walk” which families are invited to attend to celebrate the students’ goals; then, the posters are mailed home for parents to keep.  By the end of their high school career, students are able to look back and see how their goals and interests have shifted and can then turn the goals into action plans.

Examples of what could be included on a Storyboard are: career aspirations, advice from teachers/family, team members (who is supporting you), top college choices, grades, GPA, test scores, potential college majors/programs, scholarships you are applying for, deadlines, etc. Think of the Storyboard as a checklist of sorts. What does a student need to do each year in order to be prepared for college? What do students need to be thinking about when they are making decisions for their future? This way, students and families are aware of needs to happen each year which can help ease the anxiety associated with transitioning to college.

We started our Storyboards with the 7th and 8th grade students as a part of their “Strut Your Stuff” projects (students create a tri-fold board with their Storyboard, examples of their best work from the year, results of a career interest survey, information about their learning style, and whatever else they want to include about themselves. These tri-fold boards are displayed during the JR High Awards Ceremony) and we were able to use class time to help them complete their posters.

Thus far, student response has been positive. Having creative and fun posters to talk about your goals definitely helped, and telling them that they would be displayed at the “Strut Your Stuff” Ceremony motivated students to take the project more seriously.

I have attached a photo of the 7th and 8th grade Storyboard I created using the amazing and FREE canva.com (100% recommend for all your graphic design needs!!). If you would like view Storyboards for each grade level, they are available on the THS GEAR UP blog (thsgearup.blogspot.com). If you have any questions or ideas to add to our Storyboards, please share! You can reach me via email at spurlin@mtcompact.org.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

MTCC VISTA AUBREE PIERCE TRAVELS TO INDY!

Guest Blogger: MTCC VISTA Aubree Pierce
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The BoBPantry at MSU relies upon student support and enthusiasm for the project. Not just as volunteers during pantry operating hours, but to help spread awareness of food insecurity and food waste on campus and to break down the stigma around hunger and receiving food assistance. The Food Resource Council student club is the driving force, the lifeblood, and the reason why the BoB Pantry has been so successful during its pilot year.


Over the weekend of March 24th-25th, 2018 I traveled to the Campus Kitchens Food Waste and Hunger Summit in Indianapolis with my VISTA supervisor, who is also the faculty advisor for the Food Resource Council (FRC) student club, along with three other students who are part of the FRC leadership team. This experience gave these students an opportunity to hear about other initiatives to alleviate food waste and food insecurity nationwide and helped reinvigorate their passion for the work that we are doing through the BoB Pantry.


At this conference, the FRC students and I presented on the Bounty of the Bridgers MSU Food Pantry, and we held a problem-solving decision making open house session. We asked that attendees of the session pair up, present a problem or obstacle that they have been facing to their partner, and discuss potential solutions with their partner. This activity gave individuals an opportunity to receive an outside perspective on obstacles or barriers that they have been facing and a chance to talk about their problems with someone new. Our presentation also provided perspective on our pantry model that some in their beginning stages may take direction from. My supervisor attended this conference in 2017, and she said, “It’s amazing to see how far we have come in the last year. When we were here last year, we were the ones asking the questions and now we are the ones answering the questions.”


We also had the opportunity to learn about the campus pantry at IUPUI, the host college for the conference. This pantry is in the stage that the BoB Pantry is currently transitioning into, so being able to network with the pantry coordinators at this site and familiarize myself with their operations was exceptionally beneficial to beginning planning the BoB Pantry’s phase 2 operations.

This was a wonderful experience to share with the students and for myself as a young professional. I am happy that the students were able to immerse themselves for a weekend into these important issues motivating them to keep working diligently to improve food security and food access. This conference exposed me to several national initiatives to combat hunger on college campuses and boosted my enthusiasm for and dedication to alleviating food insecurity. I hope that next year’s VISTA for this project will have the opportunity for this experience as well.