Thursday, February 14, 2019

SERVICE AND SELF-CARE BY SABRINA QUIMBY

Love More, Stress Less! 

Through my national service, I’ve learned that service is more than the day-to-day of what your site asks for. Service is building relationships, increasing morale, and creating a legacy; it’s  learning more about yourself.
As AmeriCorps Service Leaders, we try our best to make the most positive impact on our host sites and on the people we serve through them. We spend time training and learning how to provide for our communities but it’s important to not let ourselves get burnt out.
At my site, the faculty and staff periodically host socials where we can check in with one another and try to have a sense of humor when construction at school gets disruptive. Just the other day, the Missoula Alliance Church came to one of these socials and gave us all free lattes to help keep our energy levels up as we engage with middle schoolers. It’s the little things that help us ground ourselves amidst hectic times. 
(Picture from https://healthpsychtam.com/2016/12/21/self-care-in-research/ )


Other than free lattes, I have a few tactics I use to assist me in maintaining my mental health:
1. Practicing gratitude and meditationThis has aided me in my ability to help myself when I’m alone at my site. Breaths are like little love notes to your body so letting yourself breathe is a good start to your self-care routine. The same goes for gratitude, reminding yourself why you are here, how you got here, and what good you have in your life can make a bad day more manageable. There is so much to be grateful for!
 2. If you are an outdoorsy person like me, hiking can create healing: I go on hikes when I’m not serving to help me relax. Hiking allows me to exercise, access more companionship, and take in good ole’ Vitamin D. It provides a space where I can just let nature nurture me.
3. Write down what you feel: In AmeriCorps (especially as leaders) we are encouraged to journal about our experiences. This can be quite cathartic. It gets our thoughts and our struggles out of our heads and onto paper making everything much more manageable.
4. Reach out: You are never alone so please don’t be afraid to reach out to those around you in an appropriate manner (do have boundaries for yourself and respect people’s limits). It can be hard to start service and not have a big social circle right away. I’ve found that joining MeetUp groups and talking to other leaders can be great ways to start building friendships.
5. Remember, everyone is different: It’s okay if none of these techniques work for you, just remember that your mental health matters! Not only is it incredibly challenging to help others without helping yourself, but your physical health can actually start to deteriorate when your mental health is poor. Stress weakens your immune system, so finding ways to achieve both basic and luxurious self-care is super vital for your service work and personal life.

Think of fulfilling your needs like a pie:
Each time you eat one piece of it (or fulfill one part of it), you get to have another piece. Needs-fulfillment pie is possibly even better than regular pie (stay with me here) because when you finish it, you feel rejuvenated instead of lethargic and too full to move. In my experience, as long as you have a balance with your service work and your self-improvement work, you’ll never be too full; rather, whole.
Here are some resources that have helped me and maybe they can help you! I’m mental health first aid certified and I want share things I actually use/listen to/read regularly:
And as always call: 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741, and look up resources in your area with this link: https://twloha.com/find-help/. You are loved, valued, and never alone. I hope this article helps you or someone else. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

“GO WEST” BY ELI BOWE


When setting out, pack light. What you anticipate isn’t what you find, and what you need is what you’ll forget; so in this case, less is more. When I departed Wisconsin for Montana, I fit my entire life into a Honda Civic, made the Fargo-Billing’s run in nine hours, and subsisted on a protein bar and a package of Corn Nuts. Along the way, I enjoyed a break at Teddy Roosevelt National Park. AmeriCorps called me because industry seemed droll. I went west because it seemed the thing to do.
More or less, that’s the story of how I arrived in Bozeman, MT one warm, dry morning in July.

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The ensuing months were educational. I learned to live without a microwave and how apply for SNAP benefits. I studied small business, and how to spell the word enterpeneur entreprennure entererpernore ENTREPRENEUR! I brushed up on audio editing.

That’s because the work I’m doing in Bozeman is unique. Broadly speaking, I promote small business and entrepreneurship. Narrowly speaking, I produce a podcast for the Office of Economic Development  while also creating a business center at the Bozeman Public Library. But it’s the podcast that always grabs people’s attention.

The show is called micromegas, named after a short story by Voltaire. No need to dust off your French Literature Anthology; the title is meant to capture the fact that Bozeman is a micropolitan area able to punch above its weight, and that entrepreneurs are individuals who exercise an outsized impact. After all, they create more new jobs in America than all the established corporations combined.

Micromegas tells the stories of local business owners, whoever they are: Two Arizonan brothers who moved north for the skiing and stuck around to open a mac’n’cheese food truck. Or a Cambodian immigrant and business founder— who’s only lived here five years. And then there’s the young algae enthusiast developing a system to harvest Omega-3 fatty acids. The residents of Bozeman deserve the chance to be inspired by these stories so that they, too, can pursue their own business aspirations.

That’s where the Library comes in. It’s all well and good to be inspired, but without guidance, even a great venture can flounder. So, following in the footsteps of libraries across the nation, the Bozeman Public Library is working to get innovators and bold souls the resources they need to succeed. 

Bozemanites are fortunate for the caliber of entrepreneurial ecosystem that already exists here. So many local groups offer business mentoring and services that I don’t dare write a list for fear of leaving someone out. Of course, this makes my life easier because it means that I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, I have the opportunity of working with people who know more about running a business or planning a start-up than I could ever learn in a year.

I spend my time finding ways to work with local organizations for the benefit of all. Case in point, the consultation hours being put on by the Small Business Development Center and the MSU Blackstone LaunchPad. The Library is able to offer an accessible location and recognized name to complement their extensive business knowledge and venture coaching experience. By working together, we can reach more people and achieve everyone’s missions.

So what’s the moral of my journey? It’s truly a pleasure to be here, residing in a state that I might never have visited, honing skills I might never have learned, and meeting people who would otherwise be strangers. There’s a lot of value in that, and although I don’t expect to change the world through my national service, I do hope to change a few lives. If everyone gave that a shot, the world would change


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

WAYFINDING AT MAPS BY DANIELE VICKERS

I had never heard of AmeriCorps until I moved to Montana last May with my partner. Having recently finished my Masters, I came to Montana, not sure how my MFA in photography would play out in trying to find work. I was in the process of transferring my out of state K-12 art teaching license to Montana, but was soon realizing that teachers had been long hired for next year. Through some serendipity, I met the executive director at MAPS, and applied for the AmeriCorps position.

The mission of MAPS is to better the lives of Montana youth through media arts education. My role is to assist with classes and community outreach and form a career/college readiness program, along with an alumni program. Because there are no grades at MAPS, and classes aren’t for credit, the environment is an incredibly unique one. Instead of completing assignments for a grade, most students come because they’re genuinely excited to film, write a song, make a video game, or any number of creative projects.

When we surveyed our students at the beginning of September, we found that almost 70% of our students are considering a 4 year degree after they graduate high school, with another 17% considering a 2 year degree. After a few College Information Nights and now the formation of ‘Future Fridays,’ MAPS students can get personalized mentoring on all things college and career related each Friday. I’m able to have those conversations with students about how they can achieve their goals. After one of the college information nights, I had an 8th grade student tell me that he hadn’t really thought much about college, but that now he was.

Having an impact on students is generally not something so straightforward, but typically comes over time with trust. I’m finding that the longer I’m here, the more I’m able to facilitate those conversations with students and assist them in finding a path that will work for them.

Cheers to growing and continuing onward.



Monday, January 7, 2019

USING MY PRIVILEGE TO PROVIDE A SAFE PLACE FOR YOUTH BY LONI NEILSON-KATTELL

      Ten years ago, I stepped off a bus onto camp Paxson in Seeley Lake, MT. The leadership camp held by the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) now EmpowerMT changed my life. We learned about mistreatment and how to make connections with people I wouldn’t have otherwise invested in. We saw how oppression and violence affect all of us and what we can do to break the vicious cycle. We learned how leadership has no age limits and most of all we learned about ourselves. Ten plus years ago I attended Big Sky-High School as a leader. Now I have the opportunity to return to my alma mater and provide a safe space for youth.
      Last year I started studying at Walla Walla University to pursue a master’s degree in social work. I was seeking a way to impact the world beyond myself. My undergraduate degree is in technical theatre with an emphasis in stage management and lighting design with a minor in psychology. I guess you could say that it has always been vital for me to let people be seen and heard. Fostering a safe space for creative expression to occur is therapy for many, but I needed to do something more.  My studies have shown me that as a social worker we are here to serve others. I needed a practicum placement for school, and EmpowerMT was the first place that came to my heart. I befriended the AmeriCorps Leader, Kayla Szatkiewicz. She was such a bright light in the EmpowerMT organization. Her enthusiasm showed me the opportunities for service in EmpowerMT and Big Sky High School through AmeriCorps.
     Working with others, especially youth, has always been a passion of mine. As an AmeriCorps leader at EmpowerMT and Big Sky, I have no shortage of working with youth groups. Whether it is Big Sky’s Student Action Committee (SAC), or their Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), or EmpowerMT’s Afterschool program Empowering People Inspiring Change (EPIC) I have found that my investment in my future is well spent with the youth who are in fact my greatest teachers. They all continue to surprise and inspire my work with their ideas and values.
     Serving youth as a privileged white, straight, cisgender, and woman has been the most humbling experience. Working with middle and high schoolers surprisingly puts you in a very vulnerable place. I am continuing to learn and live in discomfort, and that is okay. By acknowledging who I am, my many identities, I am modeling to the youth how vulnerability and conversation put us on the right path to serve for the betterment of humanity. Due to my many identities and privileges, I am able to provide a safe space that fosters positivity, validation, processes, collaboration, and awareness. I am here to serve the youth so that we can create a better future and its an honor for me as an AmeriCorps leader to be with them so they can be seen and heard.

Monday, December 31, 2018

JUMP INTO SERVICE HEAD FIRST BY CLARA MOSER


At Big Sky’s GSA end of the year meeting
       
Serving in Missoula at Big Sky High School has been both a tremendous transition and a rewarding adventure. While it is bizarre to be back in the middle of those high school days of anxious sweat, many heartbreaks, and the buzzing need for independence, I am so grateful to be able to stand beside these kids as they find their way.
      
I have been working primarily with the support staff team here at Big Sky. The support staff consists of counselors for each grade-level, a college graduation coach, dean of students, vice principals, a family resource center manager, the project success leader, the Native American specialist, and, thrown into the middle of it all, me!
From the first day I was incredibly moved by the resiliency of this team. They all gather together to work to best support students who are struggling, and they do so with so much emotional labor and empathy that it truly shows you what community accountability can look like. While their jobs are not easy, they are constantly engaged in the muck and grit of it all and are looking to always better themselves for their students. 
     
At one point during an Americorps training we shared aloud Marge Piercy’s poem To Be of Use and related it to our service experience. Pierce begins the poem by declaring her admiration for those who “jump into work head first/ without dallying in the shallows.” The image of a person diving into the deep of a moment, without hesitation or pause, is one that Pierce draws us further and further into throughout the body of the poem. She likens those who dive “into work head first” to an ox sturdily shouldering a heavy load and to water buffalo “who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, “who do what has to be done, again and again.”

I find myself, here in Montana this Fall, straining once again in the mud and the muck. And that strain is what is simultaneously exciting, exhausting, and terrifying. I can’t say I imagine myself as always being the person Piercy admires in her poem, the one who always dives head first. It is something I have had to do, again and again, with more assurance of how the fall will break each time, but it is not something I do without hesitation, sometimes the shallows feel safe or sometimes necessary when you are exhausted from swimming. I feel so fortunate to be working alongside of a team of people who do this daily, and who are committed to caring and uplifting others daily. Although I began the year feeling burnt out on love, I have found over time an endless source of it in working with kids who, despite whatever obstacles and struggles, always find a way to come to my room and laugh about something, to take joy in being together and in learning from one another.
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In the past few months there’s been too much happening for me to even know where to begin explaining it all. In place of words, here are some pictures (with captions) to describe it all:
My GUTS (Girls Understanding Their Strength) group writing words of encouragement to one another.


GUTS group taking a goofy pic



Picture from Post-Secondary Month tabling activities at Big Sky!

Monday, December 17, 2018

I DON'T WANNA MAKE THAT: THE DICHOTOMY BETWEEN VISION AND REALITY BY CHANDLER PADGETT

As I approach a quarter year of service, I look back on what I’ve done so far with both wonder and a good deal of amusement. From the wackiness of helping build an escape room and making a spider out of a hay bale to the doldrums of mopping and serving yogurt, my time in Sidney has been an interesting experience. Out of it all, the service I’m most passionate about and have had the most fun with is my art history program.

The program started with lofty goals and aspirations—we would tour the world through the lens of significant art, progressing through history with each week. These goals met with reality in a disastrous way during the program’s first day; as I tried to explain the meaning and uses of archaic pictographs, kindergartners pulled chalk out and started to run around; as I looked around the sidewalk at what everyone drew, all but two didn’t follow directions. Best of all was a unicorn poop tree, whatever that is.

Now in December, I’ve learned valuable lessons about how to structure my programs and what goals I set for the students to learn. Primarily, I’ve lessened the restrictions on what they make, focusing more on what the students want to get out of the activity and less on what would be educationally ideal. It’s better to have an excited, engaged student doing what they prefer than a bored one doing what I do. As a result of this change, I’ve seen a lot of innovative and frequently amusing works that really showcase the individuality of students.

Although it’s never perfect and often challenging, I and a changing cast of students continue to engage, create interesting art, and learn a little about the past. As Timmy, the mountain with a face recently created during an Olmec clay activity would probably say, “there’s always gonna be another mountain.” AmeriCorps is a climb, I guess.



Monday, December 10, 2018

A TELESCOPE LOOKING IN BY EVERETT WALKER

I find myself at odds with how to really convey much of anything in this blog.  I’m here to serve, I felt a call and had to find where that call was coming from.  I’m almost thirty with 3 kids and I’m married.  I used to sit in a cubicle and sell insurance over the phone and I was good at it.  I can connect with people quickly and serve his/her needs in about twenty minutes, another ten to get the policy or policies rolling and after 11 hours in the building I would clock out and go home with my wife. We would pick up our 3 beautiful kids and make dinner and eat, snuggle play games do bath time.  In the back of my mind, I was losing it.  I was fighting a losing battle with depression and put on a smile.

As a dad, I felt a call to be better.  As a husband I heard a call to be better, and as a patriot I couldn’t ignore the call to do better.  So I started looking, high and low, for a cause.  I looked at the UN, never heard back from that application, I looked at politicians running for office in Colorado that I could get behind, I looked so much that I lost my heart and felt nothing but a deafening call to be, what, better?  My depression and anxiety was giving me a run for my money, I was having panic attacks in my car on the way to work.  One evening I read my emails and one said, “ Hey, finish your application please. We think you’d be a good fit for this position.”  So I jumped up in my kitchen and let out a squeal.  The bird squawked at me, my dog was on alert and my wife looked at me from across the table like I was crazy.  My heart was racing as I finished the last bit.  A few days later I was having interviews for Montana and Colorado, I had this amazing opportunity at my feet.  I moved before I received the offer, in fact I was leaving Colorado Springs the morning Lana sent it to me.  My response was a picture of the UHaul.  I fell in love with Missoula just reading about it, I had to do something different and had several interviews lined up.


The best part of all of this is that I’m here right now, getting things done.  I am able to be better as a dad, as a husband and do better as a patriot.  I grew up learning to love my country, not just the land, constitution, flag or consumerism but the people.  We are all connected to one another.  We all have a stake in what is happening.  I was never able to serve my country the way my dad, his dad and his dad, so on and so forth did; but this is my way and my path.  It’s narrow right now but at the end of it are endless possibilities.  What is giving my heart and mind a rest is knowing that what I’m doing here matters.  Being a Leader, taking a huge cut in pay and dragging my family over a thousand miles was worth it.  I’m making a difference,  I’m proud to be a part of something larger than myself and to push it forward.  I appreciate being able to show my children at an early age what service is.  I also serve in a very cool host site and have felt like a kid in a candy shop the whole time.

I think the point here is that this service has helped me take care of not only my adopted community of Missoula, but also myself and my family.  The service is the true reward.