|Bess Pallares, MTCC VISTA Alum|
This year marks the 50th anniversary of VISTA. In celebration of this special anniversary we will be featuring alumni periodically to see where they are now. We checked in with Bess Pallares who served as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the University of Montana and Missoula County Public Schools. Check out the amazing things she has done and is currently doing below. Thank you for your service, Bess and good luck with everything you do!
Where did you serve?
I served with Missoula County Public Schools and University of Montana as a VISTA with the Partners In Education project from July 2010 to July 2012.
What was your service experience like and how did your project address the poverty problem in your community?
My service experience involved a lot of capacity building, program evaluation, and community partner development. Coming from a journalism background these were new challenges for me, but I had great support from my supervisor and the other excellent folks with Missoula County Public Schools and its partner organizations. My work focused on two main areas: the Graduation Matters Missoula campaign and addressing volunteer policies and involvement in the schools. These issues play a huge role in not only assisting students and families currently experiencing poverty, but in providing a strong foundation for students to succeed and stand a better chance of moving out of poverty as adults. The earning potential and quality of life for high school graduates is significantly stronger than those who drop out. My work was centered around partnering with community organizations to support school initiatives in support of graduation and making sure more volunteers can be involved safely in the schools to provide much-needed assistance for teachers with over-crowded classrooms and few resources.
During your service, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
In my first year of service I helped develop a new district policy that requires MCPS volunteers who work with students unsupervised to undergo a criminal background check. I researched background-checking systems and developed print and digital forms for volunteers to register with the district and submit to the checks, as well as a database to track volunteers and keep schools updated on volunteer permissions. Keeping the importance of parent involvement and affordability to families experiencing poverty in mind, we chose a system that cost just $6.50 per check, and any parent or volunteer who was unable to pay for their background check had the fee covered by the district or special Parent Teacher Association funds. This was a fundamental step in allowing the district to increase community involvement while helping to ensure student safety in schools.
Where are you today and what are you doing?
I live in Portland, Oregon, and I’m halfway through a master’s in book publishing at Portland State University. I work as a freelance comic book editor, and for the next year will serve as the acquisitions co-manager for Ooligan Press, the student-run publishing house based at PSU.
How has your service impacted you personally and professionally?
Personally, as a graduate student with limited means and a family to support, I have continued to use the lessons in thrifty living I developed as a VISTA. I’ve learned I can handle just about anything for two years! Professionally, the confidence I developed in building community partnerships and the problem-solving skills I learned during my service have helped me boldly pursue my dream career as a comic book editor. The job is vastly different, but through VISTA I developed fearlessness and faith in my own abilities. I am forever grateful for my Montana Campus Compact experience and friends I made in the program.
Keep in touch, Bess and good luck!