Friday, October 16, 2015


Michele Schahczenski is currently serving with the Children's Museum of Missoula and University of Montana.  She began her service last January 2015 and wraps up in early 2016.  I checked in with her to see how things were going and here's what she had to say:

What is your background that led you to serve as a VISTA member?
I was born in Whitehall, Montana and went to college in Missoula, Montana where I am currently serving as a VISTA. I’ve lived in Montana my whole life and after my undergraduate I was excited to get the chance to give back to the state that I love so much. I graduated with a degree in Psychology and a degree in Anthropology and knew that VISTA would be a great way to transition into the working world while simultaneously helping an awesome community organization.

Describe a typical work day at your host site.
I come in at 9:00 AM and check emails and go over what I am working on for that day or week and create a to-do list for the day. What I do each day varies on what projects or events are coming up. My main projects involve Exhibit Committee work, volunteer recruitment and coordination, and developing three main documents (an Exhibit Committee Handbook, a Volunteer Manual, and a Volunteer Coordinator Handbook). I usually work on at least one or two of these projects each day. I might have an Exhibit Committee meeting for which I need to set up an agenda or write up minutes. I may write or edit a section of a handbook or I might have a meeting or a tabling event to recruit volunteers. This is one of my favorite things about my service is that each day I can chip away at multiple bigger projects that require different skills to accomplish. It keeps things interesting and it is exciting to see the goals get closer and closer to being met.

How have you incorporated your campus partner into your efforts?
My campus partner, the University of Montana, has been most helpful in the volunteer mobilization aspect of my service. The University is an awesome resource for volunteers. The different tabling events put on by the Office of Civic Engagement (where my campus partner is located) have helped the Children’s Museum to increase its visibility and get students involved in volunteering.

What motivates you to serve as a VISTA?
For me the biggest motivator for doing this type of work is the tangible improvements I see VISTAs like myself making in such a wide variety of impactful organizations. This work has allowed me to take up a personally challenging position and entrusted me with the opportunity to make a real difference for an organization that I truly believe is making a positive impression on my community and the world. That is a lot more than a lot of other young adults my age can say about their work and that alone motivates me to do my best. 

What are your plans after VISTA?
Right after VISTA I plan on taking three months off to go on a bike tour in Central America. I am also applying for graduate school for the fall of 2016 at American University for a Master’s International in Public Anthropology. I will be continuing my community service work, as a Master’s International is a program that includes a 2 year Peace Corps term during your studies.

Thank you for checking in, Michele!  We wish you the best of luck with the rest of your service and your future plans.  

Friday, October 9, 2015


Sam Garetson serves with Salish Kootenai College
Sam Garetson has had a lot of success since he started as a VISTA this past January. He currently works from Salish Kootenai College with with the Upward Bound office, helping open the doors to postsecondary education wider to more first generation and low income Montanans. Recently, we decided to check in with him. This is what he had to say:

Why do you serve as a VISTA member?
I think an intuitive as well as learned desire to be in service to others is what drove me to AmeriCorps VISTA. Throughout my undergraduate studies I found myself gravitating towards classes and areas of study that reflected this. My final senior thesis essay on poverty became a turning point in my life. It made me wrestle with some of the most uncomfortable, pre-conditioned beliefs concerning our society and its divorce from humanity. It took me until the final semester of my college years to understand why I had been studying what I had. AmeriCorps provided an outlet for the skills I cultivated in college and an environment to continue to grow academically, professionally and spiritually. VISTA has been a blessing, allowing me to learn the processes associated with community activism, at the same time granting creative freedom in exploring new ways to serve and connect with community. 

Describe a typical work day at your host site.
AmeriCorps VISTA Sam Garetson (pictured far right)
with fellow instructors and students participate in
 Bob Marshall Wilderness trail restoration
 as part of Upward Bound's summer program. 
My day typically starts with me checking emails. Since that lasts a whopping five minutes, I have a lot time to spend on my primary function, which is to research and create sustainable programs and curricula to be used by Upward Bound (UB) in improving communication and empowerment of our students. By the end of the day I have a pile of post-it notes, scratch printer paper, and more ideas than I know what to do with. I spend subsequent days making sense of the previous day’s research, tending to the ideas that work and throwing out those that don’t. Throughout the summer, I piloted student assessment tools that could assist UB in improving student academic success by paradoxically going beyond mere academic evaluations and focusing on character development. My research has spawned a multi-faceted teaching tool that hopes to build on characteristics of grit and resilience, essential to a student’s investment in learning. The long-term goal is to maintain an instructive system that supports the actualization of self-awareness and empowerment for our students.

How have you incorporated your campus partner into your project?
Salish Kootenai College (SKC) has been an excellent community partner. SKC is the hub of academic activity in the Flathead Valley affording me access to college level instruction, Native American cultural life, and important networks that expand my scope of work. SKC also provides transportation and logistics to and from the many college tours, cultural events and programs around the state that support the personal and academic development of our students. Our cooperative relationship with SKC is essential to the operations of Upward Bound and its continued viability in the region.

What motivates you to do a year of VISTA service? 
High School is hard. We often look back on that time, frustrated at our lack of understanding of the bigger picture, wishing we had known then what we now know. The motivation to work with underprivileged students to expand their internal and external life horizons comes from this perspective. Upward Bound is a college preparatory program administered by the government, sure, but to make it effective requires forward thinking. Students need more than a manufactured roadmap to get them to and through college. We have a responsibility to meet our students where they are individually in order to facilitate a deeper ecology of self that will help them become resilient, aware, ethical persons. Working from this mindset brings the student back into the equation allowing us to address the web of personal experiences that effect academic success.

What are your plans after VISTA?
Working at the University of Montana (and MTCC Network Office) as a VISTA leader and supporting new, wide-eyed VISTAs sounds pretty plush. An alternative route would be to pursue a joint master’s program incorporating Peace Corps service and cultural ecology or who knows. In a beautiful way my goals are adaptable. AmeriCorps, and the environment it placed me in, has taught me humility and contentment in the process. Ultimately, losing myself in this process of serving others will be my own selfish life reward.

Thanks for your service, Sam!

Monday, October 5, 2015


Tonight! October 22nd at 5:00 PM in Missoula
Have you ever wondered about Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or getting involved through volunteering? Do you know what it takes to become a member of one of these programs or to get involved in your community? Maybe you don't know where to look, or who to talk to, right?

Well, you are in luck! Because on Thursday, October 22, at 5:00 PM 2015 there will be a Volunteer Service Panel in Missoula to discuss how to get involved and what the perks are to being a part of the National Service movement. The event is hosted by the University of Montana's Peace Corps recruiter and Career Services. Attendees will be able to visit with current and former members of the programs and find out why they are serving.

Some of the national service programs such as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and Conservation Corps see tremendous support in Montana. Peace Corps ranks Montana 7th (per capita) in 2014 for number of volunteers per 100,000 residents, and Missoula, Montana ranked 2nd (per capita) for Peace Corps Volunteer generation. AmeriCorps and Senior Corps in Montana has ‘more than 5,900 people of all ages and backgrounds helping to meet local needs, strengthen communities, and increase civic engagement through national service’.2  Montana Campus Compact, the Office for Civic Engagement, and Global Youth Development Program all strive to engage students,  and community members. These programs develop civic engagement opportunities and service projects which will strengthen communities and the world at large.

We hope to see you all there on Thursday, October 22, 2015!

What: Volunteer Service Panel

When: October 22, 2015 from 5 PM – 6:30 PM

Where: University of Montana - Payne Family Native American Center (NAS) 105

Information taken from:

Friday, October 2, 2015


Christina Dock: MTCC VISTA alum 
Christina Dock served from July 2014 to July 2015 in a partnership position between the the Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming and Rocky Mountain College in Billings, MT. Christina worked hard to build a strong, reciprocal campus-community partnerships and we asked if she could discuss what went into them, reflect on what she accomplished and share her successes and challenges.

Campus Partnerships
"At the Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming (GSMW) headquarters office, we tried to make connections and recruit students from every college in our region including Rocky Mountain College, Montana State University Billings, Montana State University, Little Big Horn College, Fort Peck Community College, Dawson Community College, etc.

Our main partner is Rocky Mountain College in Billings. Last year our partnership consisted of a meeting space on campus and hosting Rocky Work Study students. This past year our partnership with Rocky expanded to include hosting Work Study students; holding a Troop on campus; co-hosting events; and introducing girls to faculty, staff, and students. Rocky Mountain College troop 2435 met every other week and has the opportunity to meet with college professors, athletic teams, and/or staff members once a month. The members of the college came in, discussed what they do, how the girls can take steps to getting into college (in a way a 5 year old can understand), and did activities pertaining to their professions with the girls. That gave the girls an opportunity to see that they can attend college and be anything they want whether it is a chemist, an artist, and anything in between. We have also worked with RMC to create a higher education patch which the girls can earn at the end of the year. With all of our successes, we are planning for next year already!"

DCTA Project
Rocky Mountain College
"Many people think that Girls Scouting is about the "3 C’s" Camps, Crafts, and Cookies. This is not the case! GSMW’s main focuses for 2015 are Science Technology Engineering and Math (or "STEM"), financial literacy, and the outdoors. I encouraged my Rocky student volunteers to use STEM to create engaging lessons that get the girls pumped to learn. We hope that this will carry over into their school work and get the girls ready for higher education!

My project was called "Discover, Connect, Take Action (DCTA)," and we have recruited 575 girls to participate in our council-led troops just last year. These girls meet at one of our 13 partner troop locations including the YMCA, Friendship House of Christian Service, Discover Zone, CARE Academy, Rocky Mountain College, various middle schools in Billings, and many churches. The main goal of the DCTA project is to create a sustainable campus partnership that leads to a reliable stream of college student volunteers to lead these troops and encourage the girls to pursue higher education. I have successfully recruited and retained four long-term volunteers, so if you know of anyone in eastern and southern Montana who wants to volunteer, send them to GSMW, we have opportunities across the region!"