Monday, December 12, 2016

MTCC VISTA SPOTLIGHT: SCARLETT DAY-ALEMAN IN LAME DEER


Scarlett Day-Aleman is a Compact AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with Lame Deer public schools on the Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation in southeastern Montana. What started out for Scarlett as a summer AmeriCorps placement with The Boys and Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne in Lame Deer has transitioned into a full-time position as a VISTA in the same community. Scarlett has excelled in her new role - building an after school program for the public schools, leveraging community volunteers to help with sustainable growth of the programs, and initiating a reading program for students to read to stray dogs to boost their confidence. She has also been instrumental in the success of a backpack foods program which recently received a $1000 Wal-Mart grant to continue the necessary funding of the program. Below, she explains the importance of receiving this grant and the impact the program has had for the kids, the community and herself.

Scarlett reading with a student in the Rescue Dogs Program
"The grant funds will be used to continue a weekend feeding program run by the Montana Foodbank Network called the BackPack Program. The BackPack program is an awesome program that helps alleviate chronic hunger in elementary aged students. Living on a reservation with a high percentage of people living at or below the poverty level, there is a great need for this program. It has been proven time and time again that kids cannot learn, or really even behave, while hungry because they are in survival mode. By giving them weekend food, the students are not as hungry come Monday morning. When they are not hungry, they are not in survival mode, this makes the whole day better and easier for everyone involved. 

One of the coolest things about the backpacks, from a school standpoint, is the fact that they come prepackaged. We don't have to worry about stuffing them or making sure everyone gets the same amount because the food bank does that for us! They also deliver straight to the school so I don't have to worry about how to transport 600 bags of food to the school every 6 weeks. It's also a very cheap program, with the bags only being 4 dollars a piece. That beats trying to buy food, transport it, and pack it ourselves. Another great thing is how discreet they can be. It's not a problem in Lame Deer since there's really no stigma in receiving help here, but I appreciate the fact that the food bags slip into backpacks with ease and could be easily camouflaged if kids were embarrassed to receive them.

I'm really excited to get this grant, and donation money from people back home, to continue this program. It is probably the most important thing I do here and I believe it leaves the biggest impact on the kids. There are also kids who rely on this program and are getting important nutrition from it. It has also proven to be a good way to get the older kids involved with service. Sixth graders and the special education kids love helping pack boxes and delivering them to the teachers. It's just great to see students helping fellow students out even if it's something as minimal as placing a plastic bag in a cardboard box. It helps inspire a sense of community that the kids would not get in any other way. It also gives me a reminder every week of why I do what I do.
"
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Thank you Scarlett, for your continued mindful support of the Lame Deer community and especially its youth.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

LIFE AFTER VISTA: DOING WHAT YOU LOVE

Sara Feilzer is an MTCC VISTA Alum currently working for Exploration Works in Helena, MT. Her passion for teaching science to young Montanans has been an inspiration to everyone she works with. We would like to highlight her past and current accomplishments and thank her for her service to Montana communities.

When and where did you serve your term as a Compact AmeriCorps VISTA?

I served from July 2015 to July 2016 in Missoula with spectrUM Discovery Area, a hands-on science center focused on encouraging the next generation of Montanans to pursue higher education and hopefully a career in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math).

What are some highlights from your year of service?

One of the highlights of my year of service was helping to plan a massive gala fundraiser for my organization which brought in over $50,000. It was incredible to see all of the people in the community that came together to support spectrUM and allow us to continue to serve Montana and its families. I also helped build infrastructure for a summer camp program and was able to see firsthand the impact that my service had on students of all social and economic backgrounds.

How did your service impact your life?

My year of service was an eye-opening experience for me personally and professionally. I had a great deal of hardship during my time with spectrUM and MTCC, but because of those experiences, I was able to learn so much more about myself and how I handle successes, setbacks and failures. It also was such an incredible experience to be serving with other service-minded individuals and watching their passions for civic engagement grow and change throughout our term of service. I met some amazing people doing incredible work through MTCC, and I am extremely proud to call them friends. I was lucky enough to serve in the community that I grew up in, with the organization that I fell in love with in high school. Through my term of service though, I was exposed to so much more, and the opportunity to do so much more to engage and give back to my community.

Where are you now and in what way are you still involved with civic engagement?

Currently I am the Community Education and Outreach Director for ExplorationWorks, a hands-on science center in Helena, Montana. My focus is on engaging the public in informal STEM education and hopefully sparking a lifelong passion for science. I lead programming geared for kids as young as 2, all the way to adults, hopefully encouraging them to look at their world a little differently. I am also going to start volunteering with the wildlife education center at Montana WILD in January, which I am super excited about,  and I also serve on the Board of Directors for Animal Wonders, an organization that takes in displaced exotic animals, gives them a forever home, and turns them into ambassadors for their species.

Any additional thoughts on your current passions for community service?

I think that civic engagement is one of the most important things we can do for our community. When we serve our neighbors, friends, family, we create a safer and more welcoming place for all. I would love to see every person engaged in their community and helping to pass on their passion and knowledge to the next generation.

Friday, October 21, 2016

BITTERROOT COLLEGE HOSTS COMMUNITY FORUM

Several staff members from MTCC's Network Office spent an inspiring day in Hamilton, Montana with an inspiring crew of folks like Tim Peterson from Bitterroot Collective Impact, Dan Griffin from the Valley Veterans Service Center, Allen Bjergo from the Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development Area, and Roch Turner and Kate Johnson from Bitterroot College. Kate's serving her second term as an AmeriCorps VISTA and helped organize the conference, and Roch's an MTCC VISTA alum.

At the conference we heard from dedicated leaders like Susan Hay Patrick from the United Way of Missoula County, Deb Halliday from the Office of Public Instruction and Graduation Matters, and so many inspiring Bitterrooters, seeking to meaningful change in their communities. Our staff faciliated sessions on National Service and grant writing, and we came back with a huge charge to do good work! Thanks for inspiring us, Roch, Kate and the rest of the awesome Bitterrooters who attended and participated! This was as good and example of higher ed advancing its public purposes as we can imagine. Good work, Bitterroot College.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

CREATIVE CAPACITY BUILDING SUPPORTING YOUNG MOTHERS


Carly Hosford-Israel began her MTCC VISTA service with Fort Peck Community College and Poplar Schools in July of 2016. Within the past three months, Carly's vision and determination to empower students and individuals for educational attainment has been outstanding and with no lack of regular ups and downs. Carly has demonstrated resilience and a wide range of capabilities to support her VISTA service term. The creative freedom and capacity building elements AmeriCorps VISTA provides can be daunting, however for Carly it has been an open invitation to tackle some long standing issues facing the Poplar community and to make big positive changes there

Below we highlight an initiative begun by Carly to improve the solidarity and community around young mothers through the use of an online open forum called Dear Young Mothers (DYM). Please take some time to read about her work this initiative and to show support for young mothers community by visiting the DYM Website and sharing with appropriate parties.

What led you to the development of this resource?

I work in a high school with a handful of soon-to-be student mothers. From my own life history I know what can go wrong in young motherhood, I also know young motherhood isn’t solely limited to missteps and mistakes. I know we all hold wisdom founded in and directly from our lived experience. 

Why is the mental and physical health of young mothers so important?

I know a lot of former young mothers are likely now older mothers and grandmothers. I've conceptualized a virtual community space to host inter-generational sharing of wisdom between current and former young mothers. It is called DYM (Dear Young Mother). It hopes to be an archive of letters in support and solidarity that all sustainable parenting requires. I personally know that in sharing with elders and others I have been able to better advocate for and orient myself. 

What cultural and economic roadblocks to empowering women have you experienced in your VISTA position thus far?

As a VISTA serving in a high school and tribal college setting it is unnerving to watch students drop out of education as a democratic responsibility and timeless personal pursuit. I think much of this disengagement is connected to students' life stresses outside of school as well as the disconnect between classroom lessons and lived experience. It is my hope that DYM becomes a platform to directly confront and combat those barriers to continued education and empowerment.  

What do you hope is accomplished through the DYM initiative?

Healthy, educated, and well supported motherhood is essential to the well being of our communities and country. It is the conduit through which we all become a part of, and learn ways in which to take part in, this world. I am writing to ask for your help in securing letters to young mothers at my high school and beyond, who themselves have excitedly reviewed the idea and are looking forward to a trove of: best practices, refuge, encouragement, courage, and teachable moments. I am asking you, and anyone you might think to forward this along to, to take a few moments to reflect on how you can contribute to a system of support for a group of cyclically undeserved women and their children. Thank you. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

MILESTONE: ONE MILLION AMERICORPS MEMBERS!

We're excited to have been a part of the now 1,000,000 Americans who have served with AmeriCorps over its 21 years. We started here, in Montana as AmeriCorps began with a student engagement program called Campus Corps, moved on to support literacy with Montana Reads, and worked with our Colorado partners with the UCAN Serve program, our Washington friends with Students In Service, and Mountain West with the Compact Service Corps. Now we run a program that's just called MTCC AmeriCorps, and we focus on high school graduation, postsecondary access and college completion. Over those past twenty or so years we've engaged several thousand members, tens of thousands of volunteers, and helped improve reading, math and college-going rates for our state. We have alums who served with Compact AmeriCorps programs who are in the governor's office, state legislature, private and nonprofit sectors and federal government and we hear from them regularly about what a difference their service made in who they are today. We're deeply proud to be the education part of a great broader community working with conservation, clean energy, access to nutritious food, quality legal support and antipoverty work. Every day we appreciate our friends with Montana Conservation Corps, Prevention Resource Center, Montana No Kid Hungry, Legal Services Association, National Center for Appropriate Technology, Montana State Parks and more. We also get great support from the Governor's Office of Community Service and Montana Commission for Community Service. What a milestone! Congratulations, Alums, partners and campuses!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

MTCC VISTA National Day of Service

Over the 9/11 remembrance weekend, MTCC VISTA members across Montana collaborated to lend their hands in service to a wide range of community betterment work. Ideally, given the success of this year’s National Day of Service, every weekend would see VISTA members engaging in service work to directly impact the communities where they live. The purpose of service is threefold: to create solidarity amongst individuals doing service; to better existing methods of community empowerment and intervention; and to plant and cultivate the seed of service within each of our members and those they knowingly or unknowingly influence every day.
We'd like to highlight the diverse service initiatives that our VISTAs applied themselves to over the 9/11 weekend. Thank you to all community organizations and volunteers that helped in the process of giving back and paying it forward through our actions.
Many of our VISTAs from around the Bitterroot valley and Missoula joined forces to bring restorative change to the Clark Fork watershed. In partnership with the Clark Fork Coalition of Missoula, our VISTA crew set to work cleaning garbage from the Deep Creek riverbed and fishing access site. All sorts of materials and junk were extracted from the surrounding streams and rocky slopes including tires, bike frames, coaches, bed posts, half disintegrated car parts, and soggy clothes. All in all, nearly 400 pounds of litter was removed from the site over the course of two hours reinforcing the old saying “many hands make small work”. Michelle Seibert, VISTA member with Bitterroot College had this to say about the day of service:
“While I certainly understand the importance of the campsite rule and keeping trash out of natural resources, when I was picking up trash I spent a lot of time reflecting on the impact that I make when I'm out in nature. I try to practice Leave No Trace principles when I'm out camping or on the river, but there were things that I hadn't really thought of, like the nails left behind when burning old pallets for firewood. This project made me think about environmental protection on both a local and a global scale, and seemed to be doing some important work toward the ongoing efforts to clean up the Clark Fork River.”
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Along with a large cohort of volunteers that were mobilized in Missoula there were a few VISTAs and VISTA teams from the eastern regions of the state that really took their moments of service to the next level of compassion. Darby Lacey, VISTA member serving with the Bozeman area Community Foundation spent her service day volunteering with Bozeman’s Community Café to help dish out food and build relationships with individuals and families who utilize the Café as necessary resource. Darby provided an excellent reflection that is worth sharing at length as it pertains to the perceptions and assumptions we harbor about people in p
C:\Users\sam.garetson\Desktop\IMG_4056.JPG“One thought that came to mind as I was serving at the Cafe is the lack of people that come in for dinner and pay the suggested donation or pay for someone else's dinner. Despite the creative marketing of the Cafe and the high quality food, the Cafe is mostly used by those who cannot afford meals, which is of course an important resource for our community. I can't help but think that stigma towards resources that are utilized primarily by those in lower socioeconomic classes keeps folks who could help cover costs at the Cafe from dining there. This also prevents important cross-class socialization and community building from happening as it ends up being a segregated space.”
Our VISTAs continued to serve in multiple roles. Lenore and Rebekah, VISTA members working to enhance educational attainment for under-privileged, low-income students across the state spent their day disguising and improving social hiking trails for public use. Hans Hyppolite serving the Great Falls College Native Initiatives program partnered with the Great Falls Rescue Mission to bring food to the homeless and many veterans around the area. Ruth Jessee serving on the Flathead Indian reservation partnered with the area Boys and Girls Club to create thank you letters and inspirational messages for local police and fire departments. Tiphani Lynn in Bozeman served with HRDC’s Warming Center to raise funds to help support costs of heating homes for low-income families. She and her team raised $403 to help in this effort.
Scarlett Day-Aleman serving in the Lame Deer schools helped promote the importance of everyday heroes like doctors, nurses, and military servicemen with students and fostered awareness of natural disasters with kindergarten level kids. Margaret Hoyt, a VISTA member serving with YWCA GUTS program in Missoula, volunteered at her local homeless shelter to provide necessary care to individuals utilizing that resource. Finally, Kelsie Severson, a second year VISTA Serving with BIG Sky High School assisted with the Big Sky Family Resource Center’s food drive to bring nourishment to area high school students.
Applause and gratification goes out to all VISTAs who made it a priority to get out and serve their communities on National Day of Service. We look forward to future service work that extends beyond your specific sites. We are always in the process of creating and envisioning a better culture and environment for us all to enjoy.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

GIVING COMMUNITIES "BIG MICROPHONES"

This year, Campus Compact recognizes Robin Saha, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Montana, as the 2016 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award Recipient.

Saha’s engaged scholarship sits at the intersection of environmental justice, health and policy, emphasizing advocacy for marginalized communities. His nationally recognized work shed light on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and has been cited in Fortune Magazine, the Boston Globe, and the Huffington Post.

Using Geographic Information Systems, Saha has worked to establish quantitative methods for assessing racial and socioeconomic disparities in locations with environmental hazards. Dr. Saha, in partnership with Robert Bullard and other nationally recognized leaders in the field of environmental justice, published a 20 year update of the landmark report Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States, which catapulted issues of environmental justice to the forefront of national conversation on systems of inequality. Their findings revealed the nation’s hazardous waste facilities continue to be concentrated disproportionately in minority and low-income communities, and highlighted the need for continued attention to the problem.

Dr. Saha’s scholarship is grounded in partnerships with communities that inform his teaching, research, and activism. Saha consistently engages his students in real-world environmental problems and connects them with affected communities. He has been a consistent advocate for the importance of community-engaged scholarship within the University of Montana System by creating opportunities for both faculty and students to promote community engagement through his role as a founding member of UM’s Service Learning Advisory Board and through his contributions to the creation of a Climate Change Studies minor known for its engaged curriculum.


"I believe that community engagement is vital to social justice, which is a core value of my work, because one cannot be of true service to those whose basic needs are not met without engaging and collaborating with affected communities. To approach social justice any other way is to risk being paternalistic. I have never given up–and never will–on the promise of a fair and just society where all people can thrive, not just survive, and I have dedicated myself to helping to achieve environmental and social justice for all." (Dr. Robin Saha)



Dr. Saha’s career has included work with a wide variety of communities ranging from rural tribal communities in Montana to urban settings in Michigan. When asked to describe a particularly impactful moment in his career, he talked about sharing the stage with grassroots leaders of a small, former smelting town called Opportunity, Montana. Opportunity is a community lying entirely within a Superfund site, classified by the Department of Health and Human Services as “any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified as a candidate for cleanup by the EPA because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment.” Opportunity faces arsenic contaminated soils and groundwater, and is located next to a major waste repository for Superfund cleanups around the state of Montana. The community of Opportunity was concerned about the safety of their well water, dust blowing in from the repository, and contaminated soils in their own back and front yards.

"We were able to share the stories of the people of Opportunity at the National Summit of Mining Communities. Our panel was titled, “Give Opportunity a Chance: A Superfund Community’s Struggle for Justice, Health, & Safety”, and my students were in the audience as part of a class field trip. It was gratifying to see and hear community members, who often aren’t comfortable speaking in public, tell their inspiring stories of struggle and triumph in the face of injustice on a national stage. There’s no substitute for hearing their stories in their own voices–the unmistakable power and authenticity of direct experience. I tell my students that it’s important to find ways to give members of disproportionately impacted communities big megaphones—it was so great to see them use it so well!" (Dr. Robin Saha)

As a result of Saha and his students’ efforts organizing and partnering with the community, significant environmental management improvements were made to address the community’s health, safety and quality of life concerns.

For more on Dr. Robin Saha, see his page on the University of Montana’s website, and learn more about the Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award here.
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 This piece was reprinted in its entirety from the Campus Compact blog.

Friday, September 16, 2016

BEGINNING MY SERVICE

Hi everyone! My name is Margaret and I am the new senior AmeriCorps Leader located in the Montana Campus Compact office. I just started at the beginning of September.  I am a Montana girl. I grew up in Cascade and was already in Missoula when I began my AmeriCorps application process. I graduated from The University of Montana in 2014 with a degree in Marketing, Management and a certificate in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management. I love hiking, running and backpacking with my adventure dog Keta, she is a rescue from Alaska. I love a great cup of coffee and am an avid coffee-making-contraption collector. I love to travel near and far. Finally, I love that AmeriCorps is my next adventure!

Montana Campus Compact:
My service has just only begun and so far it is off to a brilliant start. I work in the main headquarters of the Montana Campus Compact office located in the heart of the University of Montana. I love it! My position is new to the Compact, and my days are full of learning new things. My days are filled with looking for the right candidates for the leader positions around our beautiful state of Montana. I am constantly in contact with candidates, answering questions about positions and helping them learn about the great opportunities we are offering. One of my favorite parts so far is talking to the AMAZING people that apply for AmeriCorps. What an astounding group of individuals willing to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It has been a rewarding experience to chat with people from across the country that are willing to make Montana their home for this upcoming year.

SpectrUM:
Beyond the office work my direct service portion is working for SpectrUM Discovery Area. It is a local children’s museum located in Missoula. My service has only begun but my time at SpectrUM has already been an incredibly fun experience.

 My days have been filled with learning science experiments to later teach to children at the Missoula Food Bank. My role is to help children in the community get excited about science and therefore that will hopefully translate to them staying in school.

Three of my favorite experiments I’ve learned so far are a zombie experiment, electrical circuits and an infectious disease experiment. One that I will not be taking to the food bank but completely enjoyed was dissecting… a cow eyeball! I have never seen the inside of an eyeball before, and now I can safely check that off my list! The kids that watch the experiments are so brave. They would happily watch the dissection and be willing to feel each part of the eye. I was not as brave as them. One of my favorite things I’ve heard so far was “learning here (at SpectrUM) is so much more fun!”
Busy learning at SpectrUM
I hope I can bring the fun and excitement with me to my time at the food bank. I am very excited to spend more direct time with the youth in the Missoula community.

Thanks for checking in!

Monday, September 12, 2016

ROOM TO GROW: A SERVICE STORY BY CARA GETCHES

Below is a story of service from Cara Getches, one of our VISTA Summer Associates with the Helena YMCA. Cara's experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA was full of meaning, reflection and growth on multiple levels. We appreciate the commitment she took to serve underprivileged youth and praise the impact she had in their lives and the community at large. Here is a link to a video Cara produced for the YMCA Summer Literacy Initiative. The Password to access the video is: YMCA
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Room to Grow
By Carolyn Getches
Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA, Summer 2016

For years, serving with AmeriCorps was on my list of things to do. Like traveling to Europe and riding in a hot air balloon, it had a certain romance to it. Sure, I loved the idea of helping my community, but I also had grand images of myself handing over the keys to a new house I built for a young family, impressed smiles from my parents’ friends at my obvious selflessness and a child who hadn’t spoken in years looking up at me and whispering, “Hello.” At the time, I was in my early twenties and it was easy to get lost in how experiences reflected on me, rather than how I could truly be of service to others.

After graduation, I combed through the AmeriCorps database, desperate to find that perfect match that would give me a clear purpose. I considered applying to a few, but when my internship turned into a salaried position, I hopped quickly on the corporate ladder. Soon, I was stuck in the seductive trap of working too many hours for just enough money, certain that the next promotion was the only fix. Improving the world outside my office was far from my mind. Finally, I saw a way out when an imminent move to Lincoln, NE was on the horizon.

AmeriCorps seemed like a good way to get involved in my new community and find a path to more fulfilling work. Again, I spent hours searching for the right match and, this time, even applied to a few positions. I got as far as exchanging several emails with my potential site supervisor, before I accepted another job. It was a freelance position that offered me more flexibility. Unfortunately, it also required constant travel. Serving the greater good quickly took a back seat to exhaustion and keeping up with my current time zone.

A few more years passed before I was packing up to move again. I was headed to Helena, Montana for the summer and knew that without some structure my days would be lost to Netflix and four dollar lattes. I always imagined AmeriCorps being for those folks without recurring knee pain and sprouting gray hairs and, at 28, I felt too old to apply again. I was determined to find another way to make myself useful.

Before the big move, I reached out to the Helena Family YMCA to see if they needed help with their summer learning programs. Darla Dexter, the youth development director, quickly got back to me. They had a few openings in their Summer Literacy Academy, “But,” she cautioned, “they are AmeriCorps VISTA positions. Are you still interested?” After some online research, I learned that while some AmeriCorps programs are reserved for those under 25, many of the opportunities are open to adults of any age.

Summer of 2016 marked the Literacy Academy’s first year in Helena, a YMCA program dedicated to preventing summer learning loss and helping incoming first and second graders improve their reading levels. Two teachers were already on board to run the nuts and bolts of the literacy component, but they were looking for enrichment leaders to fulfill the arts, nutrition, physical activity, science and music requirements. I felt too old, unqualified and nervous about being in front of a dozen or so children, who past experience had taught me, were likely to be very honest. However, I was excited by the opportunity and couldn't deny that it felt “meant to be,” so I accepted the position.

My fellow enrichment leader and I worked hard to develop lesson plans and find corresponding activities with the right mix of educational value and fun. We prepared fresh pasta, launched rockets, painted portraits, played soccer, decorated cupcakes, swam, marched in a parade, picked up litter, created volcanoes, jumped rope, danced, and more. With so many new activities in the mix, it was a welcome relief to have some routine in our days.

Each week, we visited the Helena Food Share, a program dedicated to “creating a hunger­free community.” There, Nick Chmura, the garden and nutrition program coordinator and a fellow VISTA member, would lead our students in a short lesson before assigning them a task in the community garden. Over the next few weeks, we sang about the parts of the plant, identified bugs, rolled compost and planted seeds, but on that first day he started with the basics. “What grows in a garden?” he asked.

“Flowers!” offered a student from the back of the group.
“Roses,” added her friend.
“What else?” Nick asked. The students looked at the garden for clues, but the plants were still too young to be of much help.
Another student, even louder than the first, shouted, “Flowweeerrsss!” I had seen our students eat broccoli, bell peppers, grapes and oranges with gusto, yet the idea that these foods came from the ground, just like flowers, wasn’t easy for them to grasp.

Near the end of our visit, Nick offered each child a chive. “What’s that?” they asked. He explained it was an herb with an onion flavor. Our bravest students reached out their hands. After a few “ewws!” and kids asking if it was grass, the group grew quiet. “Can I have another?” We were making progress.

Over the next few weeks, the plants got bigger. Slowly, the students began to recognize the fruits and vegetables growing all around them. “That looks like salad,” they’d say or, “I like those on my pizza,” while eyeing a green bell pepper. Nick encouraged them to sample the fruits of their labor. They tried beans, kale, chard, onions, spinach and basil. Not everything was as big a hit as the chives, but their curiosity was piqued.

One of the most unexpected perks of the garden was the conversations it fostered. It was a quiet time when the teachers and students could work and talk together. One day, we’d be discussing what one of our students should do with the two dollars “in cash!” she just received for her birthday (the big contenders were goop from the dollar store and a pair of over­sized sunglasses), the next I was being advised to avoid the eye doctor on Tuesdays because on Tuesdays “they take everyone’s eyes all the way out.” We were able to offer the children an educational experience, while creating the space to truly get to know them.

By the end of the summer, all of our students improved their reading levels, making our program a measurable success, but it succeeded in more subtle ways as well. On the walk back from one of our final garden visits, I asked our group how many plants they could think of. “Watermelon,” offered one student.
“Tomatoes!” added another.
“Peppers and strawberries,” a third chimed in.
“The tribes!” yelled a fourth. “You mean that we all work together, like a tribe?” I asked, thinking that was such a sweet sentiment. “No, the tr­i­bes,” she said more slowly. “They are so yummy and taste so good,” she explained, taking a bite of her chive. “Oh, the chives. Yes, those are good,” I replied. She nodded with a look that said, “I know, that’s what I’ve been saying.”

In a few weeks, the kids might not remember how to make compost or what a “sepal” is (even I had to be reminded of that one), but they will have a much better understanding of where their food comes from, how it grows and the work it requires.

After spending years thinking about serving through AmeriCorps, the 10 weeks of actually doing it flew by. There were times I felt a little too old and out of place, and while uncomfortable, I know these moments offered me the most opportunity for growth. I didn’t save lives or build an entire house by myself, but it was a rare chance to feel part of something that had values aligned with my own. Plus, I’ve been meaning to make an appointment with the optometrist to address my increasingly fuzzy vision. Thankfully, I know not to make that appointment on Tuesdays.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

MONTANA PROFESSOR ROBIN SAHA WINS NATIONAL EHRLICH AWARD


Dr. Robin Saha, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Montana has been selected to receive the 2016 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award. More about Saha's work and this prestigious award can be found on the Campus Compact website.

The Ehrlich award is made annually to recognize one faculty member and up to four finalists for exemplary leadership in advancing student civic learning, conducting community-based research, fostering reciprocal partnerships, building institutional commitments to engagement, and enhancing higher education’s contributions to the public good. The award is named in honor of Thomas Ehrlich, former chair of the Campus Compact board of directors and president emeritus of Indiana University, and is generously sponsored by the KPMG Foundation.

“In my experience, civic engagement makes all types of academic endeavors – whether in teaching and learning or carrying out research — relevant and meaningful to all involved,” stated Dr. Saha. “I especially enjoy enhancing the capacity and commitment of students, our future leaders, and community and university partners to work collaboratively to effect positive and lasting change. This type of civically engaged work illustrates the constructive and vital role academic institutions can play in our communities”

“I am thrilled that Campus Compact has the opportunity to recognize Robin Saha’s exemplary work,” said Campus Compact President Andrew Seligsohn. “Professor Saha demonstrates every day that there need be no distinction among teaching, research, and service to the public. His scholarly practice engages students and community members in knowledge creation and action to challenge environmental injustice and produce a more equitable society. We can all learn from Professor Saha’s career.”

“KPMG is proud to support Campus Compact and the Ehrlich Award, and we offer our deepest congratulations to Robin Saha and the four finalists,” said Bernard J. Milano, President of KPMG Foundation. “Campus Compact’s programs and thought leadership continue to advance progress in pursuit of higher education’s public purposes. We applaud their work and the work of their member campuses, the best of which is exemplified by the 2016 Ehrlich Award winner, Dr. Saha.”

In addition to being a leading scholar in the environmental justice movement, Dr. Saha has spent his career integrating partnerships into his pedagogy, research, and community activism. Saha consistently engages his students in real-world environmental problems and connects them with affected communities. Beyond his work in the classroom, Saha has also advocated for the importance of community-engaged scholarship within the Montana University system. He works to create opportunities for both faculty and students to promote community engagement, including being a founding member of UM’s Service Learning Advisory Board, as well as being involved in the creation of a climate change studies minor known for its engaged curriculum.

Saha’s deeply engaged scholarship sits at the intersection of environmental justice and health policy, emphasizing advocacy for marginalized communities. His nationally recognized work shed light on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and has been cited in Fortune Magazine, the Boston Globe, and Huffington Post. He has also been recognized for his local community-based participatory research, involving empowering disenfranchised communities to take active roles in data collection and advocacy to achieve significant environmental management improvements.

“Robin is an incredibly insightful and community-engaged professor,” remarked Andrea Vernon, Executive Director of Montana Campus Compact and Director of Academic Enrichment – Civic Engagement at the University of Montana. “His research and teaching, and the work of his students, have had profound impacts on the health and well-being of people in the most rural and underserved areas of Montana. Robin also contributes to the leadership and development of community engaged scholarship throughout the state and beyond by inspiring and supporting colleagues to do this work.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

COMPACT VISTA ALUM IAN LAWRENCE CHECKS IN


We at the Montana Campus Compact network office recently got thank you notes from Ian Lawrence on his last day of VISTA service. I sent him back a handful of questions as a follow up, and what follows are his inspiring answers.
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Where did you do your VISTA service?
I did my VISTA service in Lame Deer, Montana, a small district situated on the Northern Cheyenne
Indian Reservation.

How was higher education a part of your service? 
Higher education became an integral part of my service when I realized that, for young native people living in poverty, education is oftentimes the only route they can take in order to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty which has afflicted their family and tribe for so long.

Tell me about some highlights from your year.
My biggest highlights this year were starting a weekend feeding program for the kids, managing youth soccer and basketball leagues, and beginning our own newsletter at Lame Deer School.

What’s one thing you know now that you didn’t 12 months ago?
The most important thing I learned this year was that poverty is not just an abstract statistic; it's real, concrete, and brutal. In order to alleviate poverty, we can't focus only on political and economic theories, but have to be willing to get our hands dirty and look for practical solutions. It all starts with influencing the youth. I'm currently serving as a VISTA Leader for Rhode Island Campus Compact and would like to remain with the Campus Compact organization for the long-term, in Montana, Rhode Island, or elsewhere.

What’s next for you?
I just started work as a VISTA Leader with Rhode Island Campus Compact. I'll be working closely with Austin (Terreri, MTCC VISTA and VISTA Leader and 2014-16)as he was recently hired by Connecticut Campus Compact and our organizations will be merging in July. 

Good luck with your VISTA leader term in Rhode Island, Ian!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

CHECKING IN WITH AMERICORPS LEADER SHANADA HICKS


Our staff member Lacy Fiore checked in with AmeriCorps Leader Shanada Hicks to see how her service is going.  Shanada comes to Montana from Denver, CO and serves with Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming and Rocky Mountain College.  Keep reading to learn more about her service to Montana:
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Where are you serving and what does a typical day look like?
I am serving in Billings, MT. A typical day starts with preparing materials and lesson plans for our Girl Scout Troops. The best part is getting to engage the girls in these activates. I enjoy watching them learn and expand their horizons.  We are always preparing for upcoming events which takes a lot of organizing and preparation. I am always looking for ways to collaborate on projects with other Billings organizations.   

What are some focus areas of your service?
Working to incorporate college access activities into our Girl Scout lesson plans and activities with young girls. 

Inspiring the girls I work with to always feel empowered.

What inspires you to serve?
I am very passionate about teaching, and being a big role in the development and growing process of children. I believe that every child needs someone who wants to learn about them and push them to be all they can be despite any circumstances that they think may hinder the process of them being who they dream to be. I want to be that person. I grew up in a low income family and for a long time college wasn't something I was looking forward to doing, now I'm two years in and also serving for a national service branch. I never thought I'd be doing anything like this and I want to show other kids like me that truly anything is possible if you work at it. 

How are you incorporating your campus partner into your service?
I will be meeting with them when classes start back up for a possible collaboration on National Service Day!

What do you hope to gain from this experience?
I hope to gain a better sense of self and a better understanding of why I do what I do everyday and what purpose I serve.

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Thanks for checking in, Shanada and good luck with the rest of your service!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

GOODBYE AND THANK YOU TO OUR SUMMER ASSOCIATES AND MEMBERS

C:\Users\sam.garetson\Desktop\DSCN0841.JPGCommunity service and bonding is the source of change from the ground up. A trickle up approach that changes the heart more so than the wallet. In this way AmeriCorps Summer Associates not only fight the material and monetary pressures of living in poverty but also empower others to open their hearts to the possibility of community inclusion.
Throughout the summer, 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.
Given the short amount of time summer VISTAs serve, the number of personal and community accomplishments over those ten short weeks is astounding. In order to get an understanding of the diverse impact our Summer Associates had, we would like to highlight a few communities that were positively affected by their service-minded contributions.
Elisha Buccholtz with the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition of Missoula
Elisha’s overall goal was to increase outreach to Double SNAP Dollars (DSD) stakeholders, mainly potential participants/customers and farmers’ market vendors.  Her main duties included identifying organizations who serve a number of SNAP recipients and providing them with information about the DSD program; launching a Facebook campaign; collecting feedback about the program from vendors. She was instrumental in increasing the number of individuals receiving food security services from 185 to 397 over the course of her term.
Steph Reinwald with the Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming (GSMW)
Steph’s service with Girls Scouts has proven to be a great success for the program and the girls they serve. Her monthly accomplishments were stocked full of fun bonding adventures and interactive learning experiences with the girls. She planned and carried out two summer programs. The first was with the Polson Boys and Girls Club doing detective science for an afternoon, and the second was a morning of fishing at Silver's Lagoon in Missoula. She also facilitated a week long camp partnering with the M.O.R.E program that consisted of teaching spin and fly fishing and a three day rafting trip. Additionally, she helped lead a four day Girl Scout service trip in Glacier National Park. The girls performed service in the park by picking up trash, collecting data and picking over 300 lbs of invasive weeds. Listed here is a Go-Pro video recorded by Steph and the girls promoting the great activities going on with GSMW. HERE
David Farmer with the Billings YMCA
David’s mission throughout his term of service with the YMCA in Billings was to implement programming designed to help kids in the areas of art, personal awareness, physical activity and nutritional education. He was also instrumental in the literacy component which improved the reading levels of several students. While serving, David was able to balance the stresses of working with individuals from diverse backgrounds and the behavioral challenges associated with disadvantaged youth who have difficult or subversive home lives. David also played a key role in parent communication to ensure parents were aware of future activities, announcements and in general how the day was going for their child. Farmer’s service emphasizes the effective yet often overlooked network potential of college age students and K-12 education.
Our Summer Associates have proven to be adept at building relationships with co-workers and communities. Summer Associates step beyond the boundaries of traditional definitions of service. Through their actions and willingness to relocate to new communities, VISTAs realize the vision of manifesting networks for increased solidarity and mobilizing themselves and community partners to be in service to others. We thank you all deeply for your ambition to serve others and the compassion with which you accomplished this mission. We wish you well in all your future endeavors.

Monday, August 1, 2016

ROCKY HOSTING SERVICE LEARNING WORKSHOP

Rocky's beautiful campus.
You may already know that through your CEO’s affiliation your campus is a member of Campus Compact, a national (and Montana) network advancing the public purposes of higher education.  Our state Compact office offers training, programs, awards and scholarships to our members to support their work to address needs in our communities and educate students for civic and social responsibility.

We are excited this month to offer a Service Learning Professional Development Workshop in eastern Montana for faculty, staff and administrators from the Campus Compact network. Rocky Mountain College will host the event on Friday, August 12. The workshop is free for Compact Affiliates in good standing, and will be led by MTCC’s Executive Director, Dr. Andrea Vernon. Andrea has worked in the field of higher education service learning and civic engagement for the past twenty years in Montana. The service learning event in Billings will focus on our affiliate campuses in the eastern half of the state, though any are welcome to attend. We will offer workshops in central and western Montana as well this fall.


Registration and additional information can be found here. Please share this invitation widely at your campus, and encourage anyone with questions to call the network office (406-243-5177)
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Friday, July 29, 2016

LITTLE BIG HORN COLLEGE HOSTS AMERICORPS TRAINING

MTCC AmeriCorps at Little Bighorn College
The wind was unforgivingly whipping across the plains while a young native woman with long black hair flowing in the wind rode a bare back on a horse up a hill riddled with white markers at the Little Big Horn Battlefield.  The stories of the battle echoed throughout the rental car over the radio speakers synced to a cell phone. Each historical marker had a corresponding stop number which changed the story to that location. Being surrounded by the narrative of this clash of cultures and being placed in the story by proximity, “over the ridge to your left, the soldiers advanced.  The cluster of white markers mark were the soldiers fell…” made for a surreal experience. The Crow People were not part of the battle at Little Big Horn that was the Sioux and Cheyenne, but that does not stop the Crow people from wanting to learn more about this struggle for independence as one Crow woman shared she focused her college thesis on the Native American perspective of the battle.  She was instrumental in setting up this tour of the battlefield for the AmeriCorps members.

Little Big Horn College welcomed the MTCC AmeriCorps Leaders from around the state for a Close of Service Training.  The training included opportunities to learn more about the Crow people through their games, food and stories. Crow games go above simply being fun. The games teach skills for hunting to young boys while another one helps woman control their destiny.

The training also included opportunities for the Leaders to learn about teen depression from Joan Nye with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, learn more about the work and resources available via of Reach Higher Montana (formerly Student Assistance Foundation) as well as the ins and outs of the Education Awards earned with National Service. Bringing together members to reflect on their service and how they can leave a legacy for future teams deployed at their campuses is important aspect of AmeriCorps Close of Service events.  MTCC AmeriCorps Leaders are deployed at campuses around the state including Montana Tech, Bitterroot College, MSU Northern, Little Big Horn College, Dawson College and with Girls Scouts of Montana and Wyoming in Billings (MSU Billings) and Great Falls (University of Great Falls).  Those interested in hosting a College Access focused AmeriCorps team at their college should apply via the mtcompact.org website.

While watching three young boys’ race miniature horses in the courtyard of the Little Big Horn College in preparation for the Pow Wow later that night, Shakira an AmeriCorps Leader and Crow woma,n told us that when a Crow boy reaches three-years-old they begin to learn to ride bareback. Boys start on small horses to fit the child’s size, but graduate to full size horses in due time.  It was clear these boys had been riding for many years even though they couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10 years old.  They were riding fast, making sharp turn-a-rounds and switching riders quickly much like a relay race.  An older boy was coaching the younger two.  It was clear he would be moving up in horse size soon as he dwarfed the horses and struggled to keep his feet off the ground as he rode on these tiny horses.  

Water is Life!” was the theme of the week at Crow Agency as the Crow Tribe celebrated an historic settlement for water rights.  The celebration featured a parade including floats, Crow men in headdress’ riding horses and women in native dress juxtaposed to young men wearing t-shirts and baseball caps and playing the drums and chanting.  Beautiful woven blankets covered truck hoods and beds, songs, candy, and water balloons were highlights of the parade.  It was a cornucopia of Crow people, tradition, culture all mixed together to embrace Water is Life! We were honored with the opportunity for a rare look at a celebration of the Crow culture and be sent off on our travels with a traditional travel prayer spoken in the Crow language that doesn’t say ‘good-bye’ but rather ‘when we meet again’.  Sadly, we had to miss the celebration continuing at the Pow Wow later that night, but the leaders were off to their respective campuses to complete their service and the MTCC staff was heading to MSU to spread the word about the great work the teams are doing around the state in the lives of first generation and low income students they are privileged to serve in hopes they too would like to host a team.
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Piece by Dannette Fadness, MTCC Program Manager

Monday, June 27, 2016

ERIK SWANSON, VISTA WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA AND MISSOULA PUBLIC LIBRARY MAKERSPACE, CHECKS-IN

Erik Swanson tabling at U of M Volunteer Fair
Erik Swanson started his year of service as a Montana Campus Compact (MTCC) VISTA back in July of 2015.  Erik has made a ridiculously significant positive impact within his service site, the Missoula Public Library MakerSpace. The MakerSpace supports STEM learning, and provides resurces and tools to support innovative ideas to become reality.  Erik has grown the MakerSpace's capacity and increased its volunteer involvement, hours donated, and classes offered to levels the MakersSpace has never seen before.

Here is what Erik had to say about his service: 

What is your background and what led you to VISTA service?
The driving principal of my life is mutual aid: people help each other because it is beneficial to do so. I enjoy serving my community. It makes me happy. Before VISTA, I was struggling with my depression, and rarely left my house. Getting involved in my community helped me care about it, and become a healthier person.

Talk about what your project is about, and what you're working on?
Erik reading to students on MLK


My service is with the Missoula Public Library's Makerspace. We provide a space for community member's to learn and practice hands on 'making' skills. We do everything from 3d printing and modeling to jewelry crafting and electronics. We help people turn their ideas into physical things. The goal of the VISTA project is to provide STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills to struggling Missoula youth. These skills will help them thrive in the 21st century technology world. My main tasks are recruiting and training volunteers, and creating and overseeing educational programs. My favorite current class is our 'Computer Programming Through Minecraft.' This course teaches children the fundamentals of computer science through the lens of Minecraft, one of the world's most popular games.

How have you incorporated your campus partner into your efforts?
My campus partner is SpectrUM, (Missoula's hands-on science center) so we have a common interest in children's STEM activities. Besides referrals, I have also deepened our partnership through summer camp visits and sharing technology resources. In the spring I attended SpectrUM's Innovate UM conference as a guest tabler for the MakerSpace. 

What motivates you to serve as a VISTA?
A desire to help others and learn new things.

What are your plans after VISTA?
After VISTA I plan to serve as a Makerspace Manager and continue volunteering in my community.
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Erik will complete his service on July 17, 2016. We at the MTCC network office want to thank him for his hard work in service to the Missoula community and to our country as a whole. We wish him luck in all future endeavors!