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.”
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
“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.