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.”
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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


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.
 This piece was reprinted in its entirety from the Campus Compact blog.

Friday, September 16, 2016


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.

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


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
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


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


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.

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!