Wednesday, January 25, 2017


I had the pleasure of working with George Dennison for nearly 20 years at the University of Montana. His visionary leadership and support for civic engagement programming provided the basis for all of my professional work at UM and statewide. 

Under his leadership, UM’s service learning and civic engagement initiatives were launched and institutionalized. In addition to being one of the founding presidents of Montana Campus Compact, he also created UM’s Volunteer Action Services office which later became the Office for Civic Engagement. Thousands of UM students each year continue to engage in volunteer and service learning activities because of the foundation and infrastructure of support he built. It is noteworthy that while George is known for the many physical buildings he built at UM, he was also responsible for laying the structural foundations for many programs and initiatives that also have endured over time. 

I always appreciated George’s straightforward leadership style. Even though it was intimidating at times, it provided clarity for direction of programming and partnerships. His legacy of engagement will live on throughout UM and Montana for a long time to come and we will always be grateful for his leadership in this field.


Absorbing the lessons
Wide eyes. Pointed fingers. Smiling faces. Enthusiastic hands coloring pictures and writing poems. Mouths agape and fumbling for words to formulate questions. These were the expressions and experiences of thousands of kindergarten through 4th grade students all over Montana during Montana Campus Compact’s Martin Luther King Jr. 2017 Read for Peace event. Read for Peace is an annual MLK service Day operation that utilizes the wonderful help of community volunteers, VISTAs, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members, college students and elected officials to read to elementary age students about the message, life, and legacy of Martin Luther King. Already in its 5th year of existence, Read for Peace continues to be an outstanding resource for important civil right discussions in early childhood education.

Here are some statistical highlights and volunteer experiences from around the state that reflect the necessary scope and capacity of organizers and volunteers to make this year’s Read for Peace event so successful. Special thank you to the many leaders in each city for their help and guidance. Read for Peace took place on January 13th, 2017 with many more volunteer readings on, January 16, MLK Day.

Participating Cities and Communities: 11 (Great Falls, Missoula, Butte, Kalispell, Helena, Billings, Darby, Lame Deer, Havre, Sidney, Big Fork)  
Number of volunteers recruited: 129
Number of K-12 youth served by volunteers: Just over 4000
Total hours contributed by volunteers: 215

Missoula Mayor Jon Engen with students at Russell Elementary

Each year I truly look forward to this service project!  It is so uplifting to see a child's unbiased perceptions on peace and love.  The students all give their full attention to the book and they take the activity very seriously (while still having FUN) because they know the importance of the issue.

One student learned the lesson perfectly and implemented the lesson immediately: I had explained to a student that I do not have a TV. He felt really bad for me and thought that a TV was a necessity so he gave me his address and told me I could come over any time and watch his TV.”  -- Teresa Gregory

Reading with the elementary students on January 16th for Martin Luther King Jr. day was an extremely moving experience. When reading to little children one thinks of fun and light topics. Equality for all persons does not fall in that category, and sharing this idea with the next generation was an honor. The highlight of my experience was a 3rd grader at Hillcrest, whom asked after the story, “Why they were so racist ‘back then’.” A tough idea to portray at a 3rd grade level without seeming patronizing, but an incredibly important one. I am so thankful we could share such an important man and symbol with this budding generation.” -- Shyla Wesley

Reflections on peace

Read for Peace showcases higher education’s commitment to community involvement and engages Campus Compact’s student and community networks. As this year’s organizer, I am proud of how this project connects young, developing students with thoughtful adults and how that commingling of ages benefits the lives and hearts of volunteers, students and teachers alike. Thank you to all of our volunteers around the state and to our many teachers who were gracious enough to allow us time with their students. Finally, I’d like to thank all the kids who participated in discussions concerning inclusion, difference and peace. May you all continue to reflect on these moments of as you grow and participate in your communities.

Friday, January 20, 2017


George Dennison, 1935-2017. Photo by Erik-Stenbakken
Earlier this month we lost George Dennison to non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Known to many of us a "President Dennison" or later, just "George" after enough years and when it didn’t feel strange or disrespectful. It’s hard to overstate the forward-thinking, future shaping work that George committed himself to. On a daily basis working for Campus Compact and with higher ed. in Montana I still feel the impact of his belief in service, civic engagement and higher education’s role in supporting American democracy, and global citizenship. The list of Dennison’s accomplishments while administering the University of Montana is too long to mention here, so I’ll focus instead on his role with Montana Campus Compact, and a few parts of his service legacy.

George, along with his colleagues from seven other Montana higher education institutions, founded Montana Campus Compact in 1993. They believed that higher education has an important role to play to shape our nation's, state's and community leaders, and that by actively engaging with community, higher education offered students opportunities to apply their learning, learn valuable skills, and address real challenges. He offered office space on the campus at UM to our fledgling Compact, and we’ve been here hosted and supported by UM for the past 20+ years. I’ve worked for Campus Compact since 2000, and I remember my first impressions of President Dennison when I started this work. He was an imposing figure, he said what was on his mind, commanded the respect of others and worked incredibly hard to position the University of Montana and Campus Compact as leaders in civic engagement work. He’s one of the few people I can think of whose presence I associate with the word gravitas. When he talked, you listened. On the other hand, it was clear he loved what he did, and he had a great smile and sense of humor.

My first job with Campus Compact was as a VISTA leader, and I served with the AmeriCorps Member Advisory Council that year. We sent our members to the Montana Commission on Community Service which George chaired, to observe the meeting and report on AmeriCorps members and VISTAs collaborative work. I remember George ran a very efficient meeting and adhered closely to Robert’s Rules.  The Commission had awarded AmeriCorps funding for about seven years at that point, and were working to branch into additional lines of business that advanced their mission. I remember that the idea of creating a service scholarship for incoming college freshmen had been percolating with the Commission for a time. George believed that Montana needed greater infrastructure for service, and volunteered to call the (then) Student Assistance Foundation, and bring a proposal to his colleagues with Campus Compact, and see what could happen.  Soon thereafter, the Youth Serve Montana scholarship was born, and 100 incoming college students who’d demonstrated active citizenship and volunteerism were receiving $1000 to advance their college studies. It was pretty impressive to witness, and to this day, that legacy lives on and each fall we work with the same partners to award 100 scholarships. Student Assistance Foundation is now called Reach Higher Montana, but otherwise we still work closely both with them and the Governor’s Office of Community Service.

That’s a small part of the legacy that George Dennison left in Montana, but an example of how easy he made it look. We will do our best to open this space for others to remember George. He was a giant in this world, and he helped shape much of the infrastructure that continues to support service, civic engagement and education in Montana.  I remember him well, and it’s humbling to get to work in a field that he helped to start in Montana. Thanks for all you did George, we miss you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


You probably know that Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is coming and while many schools, campuses and businesses are closed, we treat it as a day of service. Here in Montana, MTCC sponsors an event called Read for Peace that was started by an MTCC VISTA named Bess Pallares several years back. Across the state, our campuses and their national service members, students, staff, faculty and volunteers work with nearby elementary schools to read about Dr. Kings, his words, ideas and legacy. After the reading, these volunteers work with kids to do either an art project or poem about Dr. King. It's really a lot of fun, and the volunteers and kids have a great time getting to know each other a little.

That brings us around to this great piece of news! Our current MTCC VISTA Leader, Sam Garetson's been on fire lately. He's organizing the read for Peace events in Missoula, and supporting our VISTAs and AmeriCorps members around Montana as they plan events. Sam recently recruited the University of Montana Men's Basketball Team to be readers for Missoula's MLK Read for Peace event. These student athletes will be reading to fifteen, third and fourth grade classrooms at Hellgate Elementary Intermediate on Monday, January 16th. We applaud them for taking time out of their days to bring the words and ideas of Dr. King to young people in Missoula.