Monday, December 31, 2018


At Big Sky’s GSA end of the year meeting
Serving in Missoula at Big Sky High School has been both a tremendous transition and a rewarding adventure. While it is bizarre to be back in the middle of those high school days of anxious sweat, many heartbreaks, and the buzzing need for independence, I am so grateful to be able to stand beside these kids as they find their way.
I have been working primarily with the support staff team here at Big Sky. The support staff consists of counselors for each grade-level, a college graduation coach, dean of students, vice principals, a family resource center manager, the project success leader, the Native American specialist, and, thrown into the middle of it all, me!
From the first day I was incredibly moved by the resiliency of this team. They all gather together to work to best support students who are struggling, and they do so with so much emotional labor and empathy that it truly shows you what community accountability can look like. While their jobs are not easy, they are constantly engaged in the muck and grit of it all and are looking to always better themselves for their students. 
At one point during an Americorps training we shared aloud Marge Piercy’s poem To Be of Use and related it to our service experience. Pierce begins the poem by declaring her admiration for those who “jump into work head first/ without dallying in the shallows.” The image of a person diving into the deep of a moment, without hesitation or pause, is one that Pierce draws us further and further into throughout the body of the poem. She likens those who dive “into work head first” to an ox sturdily shouldering a heavy load and to water buffalo “who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, “who do what has to be done, again and again.”

I find myself, here in Montana this Fall, straining once again in the mud and the muck. And that strain is what is simultaneously exciting, exhausting, and terrifying. I can’t say I imagine myself as always being the person Piercy admires in her poem, the one who always dives head first. It is something I have had to do, again and again, with more assurance of how the fall will break each time, but it is not something I do without hesitation, sometimes the shallows feel safe or sometimes necessary when you are exhausted from swimming. I feel so fortunate to be working alongside of a team of people who do this daily, and who are committed to caring and uplifting others daily. Although I began the year feeling burnt out on love, I have found over time an endless source of it in working with kids who, despite whatever obstacles and struggles, always find a way to come to my room and laugh about something, to take joy in being together and in learning from one another.
In the past few months there’s been too much happening for me to even know where to begin explaining it all. In place of words, here are some pictures (with captions) to describe it all:
My GUTS (Girls Understanding Their Strength) group writing words of encouragement to one another.

GUTS group taking a goofy pic

Picture from Post-Secondary Month tabling activities at Big Sky!

Monday, December 17, 2018


As I approach a quarter year of service, I look back on what I’ve done so far with both wonder and a good deal of amusement. From the wackiness of helping build an escape room and making a spider out of a hay bale to the doldrums of mopping and serving yogurt, my time in Sidney has been an interesting experience. Out of it all, the service I’m most passionate about and have had the most fun with is my art history program.

The program started with lofty goals and aspirations—we would tour the world through the lens of significant art, progressing through history with each week. These goals met with reality in a disastrous way during the program’s first day; as I tried to explain the meaning and uses of archaic pictographs, kindergartners pulled chalk out and started to run around; as I looked around the sidewalk at what everyone drew, all but two didn’t follow directions. Best of all was a unicorn poop tree, whatever that is.

Now in December, I’ve learned valuable lessons about how to structure my programs and what goals I set for the students to learn. Primarily, I’ve lessened the restrictions on what they make, focusing more on what the students want to get out of the activity and less on what would be educationally ideal. It’s better to have an excited, engaged student doing what they prefer than a bored one doing what I do. As a result of this change, I’ve seen a lot of innovative and frequently amusing works that really showcase the individuality of students.

Although it’s never perfect and often challenging, I and a changing cast of students continue to engage, create interesting art, and learn a little about the past. As Timmy, the mountain with a face recently created during an Olmec clay activity would probably say, “there’s always gonna be another mountain.” AmeriCorps is a climb, I guess.

Monday, December 10, 2018


I find myself at odds with how to really convey much of anything in this blog.  I’m here to serve, I felt a call and had to find where that call was coming from.  I’m almost thirty with 3 kids and I’m married.  I used to sit in a cubicle and sell insurance over the phone and I was good at it.  I can connect with people quickly and serve his/her needs in about twenty minutes, another ten to get the policy or policies rolling and after 11 hours in the building I would clock out and go home with my wife. We would pick up our 3 beautiful kids and make dinner and eat, snuggle play games do bath time.  In the back of my mind, I was losing it.  I was fighting a losing battle with depression and put on a smile.

As a dad, I felt a call to be better.  As a husband I heard a call to be better, and as a patriot I couldn’t ignore the call to do better.  So I started looking, high and low, for a cause.  I looked at the UN, never heard back from that application, I looked at politicians running for office in Colorado that I could get behind, I looked so much that I lost my heart and felt nothing but a deafening call to be, what, better?  My depression and anxiety was giving me a run for my money, I was having panic attacks in my car on the way to work.  One evening I read my emails and one said, “ Hey, finish your application please. We think you’d be a good fit for this position.”  So I jumped up in my kitchen and let out a squeal.  The bird squawked at me, my dog was on alert and my wife looked at me from across the table like I was crazy.  My heart was racing as I finished the last bit.  A few days later I was having interviews for Montana and Colorado, I had this amazing opportunity at my feet.  I moved before I received the offer, in fact I was leaving Colorado Springs the morning Lana sent it to me.  My response was a picture of the UHaul.  I fell in love with Missoula just reading about it, I had to do something different and had several interviews lined up.

The best part of all of this is that I’m here right now, getting things done.  I am able to be better as a dad, as a husband and do better as a patriot.  I grew up learning to love my country, not just the land, constitution, flag or consumerism but the people.  We are all connected to one another.  We all have a stake in what is happening.  I was never able to serve my country the way my dad, his dad and his dad, so on and so forth did; but this is my way and my path.  It’s narrow right now but at the end of it are endless possibilities.  What is giving my heart and mind a rest is knowing that what I’m doing here matters.  Being a Leader, taking a huge cut in pay and dragging my family over a thousand miles was worth it.  I’m making a difference,  I’m proud to be a part of something larger than myself and to push it forward.  I appreciate being able to show my children at an early age what service is.  I also serve in a very cool host site and have felt like a kid in a candy shop the whole time.

I think the point here is that this service has helped me take care of not only my adopted community of Missoula, but also myself and my family.  The service is the true reward.

Monday, December 3, 2018


Amber Dechaine“None of us understand what we are doing, but we do beautiful things anyways” -Allan Ginsberg. 

That is how my year of service began. Confusion and chaos amongst paperwork and packing boxes. I was unsure of what I was committing to and how I would budget bills and expenses with only a living stipend at my disposal. It wasn’t until orientation that it began to sink in. Three days spent with people I have never met. Team building, sharing meals, service learning. In those three days we learned about our mutual connection. The passion to give something of ourselves to those in need.

“Some people like neat suburbs. I always am attracted to the rundown and the old and the offbeat.” – William S Burroughs. 

A background in social work is what I brought to my service project. An education in how social injustice has been the foundation of our society. My career path has been an investment in serving the underserved. Hearing the stories, and the trauma, and the confusion, and the tears of the “rundown and the offbeat.”

“I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.” – Jack Kerouac

I landed at the Montana Career Lab, a unit inside of the Research and Analysis bureau inside of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. I had no background in career development, I had no background in labor and industry. I had only the experience that at the age of 18 I had no idea about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. How could I commit four years to one degree when I didn’t know if I would use it, how much it would cost me, and if it was something I would remain passionate about for years to come.
I have come to realize that I landed at the Montana Career Lab because I wanted to make that experience better for others.
While serving with the Montana Career Lab I have been able to work with their newly developed curriculum called “Careers Build a Community.” This curriculum was developed to help expose youth, in first through third grades, to the concept of careers and the idea that every career is valuable inside of a community. So far, my service has allowed me to network with educators and parents from an age population that the Montana Career Lab has not yet connected with. We have attended conferences, spoken to organizations, and I will soon be putting the curriculum to use with afterschool programs throughout the Helena School District.
For me it has been difficult to see other AmeriCorps leaders working with students daily and doing very direct work. Part of my inspiration to serve with AmeriCorps was to get that direct experience with youth and to make a lasting impact on their lives. My background in social work allows me to take a step back and understand that I AM making an impact. Creating change on a larger, more macro level so that students for years to come can better understand what a career is and the value of exploring these ideas through every step of their education.
So not only do I get to work on implementing change on a larger scale, but this winter I will also get to directly work with youth on a part time basis. Perhaps the best of both worlds.

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in and take responsibility from there.” -Gary Snyder

I don’t know if this is “my place” but I do know that every step along this journey, things have fallen into place. My decision to serve with AmeriCorps, move to Montana, and dedicate my time to helping students of all ages gain access to career development resources, all this coming together makes it feel like a custom fitted experience, tailor made for my journey.
“And so love goes. And so life goes. And so I go.” -Neal Cassady