Wednesday, January 16, 2019


I had never heard of AmeriCorps until I moved to Montana last May with my partner. Having recently finished my Masters, I came to Montana, not sure how my MFA in photography would play out in trying to find work. I was in the process of transferring my out of state K-12 art teaching license to Montana, but was soon realizing that teachers had been long hired for next year. Through some serendipity, I met the executive director at MAPS, and applied for the AmeriCorps position.

The mission of MAPS is to better the lives of Montana youth through media arts education. My role is to assist with classes and community outreach and form a career/college readiness program, along with an alumni program. Because there are no grades at MAPS, and classes aren’t for credit, the environment is an incredibly unique one. Instead of completing assignments for a grade, most students come because they’re genuinely excited to film, write a song, make a video game, or any number of creative projects.

When we surveyed our students at the beginning of September, we found that almost 70% of our students are considering a 4 year degree after they graduate high school, with another 17% considering a 2 year degree. After a few College Information Nights and now the formation of ‘Future Fridays,’ MAPS students can get personalized mentoring on all things college and career related each Friday. I’m able to have those conversations with students about how they can achieve their goals. After one of the college information nights, I had an 8th grade student tell me that he hadn’t really thought much about college, but that now he was.

Having an impact on students is generally not something so straightforward, but typically comes over time with trust. I’m finding that the longer I’m here, the more I’m able to facilitate those conversations with students and assist them in finding a path that will work for them.

Cheers to growing and continuing onward.

Monday, January 7, 2019


      Ten years ago, I stepped off a bus onto camp Paxson in Seeley Lake, MT. The leadership camp held by the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) now EmpowerMT changed my life. We learned about mistreatment and how to make connections with people I wouldn’t have otherwise invested in. We saw how oppression and violence affect all of us and what we can do to break the vicious cycle. We learned how leadership has no age limits and most of all we learned about ourselves. Ten plus years ago I attended Big Sky-High School as a leader. Now I have the opportunity to return to my alma mater and provide a safe space for youth.
      Last year I started studying at Walla Walla University to pursue a master’s degree in social work. I was seeking a way to impact the world beyond myself. My undergraduate degree is in technical theatre with an emphasis in stage management and lighting design with a minor in psychology. I guess you could say that it has always been vital for me to let people be seen and heard. Fostering a safe space for creative expression to occur is therapy for many, but I needed to do something more.  My studies have shown me that as a social worker we are here to serve others. I needed a practicum placement for school, and EmpowerMT was the first place that came to my heart. I befriended the AmeriCorps Leader, Kayla Szatkiewicz. She was such a bright light in the EmpowerMT organization. Her enthusiasm showed me the opportunities for service in EmpowerMT and Big Sky High School through AmeriCorps.
     Working with others, especially youth, has always been a passion of mine. As an AmeriCorps leader at EmpowerMT and Big Sky, I have no shortage of working with youth groups. Whether it is Big Sky’s Student Action Committee (SAC), or their Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), or EmpowerMT’s Afterschool program Empowering People Inspiring Change (EPIC) I have found that my investment in my future is well spent with the youth who are in fact my greatest teachers. They all continue to surprise and inspire my work with their ideas and values.
     Serving youth as a privileged white, straight, cisgender, and woman has been the most humbling experience. Working with middle and high schoolers surprisingly puts you in a very vulnerable place. I am continuing to learn and live in discomfort, and that is okay. By acknowledging who I am, my many identities, I am modeling to the youth how vulnerability and conversation put us on the right path to serve for the betterment of humanity. Due to my many identities and privileges, I am able to provide a safe space that fosters positivity, validation, processes, collaboration, and awareness. I am here to serve the youth so that we can create a better future and its an honor for me as an AmeriCorps leader to be with them so they can be seen and heard.