Justice for Montanans Kick Off Their New Term

Justice for Montanans members help empower low to moderate income Montanans to advocate for their legal rights, and increase access to justice.  Established by the Montana Legal Services Association, in partnership with the Self-Help Program of the Montana Supreme Court Office of the Court Administrator and the Montana Office of Consumer Protection & Victim Services, the project places members throughout Montana to help provide and expand intake, legal information and referral services for Montana’s low-income residents seeking legal assistance. 

JFM welcomes several of last year’s members back for a second term as well as introducing new members from around the country. Make sure to welcome the new members in your community and wish them luck as they start their service!

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Anna Chithelen: Self Help Law Center - Billings

Elizabeth Leman: MLSA-Helena

Emily Gutierrez: Self Help Law Center - Kalispell

Erick Valencia: Foreclosure Assistance Program- Helena

Kyle Nettleblad: Self Help Law Center - Great Falls

Lauren Yackulic: MLSA - Missoula

Mary Beall: State Bar of Montana Modest Means Program - Helena

Megan Towles: Office of Consumer Protection and Victim Services - Helena

Michael Palzes: Office of Consumer Protection and Victim Services - Helena

Nolan Harris: Self Help Law Center - Helena

Nora Fitton: MLSA-Billings

Rachel Wagner: Self Help Law Center - Bozeman

Rochelle MacArthur: Self Help Law Center - Great Falls

Steve Saunier - Office of Consumer Protection and Victim Services - Helena

Get Outdoors for National Public Lands Day!

Get outside and enjoy some of Montana’s gorgeous fall weather this weekend for National Public Lands Day. Organizations and AmeriCorps programs across the state are holding volunteer events to improve trails, parks, and other public use areas. This is a great opportunity to give back and help maintain the resources that we enjoy all year long.

National Public Lands Day (NPLD) is the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands. In 2013, the 20th Anniversary of National Public Lands Day will be held on Saturday, Sept. 28. Join volunteers of all ages for NPLD’s 20th Anniversary. Celebrate with volunteers in your community at parks and other public lands.

Here is a partial listing of events happening this Saturday. For a full list visit http://www.publiclandsday.org/

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Montana State Parks Flood Recovery

Check out some of the great work the Montana State Parks AmeriCorps team helped out with at Bannack State Park. A flash flood tore through the park in July, right before the park’s annual celebration. The team switched from helping out at the special event to collecting artifacts that were scattered across town by the floodwater.  Click on the link to view the whole post on the CNCS site.

Montana AmeriCorps Aids Flood Recovery at Historic ‘Ghost Town’
A flash flood on July 17 swept through Bannack State Park, a ghost town near Dillon, MT, unearthing many historic artifacts that were scattered throughout the flood zone. Shortly thereafter, a 14-member team from Montana State Parks AmeriCorps sprang into action to locate, tag, and recover items from the site.

Never a dull moment in Montana!

Facebook Groups!

See below for links to various social media pages and groups. These pages share news about AmeriCorps in Montana or share social, community and volunteer events in various communities. Should you find and/or start a group page for a new community, please add the site information in the comments. 

MAC Page

AmeriCorps of Billings Group

AmeriCorps Bozeman Group

AmeriCorps Members of Helena Group

Missoula AmeriCorps Members Group

 

National service for the win!

To be is to do - Socrates To do is to be - Sartre Do Be Do Be Do - Sinatra

When I was a kid my Mom used to have a shirt with that quote on it.  I didn’t really get it but I still think of it every now and then.  I remembered it the other day because I was thinking about how I’m a doer.  I don’t like sitting around and waiting…or discussing…or avoiding-I want to do.  I want to get things done. I’m a doer.

I think that’s pretty common when you’re a part of this AmeriCorps service thing.  You’re probably a doer too.  I mean it says it right there in the pledge, “I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.”

But being a doer isn’t always easy.  Because believe it or not, you can’t do everything.  Trust me, I’ve tried.  In the end something has to give, and hopefully it’s not your sanity.  You can do a lot but you can’t do it all. 

Whether you’re just starting your term or you’re moving on to new horizons I hope you all stay doers.  But don’t forget that doing something for you is just as important as doing things for everyone else.  Give yourself the chance to be and to do whatever you want.  And don’t give up on doing.  I have a great quote by Edmund Burke pinned next to my desk so I see it every day.  He said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”  You don’t have to do it all. Do what you can; the world will be a better place for it.

Casey Stephenson

Montana State Parks AmeriCorps

Who Knew: The Nonprofit World is Connected to the Business World

Going in to my VISTA position, I was under the impression that most of my learning would be narrowly focused on the nonprofit sector. This seemed reasonable to me since I was being placed at a nonprofit; I expected to learn mostly about how it operates, how to write grants, and how it serves its communities. I’ve certainly had plenty of exposure in these areas, but what I did not anticipate learning about was all the non-nonprofit concepts and areas that are intertwined.

During the past week, there are two projects I’ve worked on that can help clarify my point. First, there’s the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (“VITA”) program. I’ve drafted letters asking for partnerships, donations of supplies, and financial assistance from local (and state) organizations to help offset workshop/publicizing costs. In order to explain why these organizations should be interested in supporting this program, I needed to describe how public awareness of the Earned Income Tax Credit (“EITC”) stimulates the local economy (and why that benefits them). Hence, in order to get through to the recipients of these letters, I had to rely on gained background knowledge about the community and, even more generally, small business.

The second project involved researching the Clinton Global Initiative (“CGI”), which our Executive Director was invited to (due mainly to our involvement with energy efficiency / biodiesel) last week in Chicago. I summarized my research in a report for her so that she would have a better understanding about the focus of and attendees at the conference – this networking/educational event was important to our organization for future funding and partnering opportunities.

To my surprise, the latest copy of Bloomberg Business Week (which arrived in our mail today), has a picture of Bill Clinton on the cover and a featured article covering the CGI. And to my further surprise, during my search for the CGI article, I found mention of a major rail company (which has a strong local Havre presence economically) in an article concerning the shipment of oil from the Bakken and other areas of the country. Even though the rail company is not a focus for our VITA efforts, we have worked with the company on a past biodiesel study and have considered turning to them for funding other projects.

What I’m trying to get across is that I underestimated how connected the nonprofit world is to the rest of the business world, whether in the context of funding or even in downright business solutions. When I say “business solutions”, I mean the procedural aspects of getting things done. For instance, Microsoft Office 365 helps small businesses cut travel costs by providing high definition video conferencing. Even though this product is aimed at enhancing “businesses”, it can certainly help folks in the nonprofit sector accomplish the same thing since we have meetings over long distances as well. Like small businesses, many nonprofits face challenges of limited resources and/or personnel and now I understand how analyzing various aspects of the business world enhances our nonprofit operations.

Russell Anhalt

AmeriCorps VISTA April 2013-2014

     “Parkie” my friend taunts from Moab. “You’re hooked, you’re gonna be a parkie for life.” My friend, who works trail crew and masonry for the National Park Service out of Moab Utah, we’ve known each other through many life seasons.
     Meeting in the early days of college working at a small summer camp, we got it. Something about the outdoors that feels like home, that our heart connects to… a feeling large enough to overpower all our young adult decisions. To leave home, friends and family to pursue more untamed wildernesses. We fell in love with the Rockies individually, both in our young twenties. His stint in Utah has been more consistent than my attempts to work and stay in western Montana… but he’s a great coach and confidant.
     After a wintry, week-long drive, Montana ushered me home with driving winds and sideways sleeting snow. Followed by a few days of orientation, temperature maxing out at a balmy 15 degrees? Maybe.image

     But I call my friend after the first day at my placement site, and tell him about the hour long regional parks staff meeting. The charming personalities, the industry jargon, the projects I’ll be working on alongside them… I feel so grateful and excited, all he can do is taunt me.
     He taunts me knowing I finally feel fulfilled in this new position.
     “Do you know what AmeriCorps means?” My fellow Montana State Parks AmeriCorps Member always asks during a field trip introduction. Usually… they don’t. “AmeriCorps is about service, people who serve through AmeriCorps go into places that need help, and help them out,” she says. To gaping mouths and sparkling eyes. They’re listening. “Lone Pine State Park needed help with their education and school programs, so I’m here to help out, and Rebekah here, she can tell you how she helps out.” 
     I tell them about my research, graphic design, publications, about my projects. They’re listening, but starting to get bored. So I tell them how excited I am to hang out with them for the morning. To explore the water cycle or the forest with them. We spend hours together. Sometimes they’re just excited to not be in school… but usually… they return to school with new ideas. New words. New skills. New confidence.image

     And I return to my research, publications, volunteer recruitment, community outreach. I keep chipping away at lofty goals and time-consuming partnerships. I juggle building capacity at my park while helping with daily tasks of interpretation, connecting with visitors, and maintaining park land. 
     “Did you bring cookies?” the volunteers ask. “Uhhhh, no,” I say thinking… I just really wish I had coffee. “Courtney, brought us cookies,” they respond. Hmmm. So it’s 7am, we’re about to drive an hour to ride a boat 15 minutes to celebrate National Trails Day by installing water bars in Wild Horse Island State Park. These five volunteers all worked with a Montana State Parks AmeriCorps Member last year improving park land… apparently with home-baked cookies. So I try to shake it off and enjoy the weather, scenery, and camaraderie. After a morning of trail work, lunch under a ponderosa pine, and an interpretive hike peppered with blooming bitterroot, heralded by meadowlarks, they concede… “well, to tell you the truth the cookies were really just crumbs”. Uh huh. “And we had such a great day with you!” Uh huh. But I know the cookies were fantastic. AND they had a great day with me. I know these volunteers are hooked in their own way.image

     Serving an AmeriCorps term with Montana State Parks is a surprising adventure. I push myself and continue to be stretched professionally and personally. It is a life and job that keeps me on my toes. I teach parkies how to edit, design, and use publication skills. They teach me about weird tools like the McLeod, Pulaksi, and Picmatic. We challenge each other. We support each other.
     Nearly half-way through my term of service I pull away from my host site for 3 days training and team building with the rest of these service-minded, not-quite-parkies. Montana State Parks AmeriCorps. My winter start companions, we’re tired and getting seasoned like a fine cast iron skillet. But there’s new folks too… bright, shiny, excited. I wonder what they tell their friends and family back home as they sort through their day. All our personalities, backgrounds, and projects vary so much… it’s hard to tell. 
     But the daylight drains from an almost-summer day in Montana. Water turns pink, the landscape glows, the air cools, and I see it in each of us. That feeling large enough to connect our hearts to a service and landscape much bigger than we could imagine. We get it. This Montana, parkie, service thing… changes lives.image
~Rebekah McDonald

Montana State Parks AmeriCorps member at Lone Pine State Park


Why I became a VISTA
                As a late-twenties, freshly graduated Master’s degree holder, AmeriCorps was not something I had on my radar. The quest for a career change had led me to graduate school and from graduate school to the wide open world of job hunting. The job market is exactly what everyone says it is: inflated with over-qualified individuals looking for the handful of professional appropriate jobs available. I had a career before grad school, interned in all the right offices/organizations, gained valuable/marketable skills in all of my previous employment endeavors, so although I knew it would be hard, I didn’t realize how hard. About 80 job applications later-with only three leading to interviews- I was demoralized, dejected and feeling rather pathetic about my life. Living back with my parents after my graduate school internship ended, jobless (minus the few hours I was getting at a job I had since high school), I desperately wanted to land a job-not just to pay my bills but also to fill my days and allow me the gratification of contributing to society.
                Over the years, I have had several close friends who participated in various branches of AmeriCorps. Upon leaving graduate school, several of my classmates took positions through VISTA. Each of their positions sounded awesome and completely related to their field of study, area of interest, and future career goals. Despite this, I was hesitant-even adamant- about exploring the possibility of a VISTA term. I had done a year of service before; I was tired of doing one-year stints/internships; I wanted to start a career again and receive a salary and benefits. Nonetheless, after three months of being virtually unemployed, the idea became more and more appealing.  So I gave myself a deadline: if there were no job offers or serious prospects by the end of October, I was applying to AmeriCorps.
My deadline arrived and I had one serious prospect on the horizon, but it was for a job that I was not that excited about. So I started scanning the AmeriCorps website to see what positions were available, both in my home state of New York and in Montana, a place I intentionally wanted to move. The service opportunities I discovered posted on the website were exactly the kind of jobs I was not only interested in, but also excited about. Then I discovered the perfect fit: a project working with pro bono attorneys at Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA), a position that would combine my love of the law with the ability to help people. It was the perfect fit.
As it turns out, AmeriCorps turned out to be the perfect fit in more ways than one. After five months of job applications, waiting for callbacks & receiving none, I finally had some direction. Within two hours of submitting my application online, the MLSA VISTA leader was calling me for an interview. Within 10 days of applying online, I was offered my first choice position at Montana Legal Services. The logistics of moving fell into place and my 2,200 mile relocation across the country was the easiest moving transition I have ever had.  The AmeriCorps personnel kept on top of the paperwork trail, the VISTA leader did a great job helping me prepare for the move, and the entire office did a great job of welcoming me into the community.
Most days I don’t even feel like a volunteer. I feel like I am making a valuable contribution both to the organization and the community at large. I am not isolated or treated as a subordinate. My opinions are valued and sought-out.  I am learning new skills and honing some of my old ones. VISTA is not preparing me to be a valuable employee—it is making me a valuable employee while at the same time providing me the opportunity to give back and make a real difference in my community.  If looking for reasons to take a job or sign up for service, what more can you ask for?
Elizabeth Weaver
Montana Legal Services Association
AmeriCorps VISTA January 2013-2014

Why I became a VISTA

                As a late-twenties, freshly graduated Master’s degree holder, AmeriCorps was not something I had on my radar. The quest for a career change had led me to graduate school and from graduate school to the wide open world of job hunting. The job market is exactly what everyone says it is: inflated with over-qualified individuals looking for the handful of professional appropriate jobs available. I had a career before grad school, interned in all the right offices/organizations, gained valuable/marketable skills in all of my previous employment endeavors, so although I knew it would be hard, I didn’t realize how hard. About 80 job applications later-with only three leading to interviews- I was demoralized, dejected and feeling rather pathetic about my life. Living back with my parents after my graduate school internship ended, jobless (minus the few hours I was getting at a job I had since high school), I desperately wanted to land a job-not just to pay my bills but also to fill my days and allow me the gratification of contributing to society.

                Over the years, I have had several close friends who participated in various branches of AmeriCorps. Upon leaving graduate school, several of my classmates took positions through VISTA. Each of their positions sounded awesome and completely related to their field of study, area of interest, and future career goals. Despite this, I was hesitant-even adamant- about exploring the possibility of a VISTA term. I had done a year of service before; I was tired of doing one-year stints/internships; I wanted to start a career again and receive a salary and benefits. Nonetheless, after three months of being virtually unemployed, the idea became more and more appealing.  So I gave myself a deadline: if there were no job offers or serious prospects by the end of October, I was applying to AmeriCorps.

My deadline arrived and I had one serious prospect on the horizon, but it was for a job that I was not that excited about. So I started scanning the AmeriCorps website to see what positions were available, both in my home state of New York and in Montana, a place I intentionally wanted to move. The service opportunities I discovered posted on the website were exactly the kind of jobs I was not only interested in, but also excited about. Then I discovered the perfect fit: a project working with pro bono attorneys at Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA), a position that would combine my love of the law with the ability to help people. It was the perfect fit.

As it turns out, AmeriCorps turned out to be the perfect fit in more ways than one. After five months of job applications, waiting for callbacks & receiving none, I finally had some direction. Within two hours of submitting my application online, the MLSA VISTA leader was calling me for an interview. Within 10 days of applying online, I was offered my first choice position at Montana Legal Services. The logistics of moving fell into place and my 2,200 mile relocation across the country was the easiest moving transition I have ever had.  The AmeriCorps personnel kept on top of the paperwork trail, the VISTA leader did a great job helping me prepare for the move, and the entire office did a great job of welcoming me into the community.

Most days I don’t even feel like a volunteer. I feel like I am making a valuable contribution both to the organization and the community at large. I am not isolated or treated as a subordinate. My opinions are valued and sought-out.  I am learning new skills and honing some of my old ones. VISTA is not preparing me to be a valuable employee—it is making me a valuable employee while at the same time providing me the opportunity to give back and make a real difference in my community.  If looking for reasons to take a job or sign up for service, what more can you ask for?

Elizabeth Weaver

Montana Legal Services Association

AmeriCorps VISTA January 2013-2014

Reminder:

AmeriCorps End of Service Approaching

 I received an email from americorps.gov that my End of Service Documentation is now available. 21 months into this National Service gig and that’s my big notice saying “HEY, you’re almost done! You ready? Better be! Bahahahaha.”

How to sum up two years of my life?

Becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA member was my only plan out of college; I’m one of the few who choose this first, without examining gainful employment options first. National Service has been an inspiration gifted to me by way of recommendation by my University of Montana advisor, Andrea Vernon. I LOVE IT. I love the idea of movement building, of gathering momentum through the concentrated effort to improve communities.

Because of AmeriCorps, I gained:

·         many contacts across the state

·         incredible mentors and friends

·         a sense of accomplishment, drive and self worth

·         time to reflect and plan

·         just under $12,000 to put towards my student loans

Because of AmeriCorps, I gave:

·         Over 4,000 poverty fighting hours to Montana

·         My best effort

·         Focus groups

·         Trainings

·         Over 70 interviews

·         So much more

I wouldn’t change a moment of it.

Michelle Williamson

Montana Legal Services Association AmeriCorps VISTA 2011-2012

Montana Legal Services Association AmeriCorps VISTA Leader 2012-2013

Happy Spring!

I hope you are all enjoying this lovely weather we’ve had across the state.  As we look forward to the long, warm days of summer I want to encourage you all to get outdoors and enjoy this awesome state.  Great things are happening and there are lots of ways for you to get involved!

In Helena, AmeriCorps members are participating in the Bike Walk Commuter Challenge throughout the month of May.  Individuals join a team and log their miles that they commute by walking or biking and earn points.  So far the AmeriCorps team is #2 for its size but we still have time to make it to the top!

June is National Great Outdoors Month and there are a lot of ways you can celebrate!

Montana State Parks AmeriCorps members are gearing up for National Trails Day June 1st.  Trail projects are going to be held at state parks across many communities including Kalispell, Missoula, Three Forks, Billings, Lolo, and Great Falls.  Many of these projects are a collaboration with Montana Conservation Corps and other community groups and more volunteers are always welcome!

June 8th is National Get Outdoors Day and even more events are being held at state parks, nature centers, and other locations across the state.  This is a great opportunity to get out in your community and enjoy everything that nature has to offer.

I hope you all get out and explore our national parks, trails, campgrounds, fishing sites, and everything else that makes Montana a wonderful place to live.  Happy trails!

The Montana State Parks AmeriCorps Moose takes a break on a trail in Makoshika, near Glendive.