VISTA Host Sites
The mission of the LGBTQ Center is to enhance and sustain the health and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community by providing activities, programs and services that empower the local community to embrace and support its cultural diversity. Providing a safe space for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex (LGBTQI) youth to succeed is an imminent community need identified in the Converge project. While it is important to build a safe environment for all youth, whether or not they are LGBTQI, all youth can thrive when they feel supported. The VISTA member, Briana Howerton, helps schools develop a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) to create welcoming schools to assist LGBTQI 8th grade youth to transition into high school, as well as assisting high school seniors transition to work/and or post-secondary education. Click here to learn more.
Greater Gallatin United Way’s (GGUW) mission is to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of the Greater Gallatin communities via the process of identifying needs, forming innovative partnerships, finding new solutions to old problems, securing resources, and inspiring individuals to join the fight against the communities’ most daunting challenges. GGUW envisions local communities where all individuals and families achieve their full potential through education, income stability, and healthy living. Laurie Berg, the current VISTA member, uses and/or develops the following skills for this project: research and literature reviews; needs assessment/program assessment/data collection; data analysis; policy and procedures development; marketing and communications; grant writing; volunteer engagement; events planning; meeting facilitation; interviews; coalition-building; financial/sustainability planning; business management; through an understanding of quality child care best practices including Trauma-Sensitivity; and implementation of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion best practices. Click here to learn more.
Missoula College is a two-year college embedded within the University of Montana. It has been assigned the comprehensive community college mission of career-technical education, transfer education, community education, and developmental education. Community College provides affordable education and serves as an access point to higher education for all citizens. Community colleges typically serve higher ratios of students from lower-income backgrounds, first generation college students, military veterans, students of nontraditional age and students with nontraditional responsibilities (eg. parent students). Sam Schulz, the current VISTA member, assists the Learning Center Director in organizing and training the Missoula College Student Advocate team; assists the Work-based Learning (WBL) Director in connecting Missoula College Career-Technical Education (CTE) students with internships, apprenticeships, and other WBL opportunities; assists the Associate Dean in data collection and reporting for the Carl Perkins Career Technical Education (CTE) grant at Missoula College; and directs student communications at Missoula College using website, social networking, digital information, and print-based academic and career-based information.
MUD (Missoula Urban Demonstration Project) promotes urban sustainable living through hands-on learning, resource sharing, and community engagement; believing that education, demonstration, and celebration of urban sustainable living will create equitable communities and healthy ecosystems. The MUD Project is serious about educational demonstration at all stages and levels of its programming and function. MUD seeks to be an example to young children from families afflicted by poverty of how solutions to everyday practical challenges can be implemented with minimal consumption and purchasing power yet maximum ingenuity, creativity and community.
Renee Goodenow, the VISTA service member for 2019 – 2020, will help create opportunities for local area low income youth to learn creative, sustainable, low-input solutions to the every-day practical challenges that poverty presents. These will be solutions that can be applied in overcoming the oppressive challenges of poverty by repairing what is damaged and reintroducing non-conforming nature-based inspiration and creativity into the urban matrix.
Renee will also assist in the Education Site Development Campaign to build a new educational facility that will provide a safe, beautiful space for local at-risk youth to be welcomed and inspired by MUD programming focused on self-sufficiency. An important goal of this project is to engage K-12 youth and provide real opportunities to actively participate in the conception and design of MUD’s future site and to document this process as an instructional example of community-driven building and design where denizens imagine and shape their own lived-environment. This process brings the low income families and children together on site encouraging self-determination and teaching empowerment by example. Presentations teaching the Hundertwasser model would offer a template for the creative process that results in the end product: the community’s very own sustainability center. The community of children that will benefit from the resource in years to come is welcomed to participate actively and shape how that resource will look.
Renee will be critical in putting together a plan for implementing this empowering, community-driven Youth Designing MUD program.
Free Verse teaches literature and creative writing in juvenile detention centers and facilities across the state of Montana. Their mission is to empower youth incarcerated across Montana to gain agency over their own narrative and discover their capacity for creativity, empathy, and engagement in the classroom through lessons in literature and creative writing. It was founded in 2014, and in 2016 it became fiscally sponsored by the Missoula Writing Collaborative.
Clara Moser, the VISTA for 2019-20 is working on a number of projects including creating a formal intern program, working with UM’s English Department to recruit MFA candidates, developing a new volunteer program, developing evaluation and impact tools for all programs, grant development and fundraising events, and developing marketing materials, budget and community partnerships to support these programs.
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The Kids Co-op is one of the first partners in the SKC Tech4Good Food Sovereignty project. Jason Moore, President of Montana Co-op, has been working very closely with Dr. Jonathan Richter, Director of Media Arts at Salish Kootenai College on several food sovereignty and community building projects including a new event calendar, food sovereignty board game curriculum, collective impact, and other media outlets. The Kids Co-op collaborates with the Orton Family Foundation, the creator of the Heart & Soul program, to support a comprehensive outreach to discover the shared values and needs existing in the community and then work with local leaders and volunteers to fill the needs and values identified.
Joe Wagner, the VISTA member for 2019 – 2020, is working within a proven system for empowering youth with fun exercises; providing the healthiest food possible via the Kids Co-op Markets (i.e. vegetables picked and served the same day); and creating a marketing and distribution plan that involves future generations.
Rural Montana small towns are gradually depleting, leaving elders in small towns with no food access and a distressed community. The Kids Co-op Kitchen/mobile food cart provides home cooked meals using local grown food and a nutritious selection of food received from tribal communities and MT Food Bank Network. Click here to learn more.
The North West Montana Veterans Stand Down & Food Pantry is dedicated to providing a “helping hand up”, to homeless, low-income and at risk veterans and their families. Programs include a learning center where veterans can address the challenges, fears, and stigma they face during and after they have served in our Armed Services. The program offers opportunities to get away and reconnect while attending classes in job employment skills; learning to recognize the symptoms and triggers of military occupational stresses; and to develop coping mechanisms to regain a sense of normalcy and relaxation to returning veterans.
The current VISTA member, Percival Field, is researching local, state, and community grant/funding opportunities; managing grant applications; conducting outreach presentations to educate the community on services provided, volunteer opportunities available, and organizational needs; and developing and leading local fundraising efforts.
The Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) is the central administrative unit of the Montana University System and the Board of Regents. The Commissioner of Higher Education and his staff are responsible for providing quality and timely service to the Board of Regents, government entities including the executive and legislative branches, the public and the media, students and staff, and others in the education community when they request information or assistance. OCHE is committed to most effectively using resources to make higher education accessible and affordable so that Montana’s graduates have relevant and fulfilling credentials that help them contribute to the well-being and vibrancy of Montana’s workforce, economy, and communities.
Haransh Singh, the current VISTA member, will increase low-income college students’ access to healthy, safe, and inclusive learning environments by enhancing system-wide equity and inclusion efforts aimed at narrowing educational achievement gaps. This project recognizes that low-income students experience mental health issues at disproportionate rates to their higher social-economic status peers and may be less likely to seek help when they do need it (National Center for Health Statistics, 2011). To this end, Haransh is tasked with researching best practices in system-level diversity and inclusion efforts around mental health and wellness; building a coalition of campus leaders; developing assessment tools for better understanding the needs and experiences of diverse student bodies; and working with system and campus leaders to create culturally-responsive mental health and wellness professional development resources. He will build partnerships across a wide variety of campus departments that could impact student mental health and wellness including diversity and inclusion offices, student life, financial aid, student government, and other student groups. This project will contribute to the well-being and success of nearly 12,400 Pell-eligible students, 5,820 American Indian students and other students of color, and the many thousands of first-generation students in the Montana University System.
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The UM Food Pantry addresses the community need for free/affordable food, and subsequently free/affordable housing, as food and housing insecure students often face the dilemma of buying food or paying rent instead. The rate of food insecurity among college students has been significantly increasing over the years. The Food Pantry at UM helps reduce food insecurity by providing free food. The Pantry serves as an easily accessible resource for students, especially those who live on campus and have difficulty going to and coming from other food banks. Sarah Poole, the VISTA member, is helping to build capacity to sustain the pantry by managing relationships with stakeholders in the community, as well as developing systems to improve fundraising efforts, track inventory, coordinate volunteers and practicum students, and connect clients to additional resources.
The University of Montana Western Foundation exists to inspire generosity and connect donors with their passions in order to promote access and excellence in higher education at the University of Montana Western. UMW has partnered with K12 and post-secondary education programs on the Blackfeet Nation for the past three years. These projects serve a variety of education related priorities, including the pre-service certification of Indigenous educators to teach Indigenous children.
Chloe Weber, service as the current VISTA member, is working to develop informational and promotional media to be used in communicating current and future work with potential donors. She is also tasked with writing effective funding proposals and grants to support project objectives. Chloe is working with relevant campus organizations, including the Native American club, to advance understanding of Indigenous culture and support the success of Native American students who attend UM Western. Click here to learn more.
The Veterans Advocacy Clinic addresses and serves veterans affected by gaps and barriers to direct legal assistance. Barriers to legal assistance included the cost of legal services for low income Veterans; the prevalence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and PTSD, both of which have symptoms that increase the need for legal services while discouraging Veterans from seeking that assistance; and the VA system’s complexity and delays, which discourage veterans who may be entitled to VA benefits and services based on their military service. The Veterans Advocacy Clinic provides pro bono legal services to Montana Veterans and their families. The Clinic prioritizes cases that Montana Veterans Service Officers and private attorneys are unlikely to accept due to their complexity or the client’s lack of income. Professor Hillary Wandler, the VAC’s supervising attorney, works with a small group of students to assist Veterans with VA disability compensation claims and appeals, as well as legal issues related to veterans’ character of discharge. Click here to learn more.
The Veterans Advocacy Clinic provides pro bono legal services to Montana Veterans and their families, prioritizing cases that Montana Veterans Service Officers and private attorneys are unlikely to accept due to their complexity or the client’s lack of income. Montana Veterans are intensely affected by gaps and barriers to direct legal assistance, including the cost of legal services; the prevalence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and PTSD, both of which have symptoms that increase the need for legal services while discouraging Veterans from seeking that assistance; and the VA system’s complexity and delays, which discourage veterans who may be entitled to VA benefits and services based on their military service. Professor Hillary Wandler, the VAC’s supervising attorney, works with a small group of students to assist Veterans with VA disability compensation claims and appeals, as well as legal issues related to veterans’ character of discharge. While training a new generation of attorneys to effectively advocate for Montana Veterans, the Clinic helps fill the gap in legal services available to Montana Veterans.
Jensen Lillquist, the current VISTA member is serving in 2019 – 2020 as the VAC Capacity and Referral Specialist. His work includes identifying and drafting grant applications and assisting in grant reporting; developing and administering VAC methods of assessing effectiveness; communicating with veterans and their families regarding legal needs; establishing and coordinating a screening process for veterans or family members seeking legal assistance; developing referral resources for veterans by establishing and maintaining relationships with a variety of veterans service providers in the community; coordinating referrals for veterans to veterans service providers in the community, including attorneys taking pro bono referrals; and communicating with community partners accepting referrals from the VAC.
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