A Year in Review, Halfway Through by Olivia Holstine

February 22, 2024
Olivia is a VISTA serving with Fort Peck Tribe’s Office of Environmental Protections at Fort Peck Community College

Here at the start of my second year at my host site, it’s interesting to look back and take stock of where I am now and what I need to do. My project is helping the Fort Peck Tribes in Montana develop a Climate Resilience Plan*. For context, climate resilience positions are newer to VISTA, but predate the new American Climate Corps. It’s been a learning experience for everyone involved. AmeriCorps VISTA is still learning how to adapt their job descriptions and reporting standards to a field that often returns qualitative over quantitative data (remember, of course, it’s numbers that drive funding). At my host site, it’s been a question of finding out what climate resiliency means for them and how to define my role.  For myself, I’m learning project development on the job. The goal is a Climate Resilience Plan, but there was no set idea of scope, timeframes, budget or authority. 

This means progress hasn’t always been straightforward or consistent. The key to community development is getting to know the community and getting them to trust you, which takes time. This alone is a large part of why I stayed for a second year. I knew that my project would (hopefully) be at an important transition point at the one year mark. Trying to bring in someone new could derail or at least significantly delay any progress. 

Right now I’m in the process of reflecting on my work and trying to be kind but honest with myself. The tricky part is giving yourself allowance for learning curve challenges but not writing off times where you genuinely could have done better. For example, during the end of last summer I had some ideas but I didn’t know how to start, and without true deadlines or goals, it was easy to dither and procrastinate. 

I’m trying to be truly honest with myself for a few reasons. First, so I don’t feel bad about circumstances beyond my control, or unavoidable growing pains of any new project. More importantly, I need to identify the times where my skills, or lack thereof, impeded progress. By recognizing these setbacks, I can learn from them and improve as I go forward with my project and career. Additionally, by facing those weak points, I can find ways to work around them. 

The biggest conclusion I’ve come to for myself, and would advise others, is to look for people who can be a trusted support. For example, there is a woman in the community who’s smart, experienced, no nonsense, and honest. While she supports the project and has helped me, she also doesn’t hesitate to tell me when I make mistakes (or am about to). I’ve realized that I could use her help both as a sounding board, and to keep myself on track with the harder aspects of my project. Because I care about what she thinks of me, it’s hard to go to her and admit that I am struggling and I haven’t done as much as I hoped. But it’s time to walk the walk when it comes to asking for help. Help with tech or procedures is relatively easy. The hard part is asking for help when you feel it reflects on your capabilities or you’re fixing a mistake you made yourself. However, I know that once I do, I’ll not only be more productive but less anxious as well. 

*Climate Resilience involves looking at what the climate impacts will be on a given system or community, and adapting to improve the ability to respond to those changes. It isn’t limited to natural resource preparation or technology improvements, but community programming. 

Take increased heat for example – drought and wildfire tolerance is only one part. If the summers get hotter, a community might set up shelters or neighborhood networks so those without access to air conditioning can get out of the heat, or check-in systems for vulnerable citizens. Also helpful is increased education for the public about the signs and treatments for heat illnesses; securing the training and capacity to accommodate increased numbers of heat stroke cases in local hospitals; ensuring ambulance access to outlying areas of the community, etc. As trite as it may sound, the goal is to help revitalize communities and use this as an opportunity to thrive, and not just survive climate change.