Adapting My Impact by Ethan Marston

August 5, 2020
Ethan Martson, MTCC AmeriCorps Leader

It’s been nearly a year since I began my AmeriCorps service term, and I didn’t really imagine it ending like this. I was assigned to the EmPower Place’s after school program, where I planned and executed fun and educational activities for local elementary- and Pre K-aged kids. But then the pandemic hit. It was no longer safe for groups of children to gather and play like they used to. And, since I have a kid at home myself, I couldn’t visit my host site often since my daughter didn’t have school or safe childcare options. So after a while of scrambling for ways to complete my AmeriCorps service from home (“teleservice”), my supervisors and I decided on a project that would take up much of my final months of service: activity kits.

Although the EmPower Place was closed to play during the pandemic, it was still part of the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center, so free sack lunches continued to be distributed to the families and children that stopped by. We thought it would be easy, then, to distribute take-home activity kits along with these meals. These activity kits contained everything a child would need to carry out an activity—be it origami paper for origami boats, or cookies for a fun archaeological cookie excavation. So I began planning activity kits that I could put together at home. And, more impactfully, I began contacting all of the local organizations that I had collaborated with for in-person activities throughout my service year.

There were the obvious choices, like the spectrUM Discovery Area and the Missoula Public Library, who are active collaborators with the Food Bank and who help make the EmPower Place possible. They headed science and literacy activities at EmPower before everything shut down, and they even have their own AmeriCorps members to help with their programs. But I was also able to schedule activity kits from The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium, and Families First Learning Lab, to name a few. So many organizations in town had to shut down their regular services to kids when the pandemic began, and they were all looking for a way to reach these kids and fulfill their missions. We at the EmPower Place offered a way to do that through activity kits.

Between the collaborations I participated in while EmPower was open to play and the collaborations I participated in to provide activity kits to children during the pandemic, I think one of the biggest takeaways of my AmeriCorps service was networking. I lived in this community before I began my service term and I plan on living in it for the rest of my life, so it was wonderful to meet so many people engaged in so many impactful organizations across Missoula. Off the top of my head, I can count at least 20 organizations that I collaborated with to carry out children’s activities at the EmPower Place. I’ve never felt so active in a community, and I’ve never had so many people I could reach out to in a professional way. It’s incredible!

AmeriCorps service can look like a lot of different things, and it can benefit its service members in a lot of different ways. Whether it’s experience in your chosen field, an act of giving, or—in my case—an extended networking opportunity, the possibilities are endless. And so is your potential for impact.

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