THE HEART OF SERVICE by Lonnie Nielson-Kattell

August 26, 2019

Sometimes the best thing that you can do is step back and look at the heart of the matter. Coming to the close of my service, taking a step back and remembering my original intentions for the project was something I wish I would have done more throughout my service. I know that all too often I get overwhelmed from all that is going on in the world and taking a deep breath to stay in the moment is the bravest thing anyone can do. Having a consistent reminder to view others through the strengths-based perspective and use the theory of change to inform my service is the foundation that holds space for the work. This reminder is a challenge all in itself! However, I quickly learned how reframing my mindset with these two tools set the tone for the youth programs I was serving with EmpowerMT.

Youth programs here at EmpowerMT are geared toward providing a safe space to the most vulnerable populations in our community. Within this space, the youth build relationships with peers and adults through open non-judgmental dialogue, transforming conflict, learning how social groups experience mistreatment and develop their skills as youth leaders in action. All of these skills are backed by our partnership with Hello Insight and the Aspen Institute through Social and Emotional Learning. Incorporating theory, service learning, SEL capacities, and EmpowerMT’s mission into the work has been a very impactful experience on a personal and professional level.

Not only did I have the opportunity to learn about this curriculum and work with an amazing youth team staff, but I also facilitated the curriculum with the groups and watched the youth explore their curiosities, listened as they told their stories, and affirmed their experiences and leadership skills. The social and emotional wellbeing of our youth is a topic that often gets overlooked in comparison to academics. I’m a firm believer that Academic self-efficacy is as essential as a positive identity, contribution to the community at large, social skills with others, and critical consciousness of our systems. Working with EmpowerMT and youth programs have been a tremendous process to explore. My service term with MTCC has also allowed me to find my heart within the work and know what it’s like to give back, feel a sense of belonging, and love service.

Throughout the entire process, I’ve had to remind myself that I will most likely not see the impact of my service. However, this work is still essential. Serving your community matters. One quote that often brings a new perspective during my time of service is from MLK Jr. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I have faith that I am probably at the beginning of something truly amazing and don’t even know it yet. I can’t wait to see how the youth leaders that I have the pleasure to serve with will shape the future impact and make our communities safer and more inclusive for all.