Trusting the Process and Finding Balance in Service by Matt Sjogren

May 1, 2023
Matt is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with the Bozeman School District

As I reflect on my eight and a half months of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Bozeman Public Schools, I have learned valuable lessons about mindset and the importance of finding balance. I grew up in Bend, Oregon before heading to Middlebury College in Vermont where I studied political science and Spanish. The COVID-19 pandemic struck in my final semester, and I watched my virtual graduation ceremony in May 2020 from home, and struggled to determine what path I wanted to take next. I was interested in physical therapy school, but after taking some prerequisite classes and working in a clinic, I ultimately felt like the career wouldn’t be a great fit for me, and I began to look to pivot. I was interested in education and the nonprofit world, so when I got an email about joining AmeriCorps, it seemed like an opportunity to explore (both a new community and potential career options), build relationships and new skills, and serve others. I got the position, found housing (a small miracle in and of itself), and drove out to Bozeman in the middle of August. 

Challenge is inherent to any meaningful endeavor, and I knew that my AmeriCorps service would have obstacles that would require me to learn and grow. I did not have any experience working in building programs, homelessness, or education prior to starting in my role with the district Family/School Services office, so there has been a substantial learning curve. There are a few things that have been helpful throughout my service year thus far that I think will continue to benefit me, namely: focusing on the process and finding both community and activities outside of service.

Shifting from an outcome-oriented to process-oriented mindset has been vital in my service. Building program capacity requires first gaining a thorough understanding of one’s new community and forming relationships with key stakeholders, two goals that go hand-in-hand. These are not objectives that one simply checks off the list; in a sense, there is no finish line,  and so setting more process-focused goals is essential. I think Katherine’s point in her blog post about measuring success (at least in part) in cups of coffee shared or meetings is spot on. Tackling a problem like youth homelessness is a shared community effort, and it’s important to take the time to develop rapport with folks who have experience working on the problem already. I tend to be more introverted, so this sort of community-building work takes patience, friendly persistence, and the courage to get outside my comfort zone. Reminding myself of all of the positive things that I have accomplished so far, rather than fixating on how much I have left to do or where I’ve fallen short, helps me to feel some level of achievement and provides motivation to take the next step forward. 

Finding community and activities outside of service has also been important to balance the sometimes intense nature of my service site. I feel fortunate to have connected with other AmeriCorps members in the Gallatin Valley, with whom I can bond over the unique struggles and successes of service. Finding friends to share hobbies with has also been rewarding. The access to the outdoors in Bozeman is phenomenal, and some time outside on foot, bike, or skis with enthusiastic folk always helps to reset the body and mind.. Prioritizing regular movement, fresh air, and good conversation allows me to come back to service with the energy and focus needed to move the ball forward. 

I knew that a year wasn’t a long time, but it has gone by much faster than I could have anticipated. I’m very excited that my co-service member (shoutout Amelia) is taking another service term at our site and will be continuing on the work that we’ve begun this year. I’m proud of what we have accomplished thus far, and am looking forward to some exciting projects in the time I have left with AmeriCorps. I’m grateful for the fantastic people I’ve been able to meet and collaborate with, and for the insights that I’ve gleaned, which I know will be valuable in my future endeavors.