MLK Day of Service 2018

On January 15, 2018, people across the country engaged in service to their communities to commemorate the 2018 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, our JV AmeriCorps members included! Below are just a few snapshots of our JV AmeriCorps members’ service activities on MLK Day of Service 2018.

Juneau JVs served up sandwiches and smiles at The Glory Hole shelter and care center

Alaska – JV AmeriCorps members in Juneau served at the Glory Hole shelter and care center where they handed out sandwiches in the soup kitchen. Our Bethel JV AmeriCorps members sorted, organized, and transported donations to Tundra Women’s Coalition’s new thrift shop location. In Anchorage, members participated in a range of activities within the community: members provided fire safety education and installed smoke detectors in a mobile home park, helped at the food pantry at Brother Francis Shelter, and organized donations and provided education in the RAIS (Refugee Assistance & Immigration Services) welcome center.

The wonder women of Hood River relax after an MLK Day spent cleaning and reorganizing the St. Francis House youth center in Odell

Oregon – The Gresham JV AmeriCorps community volunteered with SOLVE, where they cleared invasive blackberries, picked up trash along the campus, and posted signage. The Hood River members had a full day of volunteering: they spent the day cleaning and reorganizing at the St. Francis House youth center in Odell. In the evening, the group participated in an MLK Jr. celebration (which several JV members in their community helped plan) which included guest speakers, discussion groups, and a community potluck open to all. A few Portland JV AmeriCorps members served at the Albina Coop Garden where they prepared beds by mulching, weeding, raking, and laying bags on top of soil. While volunteering at the garden, they met other AmeriCorps members and volunteers throughout the Portland area!

Portland JVs Cat Weiss, Rachel Francis, Heidy Rivera, & Sara McLean volunteer at the Albina Coop Gardening and Farming Day

Idaho – In the Boise community, JV AmeriCorps members participated in a wide array of activities. Siobhan O’Carroll prepared materials and tabled with the Women’s & Children’s Alliance at the MLK Day Social Services fair. The rest of the Boise community participated in MLK Day at the Boise Capital Building, making t-shirts at Boise State University, participating in a rally, listening to speakers honoring MLK, and participating in a social services fair.

Washington – A few JV AmeriCorps members in Grays Harbor picked up trash at Stewart Memorial Park. In Omak, members helped out at the Paschal Sherman Indian School Dorm where they participated in outdoor activities with 15 dorm students including sledding, building snowmen, and hiking. Spokane Lavan members volunteered at House of Charity serving meals to patrons and organizing the resource room. Spokane Romero JV AmeriCorps members served at the MLK Jr. Family Outreach Center sorting donations for the Point-in-Time Count/Everybody Counts Campaign.

Seattle JV Connor Beck serving at at InterIm Community Development Association

Montana – JV AmeriCorps members in Ashland, Billings, and St. Xavier served at their placement agencies. Members in Missoula volunteered at the Poverello Center, read stories about Martin Luther King Jr. to elementary school children, participated in a drawing activity about a vision for a better world, and took part in a community dinner.

Thank you to all who participated in MLK Day of Service 2018!

Small Actions Lead to Meaningful Change

During January, the Corporation for National & Community Service celebrates National Mentoring Month! To honor this month, JV AmeriCorps member Katherine Pier (’17-18 Ashland, MT), who serves as the Substitute Teacher for the St. Labre Indian School, shares a story of two students who initiated a small action in order to positively transform the course of their school year. 

The following story may seem insignificant, but to the two students involved, I can see that it has made a world of difference. Two of the students I have been tutoring during the after-school study hall session have become very near and dear to my heart. They are truly wonderful kids, with curious minds and the largest of hearts, but they seem to have trouble keeping their grades up.

When I looked at their records, I saw that most of their bad grades were due to work that was simply never turned in. When I asked them how they stay organized and keep track of all their assignments, they looked at me blankly and shrugged. I could tell they had no idea what I was talking about.

In my high school days I would have been lost without a reliable notebook to keep a record of my chores, assignments, upcoming tests, etc. So, I decided to create my own agenda book for them. I stapled together a few pieces of paper and wrote a slot for the date along with four columns: class, work, due date, and plan. On the far left, I wrote one column that had a list of all their classes. I told these gentlemen that all they had to do was write down their assignments (homework, quizzes, tests, etc.) as soon as the teacher mentioned them in class and the date they were due. I handed these packets to these students holding my breath, hoping they would not forget to fill them in or, worse, lose them.

The next day at after school study hall, I came upon these two students again; to my delight, they both saw me, smiled, and pulled out their makeshift agenda books–FILLED OUT! My heart swelled with pride and appreciation for the step these two students took. It was a small step, but it made a huge impact. I nearly shouted, “This is so awesome! You filled them out!” One of the students was slightly surprised by my reaction, and he said, “Well, you asked me to do it. So I did it.” Then he smiled and seemed to be pleased that I was so elated by the fact that they had utilized this resource. I could see in his eyes that he was truly proud of himself for following my directions and completing a task, no matter how simple it was.

Since then, the three of us have used these booklets to go through their assignments and to come up with a plan of how to complete each task. I let the students decide which subject they would like to start with, when and where they would like to study, and for how long. It is totally up to them. They are fully autonomous in creating a schedule for themselves, and I have found that this makes them more likely to follow it.

I am incredibly proud of how this small step has seemed to change the course of their school year, and how these two students have shown self-discipline and have exercised taking initiative to change their future. For in the end, the trajectory of their lives is truly up to them. I am proud to be witnessing that trajectory take its shape.

Pathways for Healing: Serving Children Experiencing Trauma

JV AmeriCorps member Cat Cassidy (Missoula, MT ’16-17) serves as the YWCA Children’s Empowerment and Violence Prevention Specialist with the YWCA in Missoula, Montana. In our latest blog, Cat describes the capacity building project she designed and implemented into her program in response to the needs of the children she advocates for as secondary survivors of abuse.

When I officially committed to a year of service with the YWCA of Missoula, I foresaw several opportunities serving as a Children’s Empowerment and Violence Prevention Specialist. The YWCA serves primary and secondary survivors of domestic violence. My role as a children’s advocate is to provide a safe environment for children to heal and develop through therapeutic play activities. Each day I volunteer with the YWCA’s domestic violence shelter, I experience the multifaceted ways in which trauma effects childhood development and behavior. Children within domestic violence circumstances experience a major transition leaving their homes and entering into a shelter. Their worlds are turned upside-down, and my desire is to help their transition go as smoothly as possible.

This year, I designed welcome packets for each child upon their arrival into our shelter. Throughout my experience at the YWCA, I have noticed that in domestic violence situations, the majority of the attention is placed solely on the primary survivors, commonly mothers, who have been the direct receiver of the abuse. Because of this, children as secondary survivors are often set to the side and not given the same attention and care. Witnessing this first-hand, my idea was to create a tangible item to be given to the children upon their arrival into shelter to show them they are thought of and cared for from the moment they arrive. Knowing that their needs vary between ages, I created three templates for three different age groups. Each packet contains an introduction to the children’s advocates at the shelter, guidelines to be followed during the child’s stay, feeling charts in which children can identify their emotions as well as be given tools of how to healthily express them, therapeutic coloring pages, and information about respect and healthy friendships/relationships. In addition to the welcome packet, each child also receives a blanket, a pillow, or a stuffed animal of their choosing to keep with them throughout their stay and take with them after they leave the shelter.

When I first began handing out the welcome packets, the word spread like wildfire. Once one child obtained a welcome packet, mothers began asking me about them even before I had a chance to meet their children. One young girl in the shelter expressed that she was very excited to receive her welcome packet, especially when paired with the little stuffed animal she picked out. Now, the young girl brings the stuffed animal almost everywhere with her. We often engage in therapeutic coloring activities together with the coloring pages in her packet.  Also, we have had incredible success with the feeling chart, which allows the young girl to identify her emotions and allows me to better my advocacy when knowing how she is feeling or what she is thinking about during the time we spend together. The packets are a wonderful resource for getting to know the children I am serving better.

Cat (middle) with her Missoula community mates

I believe these welcome packets have contributed a positive improvement for children entering into shelter. Not only do the packets affirm the children and their experience, they also provide materials for building the bridge of communication between the child and their parent as well as between the child and the children’s advocates. The welcome packets open up discussions about emotions and provide resources for navigating through complicated feelings. The packets will not be a success for every child who enters into shelter given the varying needs of each child. However, the welcome packets are a starting point, a step in the process of better advocating for and empowering children who have witnessed domestic violence.

The children I serve are the most resilient little souls I have ever encountered. I have learned from them, and I have grown from my experiences with them. They hold within them an abundance of hope, an overflowing river of love, and an ocean wide yearning for understanding and connection. These children desire to know that they are validated, that they are important, and that they are cared for. My hope for this project is that it will allow these children to feel valued as well as inspire other avenues of support for children experiencing trauma so that we can eventually break the cycle of abuse altogether.Save

MLK Day of Service 2017

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To commemorate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service 2017, AmeriCorps programs throughout the country participated in providing service in their communities. These are just a few of the stories of how our JV AmeriCorps members served!

JV AmeriCorps members located in Juneau walked from house to house installing smoke detectors and educating residents about house fires with the American Red Cross.

’16-17 JV AmeriCorps members in Juneau volunteering with the American Red Cross.

Alaska – JV AmeriCorps members in Juneau and Anchorage walked from house to house installing smoke detectors and educating residents on fire safety with the American Red Cross. Our Anchorage JV AmeriCorps members’ service activities were featured in the Alaska Dispatch News–  read the article here! In Bethel, JV AmeriCorps members hosted a showing of the documentary, For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska. Additionally, members created an “I have a dream” board for interested parties to disclose their dreams.

Oregon – Woodburn JV AmeriCorps members Marit Olson, Jared Harris, and Emily Curran spent the day weatherizing homes through the Community Energy Project with Hands On Greater Portland. Meanwhile, in Hood River, residents were blasted with snowy winter weather, so in response to the weather, our Hood River JV AmeriCorps members teamed up with Providence Hospital’s Volunteers in Action to shovel care receivers driveways.

In Hood River, residents were blasted with snowy winter weather! Our JV AmeriCorps members located in Hood River teamed up with Providence Hospital’s Volunteers in Action to shovel care receivers driveways!

’16-17 Hood River JV AmeriCorps members shoveling care receivers’ driveways.

Washington  The JV AmeriCorps members in Grays Harbor carried on the tradition set by last year’s JV AmeriCorps members by picking up garbage throughout the Aberdeen and Hoquiam neighborhoods. In Tacoma, a few of our JV AmeriCorps members spent their time getting their hands dirty in the garden! Blair Bellis and Benjamin Feiten volunteered at Hilltop Urban Gardens where they composted, painted signs, and prepared the gardens for spring. At L’Arche Farms, Elizabeth Nawrocki recruited and coordinated volunteers for completing tasks throughout the farm.

Idaho – In the Boise community, JV AmeriCorps members Mariah Ertel, Mary Franz, Mary Haggerty, and AnnaMarie Marsilio spent MLK Day volunteering at Big Brother Big Sister of Southwest Idaho. Our members tackled various responsibilities assigned to them, such as organizing a storage facility, taking inventory, and reorganizing t-shirts.

According to Mary Haggerty, “Serving on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with my community knowing that so many other communities, not only in JVC Northwest but across the country, were serving others filled me with peace and hope. Hearing about and seeing so many people spread light made the ideal of a bright future tangible.”

Jared Harris, Emily Curran, and Marit Olson, spent the day weatherizing homes through the Community Energy Project with Hands On Great Portland.

’16-17 JV AmeriCorps members Jared Harris and Emily Curran weatherizing a home in Portland.

Montana – School was still in session in Hays, Montana, so our JV AmeriCorps members spent time educating their students on the history of Martin Luther King, Jr.. JV AmeriCorps members located in Missoula volunteered at the Poverello Center where they focused their day on homeless outreach.

Thank you to all who participated in MLK Day of Service 2017!

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Power of Place: Community & Education in a Remote Setting

JV AmeriCorps member Hopey Fink (Hays, MT ’15-16) serves as Academic Support Specialist at St. Paul’s Grade School. Below, Fink shares her experience providing educational assistance to students in the remote setting of Hays, Montana.

There’s a lot of “far” between here and other places. This unintentionally profound observation of a first grader has been ringing in my ears since September, when she pointed to a plane flying across the big sky over the playground at recess and mused about the distance to its destination. As a JV AmeriCorps member serving as the Academic Support Specialist at Mission Grade School on the Ft. Belknap Indian Reservation in Hays, Montana, I have had the opportunity to reflect on the unique beauty and the particular challenges of living in a remote place – the joys, the struggles, and the stories that fill the spaces of far between here and other places.

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A horse outside a classroom at Mission Grade School

Nestled in the grasslands at the base of the Little Rockies an hour and a half from the nearest large town, Hays is a village of about seven hundred people, mostly enrolled members of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes. It’s a place where horses frequently wander along the main road, where elk and deer meat are normal neighborly gifts, and where the whole town watches high school football games from pickup trucks pulled up to the field. Like many rural communities across America, it’s a place where the bonds of family run strong but also where cycles of poverty and addiction test these bonds. In January, the Ft. Belknap tribal council voted unanimously to declare an official state of emergency regarding the abuse of meth, a drug that directly or indirectly affects the lives of many of the children at Mission Grade School.

In my tutoring placement, I work one-on-one and in small groups with students from kindergarten through sixth grade. Every day, I see the brightness and potential that these children and youth offer to the community. At the same time, I have also seen how the injustices in rural communities like Hays are intergenerational, and the paths to justice must also be intergenerational.

One place I have witnessed the power of generations working together has been at our school’s weekly Honor Night Book Club, which aims to support family involvement in student literacy. Honor Night is an evening of games and fun in the school gym held every Thursday for students who have attended school, done their homework, and maintained good behavior all week. Fink, HopeyWhen relatives come to pick up their children, they are invited to choose a book and read aloud for five minutes. If they spend this time, each child can take a book home. Seeing kids discover the enjoyment that even five minutes of reading with their grandmother can bring is a reminder of the importance of involving families in education, especially in a community where many, if not most, households are multi-generational.

I am learning more and more that education extends beyond the pages of our textbook readers. If it is to be an effective tool against the systemic problems that are particular to this reservation community, education needs to encompass the values and wisdom and stories that Native families have passed from generation to generation in this place. A rootedness in this land and a respect for culture and tradition are things that I, as an outsider, cannot teach in the same way that I can teach times table tricks or phonics practice.

My JV AmeriCorps community mates and I have stepped into a nearly fifty-year legacy of Jesuit Volunteer service in Hays. Each day I am humbled by the sense that this place– these prairies and pines and these stories of wounds and hope that are woven into the fabric of this community- has existed long before us. I am grateful for the ways that I have felt welcomed into sharing some of the uniqueness of this place, whether that be on hikes in the canyon or in the circle of the sweat lodge.

Hopey (second from the left) with her JV AmeriCorps community mates

The distance between here and other places cannot only be measured in miles. Hays is a lot of “far” from the nearest Wal-Mart, sure. But the struggles of rural poverty and addiction, along with the struggles of many Indigenous people to preserve their ways, are also far from the minds of most people in America. In coming together across ages and in honoring the traditions of family and culture, the “lot of far” between here and other places can seem less daunting. Recognizing the power of place, in all of its vastness and remoteness, might allow generations to work together to break harmful cycles that are specific to this community. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from this place as a JV AmeriCorps member and to work with people in Hays to effect change- starting with times tables tricks and phonics practice.

Providing Positive Influence through Mentoring

JV AmeriCorps member Ellen Quinn (Billings, MT ’15-16) serves as the School Program Specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County (BBBSYC) in Billings, MT. Below, Ellen shares her experience managing a mentoring program that provides consistent, positive influence to at-risk students in grades K-8th. 

Much of my previous experience working with at-risk populations involved adults and older adults. Many of them expressed behaviors and tendencies that align with histories ruptured by childhood homelessness, abuse, poverty, incarcerated parents, and/or substance abuse. Often I caught myself thinking, “If someone had reached out long before now to offer a positive presence and a listening ear, things may have turned out quite differently.”

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Ellen serving at BBBSYC

Now, as the School Program Specialist at BBBSYC, I have the opportunity to act as the catalyst that provides 110 at-risk students in grades K-8 (called “Littles”) with a high school mentor (called a “Big”) to provide that presence and listening ear. This program spans eight different schools throughout Billings.

The high school Bigs serve multiple purposes for their Littles. First and foremost, they are consistent, positive role models who provide 1-to-1 mentoring to each of their two Littles. They spend four days a week for one class period with each Little, during which time they coach their Little through homework, eat and talk with them at lunch, play games with them at recess, and complete class work in the hallway or library. Many Littles need help catching up on their classwork, concentrating in class, learning to talk through disagreements, improving reading and math skills, and confronting bullies.

In all cases, the Bigs serve as coaches and role models. These Bigs are also trusted adult figures with whom Littles can choose to share things that trouble them, such as bullies at school or instability at home. Through the ears of the Bigs, BBBSYC can communicate with school counselors to stitch together a better sense of how the Littles cope with uncertainty in their lives and what extra support we can offer them.

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Ellen (second from the right) with her JV AmeriCorps member community mates

On Wednesdays, students come to the BBBSYC office where I lead lessons focused on topics relevant to mentoring at-risk youth. Topics include bullying and cyber bullying, childhood aggression, self-esteem, learning disabilities, and communication. Many of the high school students enrolled in this elective class are already well equipped with previous experiences working with or mentoring children. Or they at least have a desire to offer their time getting to know another student and helping them with school work. By working together with the high school Bigs, elementary Littles, and their counselors, I am learning a great deal about ways to help all students involved improve their communication and mentoring skills so that they learn to advocate for themselves and others.

The struggles that many Littles face outside of the classroom are numerous. A large majority of the Littles  live in homes with varying degrees of instability, ranging from minor to overwhelming. Some students live with grandparents or other relatives because their own parents are incarcerated; others have been placed in foster care due to unsafe home environments and involvement with Child Protective Services; and others have adults coming in and out of their lives that they would rather not form meaningful bonds with due to a lack of trust that the bonds will last. Montana is consistently one of the highest states in the nation for suicide rates, which directly affects some of our Littles’ families. Meth is by far the drug of choice that tears families apart and, in some cases, leads to fatal overdoses.

Because I am a Lunch Buddy and visit my own Little once a week, I see firsthand how some of these issues affect young students’ classroom performances. Keeping all of these factors in mind, it is understandable how these children come to be in need of a consistent, positive influence such as a high school Big. Mentoring is something anyone can take part in, whether informally through organic friendships or formally through a structured program like those provided by BBBSYC. Though I may not have much previous experience working within school systems with the perspective of a social service agency representative, I can already see in my first five months here how imperative this program is to the students involved and also the greater community at large.

Teaching, Serving, & Building Relationships

During the month of August, the Corporation for National and Community Service is celebrating the service of teachers and educators. In honor of this month’s theme,  JV AmeriCorps member Elle Ross (St. Xavier, MT ’13-15) shares her experience serving as Academic Support for the Pretty Eagle Catholic Academy in St. Xavier, MT. Below, Ross explains how she learned building relationships is the basis of  both teaching and service. 

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JV AmeriCorps members located in St. Xavier

I have always greatly valued my education, and serving in a school for the past two years has helped me come to appreciate the people who really made it happen – my teachers. So, throughout this year, I have been trying to contact or send a little note of appreciation to some of the teachers who really helped me become who I am.

As grateful and nostalgic as I am, I have found that it is really tough to find the time and energy to reach out to old teachers and friends as it is difficult to put into words all that I want to say. So, when a former student recently reached out to me, I was overwhelmed with joy and incredibly impressed.

I was Sandy’s (name has been changed) math teacher. She and I spent roughly an hour or two together every day for a year and a half. While we learned a lot of basic math in that time, we also learned way more about each other and ourselves. We learned together through laughter and sometimes even tears, whether we were working on math or not.14-15_JVs in Service_St. Xavier_Pretty Eagle_Catherine Morrison and Elle Ross (16)

Unfortunately, Sandy switched to another school and I was no longer her tutor. I was crushed. She started at another school and I kept tabs on her the best I could by sending notes, but I didn’t hear much of a reply. A few months later, I received a call from Sandy who said she received my note and asked if I would tutor her in math. I was shocked and ecstatic that she made such a big and brave effort to call a former teacher and ask for help. We were able to meet at the library, continue our lessons, and finish her math homework. I was happy to hear she was doing well in math because of the confidence she gained from our lessons. This experience helped me remember why teaching is not only so important to learning, but why teaching and service is rooted in building relationships.