Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A New Community, A New Perspective

Although it is September, I'd like to start from the beginning. I moved to Missoula, Montana about three weeks ago. I randomly landed upon the campus corps job with Montana Campus Compact, without knowing what I was getting myself into. Luckily, it's exactly what i've needed and certainly a big step in the right direction. Later entries will definitely be more of my reflection of the service i've been doing, but this first one will hopefully help set the stage so you can understand what I do, where I live, and what kind of adjustments I've been making.

A NEW TOWN: Missoula is a fascinating town but coming from Atlanta, it certainly has been an adjustment. Everyone here lives quite simply. Cars are erroneous. Everyone bikes or walks everywhere. Coming from a smaller town this might not be considered an adjustment, but having lived in a city where driving is mostly parking and it takes 45 minutes to get milk - it took me a while to realize that I dont
have to get in my car to get somewhere. Getting on a bike on a road was also an adventure (one in which my roommate greatly enjoyed watching) but after a few days of swerving and shreeking i'm actually feeling like a pro. I've been spending more time getting absorbed in the town, reading books, and meeting new people. It is easy to get caught up in the community feel here, and I've realized that most of the time i'm in Atlanta I find myself distracted by a consumer society. Here though, free time consists of hiking, tubing, visiting national parks, reading, photography, and in the winter (which will be brutal) snowboarding/skiing. Shopping is a luxury, not a hobby. The mindset here has helped me assess what items are "necessities", and how to really be resourceful. I also really take advantage of living in a mountain town and spend as much time outside as possible. The challenge will most certainly be the weather - it was 38 degrees this morning.. needless to say, I may freeze..

A NEW BUDGET: Being a State and National Americorps Member has meant a change in lifestyle, but out here it is pretty easy to live on a low budget. I share a house with 4 other people who are all living on the same budget and with food stamps. In Atlanta and Burlington there is certainly a class division in grocery stores. Food here is pretty expensive because there is no state tax but every weekend there is a farmers market that sells cheap/local/organic vegetables and fruits. The grocery stores also sell local products which are pretty well priced. There are also tons of resources for people experiencing poverty and homelessness providing access to fresh/healthy food. Community gardens and the food bank work together here to make sure everyone gets what they need. Missoula has the highest number of non-profits per capita so I have learned to get by and learned new skills in the process. I found an old bike and fixed it up at this non-profit that has used bike parts, and volunteers to help you figure out how to build or repair bikes (for free). The volunteer must have known I had no idea what I was doing, because I when I turned the screwdriver to the right to tighten a bolt, he was impressed. Ok so I kept repeating the rhyme "righty tighty lefty loosy", my experimentation with bike repair was in fact successful. I've also been cooking a lot and experimenting with recipes using fresh vegetables that i've gathered from friends and at the market. My next step is applying for food stamps, so I will certainly report on that process next week. I struggled with whether or not I really needed them, or if I should save them for people who have no income. Being that it is a benefit of Americorps, i've been convinced to go through the process.

NEW RESPONSIBILITY: Turns out I'm pretty much a leader (much like being the director of the SLC - Service Learning Community) except for now I lead Americorps volunteers that work in Universities all over the state. -no pressure- EV! prepared me extremely well for this position, and Ive been using all of the same tools that are used at the Compact office for the state of Montana. The most difficult part of the transition has been ACRONYMS! AH! Every sentence I heard was an acronym from something servicey - CNCS, NCS, MTCC, CC, etc - it was like learning a new language. The first week really was just trying to figure out what people were saying, and what that meant for me. The second week I spent trying to figure out how I was going to train people when I had no idea what I was doing. Just like I ended up doing with my last leadership position, I pretty much went with the "fake it til you make it theme". Being part of Americorps has been really exciting, especially because I get to work with leaders all of the state and learn about issues facing most regions in Montana. I've also been learning a lot about Native American reservations, and life on them. I work with four colleges who are affiliated with reservations, and service is done differently there because it has to go through tribal leaders. In addition, my leaders are of all different ages. The differences have had a positive effect on my facilitation skills, and i've also been learning a lot about being a leader and what service means.

The neat part about my job is that I can do up to 30% of my service with an agency of my choice. I'm looking into where I want to serve, and possibly helping start up a music program at the Boys and Girls club. Right now i'm still trying to figure out community needs, and what agencies go unnoticed by university students. It's been a really exciting change, and i'm certainly going to learn a lot about community engagement, leadership, facilitation, and social issues here in Missoula (vs social issues in Burlington).

Hopefully that has caught you up on where I live, what I do, and how i've been adjusting to life in the West. Stay tuned next time for what service means in Missoula, the first 9/11 National Service day for university students in Montana, and my attempt to get food stamps...

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