Hello, readers! 👋
Welcome back to another post about my year with AmeriCorps St. Louis. As I post this, I’m sitting in a laundromat in Butte, Montana. I’m excited to share what I’m experiencing back in the Treasure State, but let’s catch up first. This post looks back on a short holiday week, but not short on reflections and events. Summer is heating up both inside and outside the office, so take a look at what I’ve been up to. Enjoy!
Monday, July 1 | After the morning meeting, I got my hands dirty helping the second wave of ERT pack out for their 5-week stint in Montana. They’re headed for Sioux City, IA, tonight and Rapid City, SD, tomorrow night before continuing on to Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (BDNF) near Butte, MT. With help from ERT Members, I loaded saw chains, chaps, and tree felling wedges of various sizes into metal saw boxes, brought out lightweight but sturdy backboards for mountain rescue situations, and lined up bloated backpacks ready to be stuffed in the truck. Lists of tools needing to go west were passed around, marked up, checked, and checked again. Bags were split between ones needed for the journey and ones not needed until the destination. Having done all I could do (or knew how to do), I headed up to the office to get out of the way of the final preparations.
Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (BDNF) is the largest national forest in Montana, carpeting 3.35 million acres in eight counties of the southwest Treasure State.
The separate Beaverhead and Deerlodge areas were proclaimed national forests by President Theodore Roosevelt on July 1, 1908, and combined by the Forest Service in February 1996. According to USDA, the name “Beaver’s Head” was coined by Lewis and Clark in their journals from 1805 to name a very large rock shaped like a swimming beaver northeast of present-day Dillon, MT. The river flowing past the rock, renamed Beaverhead River over its original Native American name, feeds the Jefferson branch of the Missouri River (the longest river in the country), which meets the Mississippi River (just 140 miles shorter) about an hour north of St. Louis. “Deer Lodge” comes from the indigenous site Deer Lodge Mound, a 40-foot geothermal formation near today’s Montana State Hospital (formerly Warm Springs State Hospital) between Deer Lodge and Butte, MT. The landmark resembled a medicine lodge with steam wafting from the top and its mineral-rich water attracted lots of deer. 🦌
As the team packed out, it was confirmed that I will be going to Montana myself with the final wave! I’ll head up with the remaining ERT Members, VISTAs, and staff and come back with the first of two returning waves, and in for Nyre’s birthday in early August. I hoped to get the chance to go to Montana back in April when I first found out that that’s where ERT starts and ends their service year. After some confusion on my end regarding if the staff knew if I wanted to go, I am glad it is settled (minus the exact dates, because set in stone, much to my calendar-loving chagrin) and I can count on spending time in the Rockies ahead of schedule. (Earlier this year, the ladies I did Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest with back in 2015-2016 committed to a reunion in Billings in late August. Now, I get to double-dip and I’m so excited.)
Tuesday, July 2 | I worked on a variety of projects today, including the newsletter, the website, and the master alumni archive. I felt like I kicked butt at this week’s VISTA meeting with all my updates and accomplishments. My supervisor was impressed with our accomplishments over the past week, especially with one VISTA, Jimmy, out of the office with the MARC team. The other VISTA, Jane, commented that, “It’s all Ellen,” when it came to making progress this week. While we clearly share credit for checking several boxes over the last week, her affirmation was definitely appreciated. 💙
The A/C in main office went out this morning, which is Bad News Bears in the midst of this string of 90°+ temperatures and 70°+ dew points. We office folk are sweatin’ it out like frogs in slowly-warming water. 🐸 Most of us migrated to the break room on the side of the office where the A/C still works, and sounds of clicking keyboards, rumbling thunder, and scuttling squirrels in the ceiling ushered us to day’s end.
Though I’m settling in well enough and noting plenty of projects to tackle, I still have moments to remind me that I’m the “new kid in school.”
There are ways of doing things around the organization that I just don’t know about. Projects that makes sense to me as good ways to consolidate and organize scattered information may not seem so to others. Even though starting a new job is a worn-out process for me (I’ve done it 8 times since graduating undergrad in May 2015), there is still a process of adjustment at each one, old as the story may be. I’m trying to be patient, but, in making sure people know I’m pulling my weight and have a lot to offer, I start projects without understanding how they fit into the bigger picture—even if I don’t see why the organization wouldn’t be helpful. “If you don’t use it, get rid of it. If you don’t miss it, don’t keep it”—that’s my minimalism, materially (moving 9 times in the last 4 years and 2 months helped, too) and virtually (an idea I’m exploring more with data breaches left and right). It seems like an attitude more nonprofits need rather than hanging on to tangible and technological stuff of all kinds.
Since I’m still new and somewhat of an empath, sometimes it’s hard for me not to take things personally when people want to change what I’ve done, or don’t seem interested in what I’m doing, or tell me that something similar has already been done. Processing suggestions is something I work on a lot; some days are easier than others. Such is the ebb and flow of working with the same folks day in and day out. Sometimes, I think about how being back in AmeriCorps is different this time having worked a handful of “real” jobs, as in, not volunteer-based and not as a fresh college grad. Some days, it feels like a step backward in terms of career trajectory. And yet, it’s closer to the kind of disaster work I want to do, so it also feels like a step forward. I try not to dwell on it too much and just be as helpful as I can.
Wednesday, July 3 | Today would have had that “Friday feeling” if not for all the laundry, packing, loan business, name change business (I got married last September), and schedule conflicts I tried tackling before getting to the office at 0900. By the time I left the house, I was already done.
The A/C is still out, so back to the break room for those who don’t want to work in a sauna (✋ me). Despite hunkering down with a frazzled mind, I helped complete several projects. The MARC marathon team returned with a stack of paper registration applications to put into the statewide disaster assistance registration system.
The total households registered for disaster assistance related to flooding and/or tornadoes from MARCs from the end of May to early July was 860!
Before the St. Louis-based ERT team returned for the afternoon debrief, the MARC forms were recorded, lists of sponsors and partners scattered around the Google Drive and website were combined in an attempt to determine the most current ones, adjustments were made on the June newsletter, and installation costs were calculated for putting in a bike rack on our property.
This week might only have been 3 days, but it still felt plenty long. And, even though there are plenty of things happening in STL for the 4th of July, I’m ready to enjoy the long weekend and see family in Chicago and Milwaukee!
Thanks for reading! 😊