Kathy Witkowsky is an award-winning journalist whose stories have aired on National Public Radio and appeared in numerous national and regional magazines. In addition, she has written and directed two half-hour historical documentaries that have been broadcast on PBS television stations across the country, as well as a short documentary that followed one of her former figure- skating students who was wrestling with domestic abuse. Kathy is also a yoga instructor and a singer in Way Cool Music, an eclectic acoustic cover band that plays around town. Prior to joining the EmpowerMT board, she served as board president of YWCA Missoula. She earned her B.A. in English Literature from Cornell University, and her M.F.A in Creative Writing from the University of Montana. Her life mission is to inspire and empower, which is why she is a proud and passionate supporter of EmpowerMT, which does the same.
Leanne holds a doctorate Human Services and Human Behaviors specializing in sex and intimacy among individuals with physical disabilities. Combined with a Masters in Public Relations and Health Communications. Leanne has been working with individuals with disabilities for over 20 years. Through her expertise in leadership skills and education of others on the divine right to be recognized and accepted she continues to specialize in human relations, health communications, body image and intimacy among individuals with disabilities. Currently living in Missoula, MT, Leanne has served on various non-profit Board of Trustee, as well as, serves on various Community Advisory Boards (CAB) regarding disability research. Leanne prides herself as a professional, class facilitator and advocate for topics such as assertiveness, self-esteem, safety awareness for women, non-violent communication, disability, sexuality, and healthy relationships. Leanne loves spending time with her family enjoying the Montana outdoors and all it has to offer.
Robert Farmer SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a University of Montana graduate and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. Robert also holds a MBA with a Human Resource Management emphasis and is a nationally recognized trainer. He has worked for Missoula Federal Credit Union for 20 years and has many years of leadership and supervision experience. As the SVP of People Solutions, Robert oversees the Credit Union’s human capital and organizational culture.
Robert is a past Big Sky SHRM Chapter President, and spent many years on the Montana State SHRM Council. He is currently serving on a SHRM National Expertise Panel and is the president of the Missoula Job Service Executive Committee.
Twila Old Coyote is a proud member of both the Crow (Apsaalooke) and Gros Ventre (Aaniiih) Nations. She grew up both on and off the reservation, graduating from Browning High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in Native American Studies as well as a MA in Intercultural Youth and Family Development, both from the University of Montana. Twila attended the first training of trainers, nearly 18 years ago, and has supported the work of Empower MT ever since. She is currently the Director of TRIO-Upward Bound at The University of Montana, where cultural diversity is celebrated and promoted through higher education. Twila fully supports the mission of Empower MT and hopes to be a part of creating a more just and inclusive environment for all at the campus and Missoula community levels.
Kate is the Legislative Director for the Center for Community Change, a national social justice organization, and has been an activist for women’s rights, racial and economic justice for more than 25 years. Kate served as the executive director for a Montana based economic justice organization (WEEL) and took that experience to the United States Senate to work as Professional Staff for the Senate Finance Committee where she provided leadership and policy expertise to Senate Democrats on welfare, childcare, child welfare, unemployment insurance, and tribal issues. Ms. Kahan also has a background with work and family issues and women’s rights in the workplace and extensive experience working on voter mobilization and civic participation as well as encouraging and supporting women to run for office.
Mona Charles has a wide-ranging background in film and television, as an actor, director, producer and studio executive. She also owned a comedy murder mystery company, Die Laughing, that performed throughout Southern California.
While fulfilling her long-held desire to drive cross country, Mona fell in love with Montana in September 2019 and returned in February 2000 ‘for a couple of months to see what that feeling was’. She brought her job as editor of the World Airline Entertainment Industry News, a newly created in-house newsletter for the inflight entertainment industry. Mona has traveled extensively worldwide, but is always happiest when returning home to the Flathead. Obviously, she is still in love!
She has served on the Montana Film Advisory Council and Montana Judicial Nomination Commission and on the boards of Crown of the Continent Choir and Stumptown Players.
She currently serves on the Glacier Symphony Board of Directors.
Mona’s mission in life is to help every person she meets know they are unique and the most powerful thing they can do is to be and share who they are. She hopes she brings joy and a bit of quirkiness to the world, too! Mona is thrilled to be a part of the power and passion of EmpowerMT.
Dr. Laurellé C. Warner is the MSW program director, professor of Social Work, and associate director of the Donald Blake Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Culture for Walla Walla University. She is also the lead researcher of LEARN Missoula. LEARN Missoula’s vision is to use BIPOC-generated knowledge to transform Missoula into a space of safety, place, and belonging where whiteness is de-centered at a structural level, particularly in local government. In addition to Dr. Warner’s extensive professional experience, she is passionate about her research focusing on resilience in the lives of Black women and men.
EmpowerMT is committed to developing youth leaders and values creating authentic representation of our constituencies at all levels of the organization. In order to achieve these objectives EmpowerMT established their Youth Advisory Council. EmpowerMT youth programs participants, volunteers, and staff select outstanding youth from all of EmpowerMT’s programs with diverse backgrounds and experiences to create the perfect team each year. The Youth Advisory Council is comprised of students from age 10-21 to ensure a diverse range expertise. The next EmpowerMT Youth Advisory Council is forming right now. If you would like to serve on this council email our youth program staff at email@example.com.
Hello, my name is Adeline Michels (or to some I am Addy)! I was pulled towards the Youth Advisory Council because I’ve come to notice that tons of voices go unheard, voices that try to be seen, but are too scared they aren’t valued enough to be, voices that feel they can’t have a say. After all, they don’t feel they don’t fit another’s standards, or are voices that feel they could never be heard because they feel they aren’t worthy… voices like mine. I have struggled many years with my voice, I try to be quiet and keep in the background because I feel my voice doesn’t matter as much as others. I try not to raise my voice in fear that what I say will be shot down or ignored. As I go about my life, each day I am met with others who feel the same as I do, who feel like they won’t be heard or seen. I come to find that I am not alone, and neither are they. I believe that EmpowerMT and their Youth Advisory Council is a place where the youth can use their voices to help others find theirs and do something about the challenges we are facing together, especially during these odd times. I believe it is a place where we can speak freely without feeling like we don’t have a say, without feeling like we will be unheard, and without feeling like our voice is gone. Everyone deserves to be heard and everyone’s voice is valid. I think it is so important that the youth especially know that what they have to say matters, that what they stand for is heard, and that they have a right to have their voice heard and to speak out.
Hello my name is Edie, I was brought to Empower Montana’s Youth Advisory Council because I feel that Missoula’s community should be a place of equality and kindness. The years I have been in school I have seen disclusion and rude comments, most of them making fun of their gender, disabilities,race, or sexuality. Being in YAC I hope to help Missoula and Montanas community come together no matter who you are. Many people in my town have to deal with rude feedback on what they look or identify as and I hope to help that issue in our community. I feel that being in YAC I can make a bigger impact in our community and help others. I believe and want Missoula to make changes on how we treat others, and that is why I am in YAC.
Hello my name is evyn kolczak-hardy and growing up in a household with two moms i didn’t experience homophobia in the way some people often do. So when i finally went to school a year younger than my peers i didn’t understand how someone could hate another person just for loving somebody. These experiences opened my eyes to a world of hate and anger against people who couldn’t and should not be forced to change for society. I experienced hate and didn’t want anything like that to happen to anybody else. I believe that EmpowerMT is a step in the right direction for equality and education so hate and misinformation is put to an end. EmpowerMT is dedicated to making a change in montana. Taking some tangible steps in helping the youth and community. Our generation, the children, are the next face of america and it is our responsibility to put an end to the injustices of modern america. We cannot do this without taking the first steps in the right direction. Locally Montana as a state has a high concentration of hate spread across it. Justice and education is not a priority in everyday life for many montanans and do not understand that these issues affect them. Empower is working to change that and bring more inclusivity to Missoula and montana. As a community, Missoula faces issues of racism, homophobia, and other systemic injustices. It’s up to the people of missoula and montana to help solve these problems, many people think these topics don’t apply and a large proportion of missoula youth believe they cant have an impact due to their age. They are under the impression that politics is not something they can have an impact on. Our hope is to bring safety and justice to our community, we cannot cause change without taking the first steps of getting together, signing that petition, and educating our community. We must take the initiative and work together to make this dream a reality.
Hi, My name is Liam. I was called to YAC due to my dreams of seeing the world changed for the good, along with myself. I’ve never been the best kid in the world. But, because of my anger problems, I changed my life for the worse. I needed to change badly, or I could be in trouble with the school, get kicked out, but over the years, I’ve gotten better. The one thing that really helped me was EmpowerMT. They showed me how change could be possible for myself, and the whole world. I’ve wanted to see the world change desperately but I thought I couldn’t do it. EmpowerMT showed me I could. Their goals were so similar to mine, I knew I had to join. The first EmpowerMT thing I was able to do was EPIC, Empowering People, Inspiring Change. The things they showed, taught, were just so surprising. I knew the world wasn’t a sound place but, I didn’t know it was this bad. A year or two later, I joined EmpowerMT. I was so excited to join I felt like I might’ve been sleeping. But, I wasn’t & I joined in on Tuesday and from then on, I’ve never felt more happy about the fact that I could help with today’s problems, Racism, Sexism, Classism, I need to help this world.
Hello, My name is Elizabeth (or Lizzie) Mills-Low and I have been called to YAC because of injustices that I, as well as my peers, have faced in school, and many other communities. As a Black/African American girl, I have faced and witnessed many struggles living in a predominantly white area. In YAC we will spread messages of hope and positivity to minorities as well as allies and try to shift the stigmas surrounding marginalized people. We hope to form a positive accepting community for people of all backgrounds to feel safe in. This is important now because as injustices occur, ignorance is spread. I am almost numb to hearing ignorant and racist statements because of how often I am hearing them. This should not happen and it is the job of minorities and non-minority allies alike to spread knowledge throughout communities, and empower each other to build a strong community.
pronouns: any pronouns
My name is Samara Timm. When I started with Empower Montana through Youth Forward, our program for LGBTQ+ high schoolers, I was in a deep depression and had horrible anxiety. Going to Youth Forward and trying to talk to people who really understood me started to slowly lessen my anxiety. It was gradual, but it was changing. And then last year, I was asked to be a co-facilitator for Be You Crew, a program for elementary and middle school LGBTQ+ youth and their allies. I think that’s when I started to come out of my shell more. Watching those youth, who were so in touch with what they knew and what they needed, made me feel empowered with what I needed. It also made me reflect on the need for EmpowerMT programs. Too many of us are facing discrimination especially in our schools, but we can change it. I believe that all of us have hopes for Montana. We hope for an end to that oppression and discrimination so many suffer on a daily basis. We hope for more empathy, inclusion, kindness, and compassion. We recognize the importance of raising up marginalized voices, especially the voices of Indigenous, Black, and gender non-binary folks, particularly when those voices and experiences come from our youth who are marginalized and oppressed. These are lofty hopes for the future and they will take some time but we can do it if we work together to bring our trainings to more Montanans and foster that kindness, empathy, and inclusion that is so needed in our world today.
Hi, My name is Sylvie Aganoti Tower. I have been with EmpowerMT for three years now. Middle school proved a challenge, I was frequently bullied and ridiculed for having dark skin and curly hair. I found refuge in EPIC, Empowering People, Inspiring Change, a group for middle school students raising awareness on diversity and how to be an ally run by EmpowerMT. I was asked to join their Youth Advisory Council (YAC) in 7th grade. It has been an amazing experience. Here, we do workshops and projects to help pull attention to issues that affect marginalized people. As a community, it is our responsibility to help those who struggle, especially those who aren’t a minority. Eventually, working with school administration, I was able to get a plan for a diversity curriculum established for my school. It has been a very beneficial experience working with EmpowerMT, and I want to continue making a change.