New Kids on the Block
Over the years, Empower Montana has been gifted one truly special person after another. While we are sad to see some come and go, we love getting to make new friends, learn from each other and grow together. This fall we have started the school year off with a stellar new group of interns and a new staff member! Come by the office, attend our events, or volunteer with us to get to know these energizing and inspiring folks! Until then, here is some information about each of them.
Youth Development Coordinator
“Love is really big for me. I love being able to love and seeing love spreading. Love and understanding.”
Jamar is our most recent addition to the EmpowerMT staff! He is taking on the position of Youth Development Coordinator and will be cofacilitating EPIC as well as coordinating our other youth work in the schools. We aren’t sure who is more excited, us or Jamar!
Jamar received his Masters in Higher Education at Penn State. There he focused on the accessibility of education to African American males. Jamar spent time looking at success stories and trying to replicate them instead of just looking at shortcomings of marginalized populations. Since his masters program had a lot of emphasis on social justice, Jamar wanted to find a job where he could be actively working with the community doing social justice work.
During his undergraduate years of college, Jamar was a student athlete on the football and track team. While he loved this experience, it could also be isolating at times. His freshman year, Jamar was having trouble fitting in and finding his identity and was withdrawing from his classes. One person who impacted him and helped him find support was the Director of Diversity Affairs, Mounira Morris. One day Jamar stopped by her office to say hi and she could tell something was off. Jamar spent the next two hours “pouring his soul out to her” which turned out to be a turning point for him. Mounira listened and really cared and got him connected with more classes that he liked. This inspired Jamar to impact other people in similar ways.
While he didn’t originally envision working with younger people, Jamar has really enjoyed translating his experience into working with them. “Its really refreshing. It’s cool to see the kids take such an interest in things. Also, they don’t mind telling you what they’re feeling.” Working with youth is also pertinent in Jamar’s life since he and his partner will be having a baby girl soon. They will be raising two daughters who are growing up in a culture where racism is escalating and Jamar wants to help make the community a better place for them. He also feels the need to prepare them for discrimination they might face.
When he is not empowering Montana with us, or being an awesome partner and parent, Jamar loves to play video games, read, play football, and fly fish!
Three words to describe Jamar’s middle school self: Busy, Thoughtful—as in full of thoughts all the time!, and Dorky
UM BSW Intern
“I just want youth to know that there is a place for them.”
Alston came to us last spring and is completing her practicum with EmpowerMT for her bachelors degree in social work. She transitioned into our work seamlessly and has been a great leader working with our youth, specifically our LGBTQ+ youth group.
Alston came to Missoula from South Carolina to pursue her bachelors degree in social work. While it’s home to her, it was also a place of isolation. Alston grew up with a lot of internalized negative messages about her queer identities. There also were little to no resources in her community growing up. Discovering there was support and programs out there like Youth Forward was really exciting for her.
She didn’t originally start school wanting to work with youth but has since discovered a passion for working with LGBTQ+ young people. She draws a lot from her own experiences and also just enjoys the interaction. “Young people really energize me! I forget how youthful I am inside and I really enjoy listening to their ideas and hearing the things they care about in the world compared to adults.”
Three words to describe Alston’s middle school self: Unsure, Longing, Hopeful
UM MSW Intern
“I think setting yourself up and finding who you are identity wise in middle school could be so empowering to set you up for high school.”
Marcus is completing his practicum with EmpowerMT while he persues his Masters in Social Work with emphases in addiction counseling and behavioral analysis. In his practicum, Marcus will be helping with our afterschool program EPIC as well as our LGBTQ+ youth work.
Marcus was drawn to EmpowerMT because it was one of few resources in Montana to LGBTQ+ youth. He believes that providing a safe space to go when young people are feeling lost is amazing and impactful.
Growing up trans in Great Falls Montana was isolating and Marcus had no resources to help him cope and grow. That’s why he waited until he turned 18 to come out and moved to Missoula where there were more resources for him. Knowing how impactful that kind of support can be is what drives Marcus to work with young folks and provide resources to them.
Another significant motivation to work with LGBTQ+ youth work is the loss of his sister. Marcus had a younger sister who committed suicide in high school because she was bullied for being queer identified. Marcus feels that by advocating for marginalized youth and by working to provide programs to those in need he is doing the service his sister would have wanted. “I would never want any person to go through that or feel like that was their only option.”
Three words to describe Marcus’ middle school self: Adventurous, Courageous, Spontaneous
UM BSW Intern
“I think it’s really important to show people their strengths even if they aren’t traditional and to lift them up.”
Kayla brought her pink hair and radiant energy to us this fall as a bachelors in social work practicum student at the university. She also is minoring in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies although she currently is all over the map when it comes to future career directions (which is a good thing!).
Kayla has always been very interested in people. From a young age she was observant and noticed diversity in people and was curious about it. Her mom and sister also planted seeds for social justice work in her growing up.
Coming to college and learning about sexism and ableism shifted the way Kayla views a lot of things. Kayla experienced a lot of sexism in the school system growing up as well as ableism for having several learning disabilities. Kayla always felt that she was stupid and didn’t value herself because she had such a hard time with school. It wasn’t until later years of high school and then college that she discovered her own strengths and brilliance.
Her experiences of feeling oppressed by the school system are what fuels Kayla to work with young people. It sparked her interest in working in schools to make them more empowering to young people of all abilities and identities.
Three words to describe Kayla’s middle school self: Angsty, Loud, Weird
UM BSC Intern
“I love listening to their stories and watching them grow into their personalities.”
Loni studies sociology of rural and environmental change at UM and is doing her internship with us this fall. She co-facilitates our after school program EPIC two days a week. Loni hopes to be a director of afterschool programs one day and decided working with EmpowerMT would be a great learning experience.
She believes that after school programs are essential for families considering how busy people are these days. She also loves that they provide exposure to a lot of opportunities and activities that students might not have otherwise had access to.
Loni started babysitting at age ten and found that she loved spending time with young people. She also was a Resident’s Assistant at the university and solidified her interest in working with people on a day to day basis. Both of those roles challenged her to work with people who may need support or were struggling. Loni loves the job so far. It’s exciting for her to be building meaningful relationships with the students already in the third week.
Three words to describe Loni’s middle school self: Bubbly, Eager, Weird
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