This I Believe

Laura - Whitefish, Montana
Entered on November 11, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I live in Whitefish, Montana – a resort community of approximately 7,500 people that claims to be “Montana’s Recreational Playground”.

In 2005, our five year-old daughter was accosted by a boy that we ascertained to be approximately ten to twelve years-old. It was then that I, a mother of four decided to take action. Shortly after, we established the non-profit organization “Whitefish Community Center” whose goals have been to establish an affordable community center and afterschool programs, especially for at-risk youth.

Whitefish is considered to be somewhat of a western mecca; attracting families and individuals from all over the country to its quality of life – better schools, pristine environment, and slower paced lifestyle. I don’t believe many in our community would deny, though, that it is quickly becoming a “two-class” society – the wealthier and the poorer.

As Executive Director, founder of WCC, and a mother who truly cares about the future of our youth, I have learned three things – 1) it’s difficult to move a community towards a positive vision, 2) many people don’t want to acknowledge poverty, and 3) it is a very challenging task to establish funding for afterschool programs in rural communities.

Since 2005 we’ve set aside the grandiose goal of establishing a community center. We’ve even had to temporarily close after school programs due to a lack of funding. In spite of all the challenges, the tears and frustrations, I continue to be an advocate for youth and search for support for critically at-risk youth in rural communities.

In spite of the road blocks we’ve made progress. Cross-sector supporters signed a Healthy Youth Healthy Communities initiative in 2007. Whitefish was nominated as One of the 100 Best Communities for Youth in 2007 by America’s Promise, an organization based out of Washington, D.C., founded by Ret. Gen. Colin Powell. We’ve gained support from local representatives and state senators, and developed a network of over 52 cross-sector organizations throughout the valley.

Most recently, I’ve joined with local churches and youth justice officals to research the establishment of programs that will aid the critically at-risk youth – underprivileged middle school age children that are displaying criminal behavior or have already been incarcerated.

Over the next year we plan to raise funds to take several of these youth, overseas, out of their enabling social environments, to volunteer with other youth – children in orphanages or families with aids – in the hopes of shifting their thinking, helping them envision their gifts and abilities and therefore provide them with hope for the future.

Margaret Mead once said, “It takes a small group of concerned citizens to change the world. Indeed it always has”. Through taking action and giving to others, I hope to provide my daughter, Katie, now eight-years old, with a bigger picture of the world. I hope to demonstrate that life’s greatest successes come with faith and persistence, that one person can make a difference, and how nothing is more gratifying than changing the world for our future – our youth.