Living, and Learning, in a Virtual World…
As reality set in a few weeks ago (yup, feels like it was a few years ago-amirite?) that we were all going to be in this for quite a while, Soft Landing shifted gears to make sure families had everything they needed to survive, and even thrive, through social distancing, employment challenges, changes in childcare, and more. One of the most important things we have been able to do is support refugee students in accessing, engaging in, and sticking with virtual education. This isn’t a huge stretch for us, but it has required a substantial amount of adjustment for all involved. With the twice weekly after school program for middle school and high school refugee students we have been running for the last 2 school years, the incredible Soft Landing volunteer tutors, and the wonderful admin staff, teachers, and tutors with Missoula County Public Schools, the ground work was set to be able to step into this space. It is so important that refugee students continue to get access to the same educational experience that American born, native English speaking kids have access to. In many cases, through no fault of their own, these students end up a little behind, even in the best of circumstances (and parents of school-aged kiddos know, the “best” circumstances are still REALLY HARD right now!).
In saying all that, we have now matched 12 students with 12 tutors and have supported everyone as we all learn this new system (see the picture below of Molly’s Zoom meeting checking-in with some of the tutors and Aria Peters of Missoula County Public Schools). I wanted to share with you the story of one of these matches- Patrice, the youngest of five brothers (student) and Alisha (Tutor). Patrice is currently studying for his high school equivalency, HiSET, and dreams of one day becoming an EMT and working for Missoula’s emergency services. When he heard that we were setting up folks with virtual tutors, he was among the first to raise his hand and has been incredibly engaged with his tutor, Alisha, spending hours with her each week studying advanced biology and science. Like many students and tutors, Alisha and Patrice worked through the barrier of home internet access and connected with our partners at Missoula Alliance Church to get him signed up for the free Spectrum internet and then an SLM tech volunteer helped Patrice set up his new modem. This match has been a great fit and we are also excited to share more about it in Alisha’s own words- “I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. In 2000, when I was 16, my family and I had an opportunity to immigrate to the U.S., so we moved to Austin, TX. Now, 20 years on, I am a postdoctoral research scientist (biologist) at UM studying Rocky Mountain stream and terrestrial ecosystems, and how the animals that live in them are coping with a warming climate. I have always been grateful that my family could move to the U.S.; it was a truly life-changing event that allowed me to become independent, study at a university, and pursue a PhD in science. But settling in, becoming assimilated, finding our footing and feeling like we belonged in this new country, were all really, really hard. So, I had always wanted to reach out to other people who might be struggling with the same things, to offer any help, and let them know that it will be ok. SLM was that opportunity for me! Being a tutor not only allows me to work with some incredible kids, but I get to merge my love for science with my wish to reach out to the immigrant and refugee community. I am constantly humbled by the SLM kids I work with. They are thoughtful, kind, patient, understanding, and deeply motivated to do well (I don’t recall being that way as a teen!!). I don’t think I do much or nearly enough, but I am extremely grateful for the chance to make even the smallest difference.” Thank you Alisha! You are amazing!
This experience has not come without challenges and time consuming detours, as access to home computers, internet, and the ability to navigate the virtual world seems always present in one way or another, but it has been an exciting and rewarding way for us to be able to continue with our programming- slightly adjusted- and serve families during COVID.
Now here comes the huge part- we get to do this because of you. You were the ones who donated the computers that are in these families homes. You are the ones who have supported Soft Landing as we have worked hard to build meaningful and impactful programming for refugee families in Missoula. Heck, you may have even been one of the thousand people who marched with us four and a half years ago to make sure the world knew that Missoula would be a welcoming place for refugees to resettle. And you are the ones standing by us as we navigate this new space and the wide range of other services we dove into during this strange time. I say this, not only as an incredibly heart felt THANK YOU, but also as a little nudge ;). Missoula Gives starts on Thursday (although giving IS live early this year- ie: right now!) and we want to first acknowledge that there is huge uncertainty for us all, and there are so many legitimate needs in our community at this time. We hope that Soft Landing will continue to be a part of your giving during Missoula Gives this year. We are doing great things with incredible people and you have brought us this far. If you can give again this year, please do. If you are a new donor, every little bit counts. If you are in the fortunate position of wanting to find something meaningful to do with the COVID stimulus money that landed in your bank account- we can help with that 😉
So here’s to Patrice and Alisha, as well as all of our other students and tutors, and to all of you who continue to make the magic happen.
In love and gratitude,
ED Soft Landing Missoula
Missoula’s Refugees Give Back
Through an amazing partnership with many local business around town that are providing production space, including our good friends- Imagine Nation Brewing Company, Coaster Cycles is well on it’s way to producing 1,000,000 face shields to be used locally and sent all over the US to COVID hot spots in need of this essential protective equipment. And where there is resourcefulness, creativity, and ingenuity- of course there are REFUGEES! Here are a few more pictures of some amazing people stepping up to help with productions of these shields. Thank you to everyone involved in this incredible project.
Katie VanCleave is a Sociology student at the U of M. Originally from Miles City, Katie has a passion for exploring new cultures. She began her internship with Soft Landing in January, and soon became an indispensable part of our team. Even though her official internship has been cut short by current circumstances, Katie has stayed with us, volunteering remotely to help Soft Landing stay afloat during this challenging time- specifically stepping in to help with Missoula Gives! We are so grateful for students like Katie, who are dedicated to making this community a better place.
Save the (New) Date
We just couldn’t stand to see a year go by without our annual soccer tournament to celebrate all of our wonderful new neighbors in Missoula the best way we know how- with soccer, music and food! Due to concerns with wanting to be sensitive to COVID social distancing for as long as possible, we have moved back the date from World Refugee Day in June to Welcoming Week in September. We will continue to monitor the situation, but for now- please mark your calendars to come celebrate with us on September 12, 2020! More info on the 2020 tournament as well as great photos from past years here!