Ten Steps You Can Take in Ten Minutes to Make a Difference in Our Community

Adapted from Ten Steps presented in the novel, Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope

We were honored to welcome Pulitzer Pirze-winning journalist, Nicholas Kristof, at the revival of our annual Mansfield Lecture, with his look at how economic and social upheaval has prevented millions from achieving the American Dream and how people are working together to rebuild that Dream. 

Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn's most recent book, Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, explores the deep structural problems in the U.S. that go far beyond its political divides, noting that these are problems caused by decades of policy decisions from all sides. 

 See the ten steps you can take in ten minutes to make a difference in our community below:

1. Look into becoming a mentor. There’s a particular need for men to mentor at-risk boys, with long waiting lists of boys who need a solid male role model. Check out organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Montana, which serves Missoula and Flathead counties. 

2. Consider supporting the Montana Food Bank Network, which works to end hunger throughout Montana through food acquisition and distribution, education and advocacy. With just $1, MFBN can provide enough food for three wholesome meals.

3. Visit the websites of nonprofits similar to those described in Tightrope: Boys & Girls Club of Missoula County, helping underprivileged kids and youth in Missoula; Recovery Center Missoula for people in Montana battling addictions; YWCA of Missoula, addressing family homelessness and helping women fleeing domestic violence. You can contribute or spread the word about them by telling five friends, by following them on social media, or by posting on Facebook and Twitter about them.

4. Try supporting education for at-risk kids, especially in early childhood. It would be transformational if as many people gave to support high-quality early childhood education as to universities. A $30 donation to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library through United Way of Missoula County would provide one book a month to a child for a year. You can also write to your Congressional and state representatives and urge them to fully fund early childhood programs, nationally and in Montana. (Montana is one of six states with no state-funded early childhood education.) Tips on letter writing

5. Become an ambassador for an organization you like or an advocate for these causes. Children are neglected in the United States because they can’t vote, so they need others speaking up on their behalf. One excellent choice is Montana Women Vote, which works statewide to educate and mobilize low-income women and their allies to participate in the democratic process, including coaching citizens on how to lobby members of the legislature effectively on issues like poverty and early childhood education. 

6. If you are reading Tightrope in a book club, consider harnessing the club for at least this session to tackle one issue. Maybe it’s a call for the state to support expanding Medicaid, or for your local school district to do more for at-risk children, or for local prosecutors to support more diversion programs for drug offenders rather than just locking them up time and time again.

7. Consider volunteering at a homeless shelter, such as the Poverello Center. One of the most powerful donations you can make is the gift of your time and talents. The Poverello Center encourages you, your family, or your group to learn about their volunteer opportunities, which range from working in their kitchen, to organizing a drive, to providing professional services. 

8. Break taboos! America tends to be at its worst in dealing with policy issues that are hard to talk about, like mental health, domestic violence, race, or anything having to do with sex. So break the ice, for if we can’t discuss these issues, we can never make progress on them.

9. Reward companies that have a moral compass, and punish those that don’t. If more Americans supported companies that gave workers health care and reasonable wages and benefits, we could leverage American industry to provide traction for more workers. Ask questions of the companies you do business with. Likewise, consider investing in socially responsible funds.

10. Start blazing your own path to make a difference. Think about what you can do to foster a more equitable society. Volunteer for a cause you believe in through www.volunteermissoula.org. Become a foster parent or a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) to help a child in need. Plant an extra row in your garden for your local food bank. Volunteer to shop for an elderly neighbor, or to shovel their driveway in winter and mow their lawn in summer. Teach a skill to a high-school student. Take a child who otherwise might not have these opportunities fishing, or hiking, or to a play or sporting event. Make a conscious effort to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Support nonprofit organizations and businesses in your community that are working for social change, in ways that empower and bring people together