Fall 2021 Updates

Salmon Lake in Greenough Montana during the Fall.

This has been a crazy year. As you may recall, in my last post (which I had to take down due to ‘friendly encouragement’), I stated that my AmeriCorps term with the Montana State Parks wasn’t going well.

In fact, it was going so poorly that I quit.

When I did so, Parks staff in western Montana learned about my situation, and offered to transfer me to their location. I agreed to the transfer, and it ended up being the right decision.

While transferring to western Montana was a good move, it didn’t help this blog. I ended up having to work two jobs to make up for unplanned expenses at my previous location, which killed all my hobbies.

Here’s  little bit of what happened, and why it sapped so much of my time:

The Winter/Spring of 2021

When I interviewed for my first AmeriCorps position with the Montana State Parks, I had concerns about my proposed living situation.

I was supposed to live in a trailer. To me, spending a Montana winter in a trailer sounded like a bad idea, so I asked several questions about it during my interview.

One of the most important questions was: “Is the trailer warm?”

In response, I was told that the trailer was so warm that most previous AmeriCorps members complained about it being too warm. Not only did it have a propane furnace, but it also had two space heaters, which were more than sufficient.

Like an idiot, I believed them.

A Dutchmen trailer
The trailer that I ended up living in.

When I arrived at my first location in January, the manager told me that the furnace didn’t work, and that he wasn’t going to fix it. That was okay – according to him – because the trailer still had two space heaters, and the winter had been mild so far.

Turns out that Montana winters don’t stay mild forever.

In addition to the broken furnace, the trailer’s electrical system had been damaged: I suspect by arcing. This meant that when running the space heaters the power would cut out, which happened most nights.

I’d go to bed warm, and then wake up freezing when the power went out. My only option was to don full winter gear and head outside.

I then had to grab the cable that connected my trailer to the power box – both of which were still live – and shake it vigorously. After I did this for several minutes the power would come back on, and I could get a little more sleep until it went out again.

Sometimes this would happen multiple times a night.

The manager tried various band-aid fixes to address the heating issue, but none of them worked for long. I therefore had to ditch the trailer during a polar vortex in February, when nighttime lows were reaching -30º Fahrenheit (-34º Celsius).

Apparently Winters can be cold in Montana. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

After my flight from the trailer I tried several different living arrangements.

For a while I was living in my supervisor’s basement. I’m grateful she allowed me to do so, but I wasn’t comfortable living with my boss long-term.

My next move was to rent a room in Billings. This was fantastic, except that my cost of living now exceeded what I was earning through the AmeriCorps stipend, which amounted to below the federal minimum wage in the United States.

On top of my new housing expenses, my Jeep’s transmission began to go, and there was no way I could afford the repairs.

I increasingly couldn’t figure out why I was draining my savings to stay in AmeriCorps. I’d been promised housing – and asked specific questions about that housing – but when I arrived in Montana I learned that the answers I’d been given weren’t true.

Nevertheless, I’d committed to serving with the Montana State Parks for 11 months, and I wanted to see it through. That’s why I began hunting for a second job.

After weeks of looking, I lined up a barista gig at a local – and seriously good – coffee shop. The pay was decent and I loved making coffee, but there was a catch: the coffee shop needed me to work Sundays.

Black Dog Coffee House in Billings, MT: one of the best coffee shops I’ve been to.

The Parks also had me working Sundays. After talking with Parks staff for weeks about the fact that I needed a second job, I told them that I had one ready, but that I needed Sundays off.

They said no.

At this point I’d done everything I could. It was now late May, and I’d stuck with my position for almost six months, despite being given false information during my interview. I’d lived in an icebox with a faulty electrical system for nearly two months, sacrificed my own savings for housing that’d been promised to me, and all I was asking for was to have Sundays off so I could afford to remain in AmeriCorps.

Since that was too much, I turned in my two-weeks notice.

The Summer/Fall of 2021

That’s when things began to improve. The second half of 2021 went more smoothly, and left me with a better impression of the State of Montana.

A shot of my second home in western Montana.

Despite that, I still had a hole in my savings account and a Jeep with a failing transmission. I was able to trade in my old Jeep for a newer one, but now I had car payments to make.

I thus decided to get a part-time job on top of my full-time AmeriCorps position. This drained most of my time – and nearly all my energy – and made it impossible to maintain this blog.

That’s why you haven’t heard from me in several months, apart from the fact that people were reporting my social media posts to my employer.

Going Forward

I want to get back into the SciComm world, but I’m not sure how to do that.

This blog continues to perform well, despite my inactivity, so I’m reluctant to abandon it. However, as I’ve said before, I can’t afford to grow this blog without some form of compensation, so I need to look at monetization options.

I’d also like to connect with people more powerfully than I can do through writing. I have some ideas of how to do that, and I’m going to explore them in the coming weeks.

As such, while I might not be able to post as regularly as in the past, I’ll be working behind-the-scenes to figure out how to move forward.

Thanks for your patience, and for sticking with me through nearly a year of no posting.

12 Thoughts

  1. Sorry about what you had to go through. You are so dedicated to reaching your goals no matter what. I think it is important to tell people the truth about what volunteer work for AmeriCorps, or any other employer, is really like.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I was supposed to live in a trailer. To me, spending a Montana winter in a trailer sounded like a bad idea, so I asked several questions about it during my interview.”
    Yep. I would have the same questions.
    I don’t know why WP did not include your posts in my reader, but let’s not care about that. What I love so much about reading this is how you are living your life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Cindy! I feel like those would’ve been standard questions, given Montana’s reputation for being mildly chilly…

      Glad you approve of how I’m living my life 😁 Unfortunately, I feel like it’s time for me to slow down and start living more ‘normally.’

      Like

  3. Hi Josh
    Great to get an update from you had been wondering what had been up with the blog silence especially after the previous one ha!
    Yikes I cant even begin to fathom those kind of temperatures here when its like at 18degrees celsius we say that its freezing…
    On to the next adventure I guess and all the best

    ~B

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi B!

      Yes, it’s been a wild year. Personally I find 18 celsius to be comfortable, but we’re all used to different things!

      I think I’ve had enough adventures for a while…looking forward to being able to do nothing 😂

      Like

  4. Hello Josh,

    Thank you so much for this update. I am very sorry you had to go through such an experience, especially since you have such passion for your work. I have had similar experiences in my country, and it really is terrible. Employers being dishonest seems to be a global phenomenon and it is a shame that this continues to happen.

    That being said I am very glad to hear that you are healthy, and are moving on to the next step. We all support you, and please continue to take care.

    Best wishes,
    Takami

    Liked by 1 person

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