When I stepped into the Executive Director’s role at Forward Montana, I could not have anticipated the global challenges we would be facing less than four months later. When I started, my mind was filled with questions like “How often should I communicate with my Board,” and “How do I figure out my budget gap”? Despite some self-doubt, I knew that with my hard work ethic, intuition, and leadership skills, I would be ready to take on the challenges that 2020 would bring.

Of course, none of those potential challenges included a global pandemic. Then again, who is prepared for that?

These extraordinary times call for us to rise up. In light of the recent updates on COVID-19, Forward Montana is stepping back from our face-to-face field work. We do not take this decision lightly, and the recent announcement from the university system to move instruction online starting March 23rd confirms our need to be prepared. We care about our community, and are ready to do our part.

This does not mean we’ll be stopping our work. We’ll be using this time as an opportunity to enhance our digital presence, grow our membership, and to prepare for the biggest election of our lifetime. I am also confident that we will still be able to bring folks into the civic process and get them prepared to vote in the upcoming elections.

We are taking this route because as young people who participate primarily in field work and interact with a large number of people, we could be unknowing carriers or compromise the health of others. As an organization, we feel an obligation to do what’s right for the health and safety of our team and communities we serve. We are all concerned about keeping our families and loved ones safe, and it’s okay to be worried.

We recognize that this pandemic is feeding off of and exposing the injustices in our systems that we’re fighting against, including racism, ableism, and ageism. We all have a role to play in consciously working to make sure we’re not contributing to the harm amidst this virus by adding more prejudice. We are saddened by the dismissive jokes made by some our peers that further isolate and stigmatize the older populations of our communities. And of course, as we know, the fact that COVID-19 is fueling and/or revealing anti-Asian racism is only the latest in a long history of how immigrant groups, marginalized groups, and/or people of color have been labeled with “disease” imagery: exactly the kind of bigotry we’re working to fight against.

We also recognize that our local economy may be negatively impacted; many businesses depend on visitors and social gatherings. This may impact our friends who work in the tourism and service industries. While we hope it will not get to this point, we know that we need to be prepared and do our part in preventing an outbreak so that our local economy and healthcare system can remain resilient.

From an extremely important Census count to COVID-19 and surprising shake ups in the upcoming ballot, 2020 has hit us in the face with so many challenges and opportunities. The times call for creativity, adaptability, and flexibility. Forward Montana has always risen (and will continue to rise) to this challenge.

Over the next few weeks you’ll be hearing more from us, whether that’s via email, phone, or text. We’re going to do what Forward Montana does best; meeting people where they’re at through creative and quirky tactics to make the world a better place.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Thank you for your support,

Kiersten Iwai
Executive Director
Forward Montana