POLSON — KPAX/KAJ and Whitefish Credit Union continue to highlight unsung heroes in Montana. Each week we'll spotlight someone who made a difference in our communities and also award them VIP tickets to this summer's Under the Big Sky Festival in Whitefish. If you know someone you think we should profile, nominate them here.
How many times have you seen visitors to Montana come and go -- visit the parks, eat at the restaurants, see the sights, and leave without looking back?
More often than not, right? It may have even been more obvious during the past year as the pandemic brought sudden change to communities across the country. One out-of-state resident came to Montana last year with a big to-do list full of ways to help Montanans and she’s done so much here she’s practically become a Montanan herself.
It's the Unsung Heroes like Andrea Avilés Cigarróstegui that have caused Whitefish Credit Union and KPAX to partner to honor those who have gone above and beyond during this challenging time. Avilés Cigarróstegui needed a career change and after a good run at odd jobs after college, the mountains came calling, so she answered.
“I decided to drive 19-20 hours from California to Montana,” said Avilés Cigarróstegui who arrived in Polson last fall as a member of AmeriCorps -- the nationally recognized volunteer program. Her first order of business? Lend a hand with the Upward Bound college prep program at Salish Kootenai College.
“We have had AmeriCorps volunteers teach summer classes for us, work with students to provide academic tutoring or college preparation, and to help go on enrichment activity trips with us,” said SKC Upward Bound instructor Joanne Morrow.
It wasn’t long after Avilés Cigarróstegui set up camp in Montana that she realized this wouldn’t be the typical Americorps experience. With COVID-19 looming, the trips were canceled, programs postponed.
But the idea of packing up and giving up never crossed her mind. She came to Montana not with her hand held out, but with her sleeves rolled up – and this was a community who could use someone like Avilés Cigarróstegui.
“She has made lemonade out of a rather lemon-filled Americorps year,” Morrow recalled.
Avilés Cigarróstegui does what she can through virtual student mentorships -- helping kids find college and career fairs, offering Spanish tutoring, and encouraging the most at-risk students to earn their high school diplomas.
"That is the whole reason why we’re here as AmeriCorps members; to really help out members of society to excel and push them a little bit more to where they can fulfill that capacity within themselves, we're just a tool for them, you know, to realize their own potential,” Avilés Cigarróstegui explained.
Her footprint doesn’t stop at the SKC campus. When the People’s Center caught fire, she showed up to help salvage the priceless artifacts. Andrea also distributes COVID-19 relief food boxes each week and volunteers at the local Boys and Girls Club.
“My activities are just whatever need there is in the community. I try to be there," Avilés Cigarróstegui told MTN News. She may not be a permanent resident, but the impact Avilés Cigarróstegui has made already will tie her to the Last Best Place for years to come.
“What made me know that I needed to nominate Andrea for the Unsung Hero was her stepping up to build a personal relationship with one of our students who has had a challenging year beyond any words,” Morrow explained.
“And Andrea has been able to finally meet the student face to face and offers such inspiration and support for this young person who needed somebody like Andrea. So that's why she's my Unsung Hero,” Morrow said while getting emotional.
Click here if you would like to nominate an unsung hero who has made a difference in your community.