MISSOULA — Across the country and right here at home, topics of affordable housing, access to healthcare, and structural racism top the list of community challenges.
For problems plaguing a community, it takes a community to overcome, according to Common Good Missoula, the city’s newest non-profit.
Surrounded by the members of 37 separate organizations, Common Good Missoula reached official non-profit status during a founding event at the Western Montana Fairgrounds Thursday night.
Bookended by traditional Indigenous drumming and a round dance, the event brought together hundreds of members and supporters.
“It's so easy to feel like the problems of our world are too much to conquer, but when you look around a space like this and you see everybody has the same goals and the same kind heart behind their work, it just makes you feel like you can do anything,” said Amber Shaffer, community organizer for All Nations Health Center.
From labor unions to faith institutions, the non-profit consists of varying entities like the Western Montana LGBTQ Center and First Presbyterian Church. They find common ground in their pledge to strengthen Missoula, according to lead organizer Lisa Davey.
“The major problems in our society are not caused by individuals, they are caused by institutional level forces,” said Davey. “We really believe it's going to take a group of different organizations to really push back on this.”
Whether challenging policy or raising funds for new initiatives, Davey told MTN News that every effort begins the same way.
“The first thing we do is listen.”
They listen because more often than not, the people they represent are silenced.
“We work really hard with people who are impacted by injustices in our society, to learn that they really have agency in their lives and they can change things about the world that they live in,” explained Davey.
Some of the most impacted people in our community are of Indigenous descent.
Representing All Nations for Common Good, Amber Shaffer ensures the Indigenous voice is heard and understood.
“Something that we've done at All Nations is implement this training called Wrestling with the Truth of Colonization, which I am a co-facilitator of,” said Shaffer. “We're really breaking down those everlasting effects of colonization on the Indigenous community.”
Through education opportunities, Common Good gives their members the tools to better advocate for those they represent. It’s a model Benny Lacayo has come to embrace.
After spending two and a half years in the Montana State Prison, Lacayo needed someone to advocate for him in his re-entry into Missoula. With the help of Welcome Back Missoula, a member organization of Common Good, Lacayo found housing and community. Along the way, he also found his voice and became an advocate for Missoula’s housing trust fund.
“In those sessions and those meetings, you know, talking to the city officials, I started getting my power back and voice back,” said Lacayo. “ I never would see myself being in a meeting with the city council, you know, but organizing not only helped me get my voice back and help me regain my humanity, but it really helped me define what my future is going to be.”
Now an organizer for Common Good, Lacayo can help to move Missoula in a positive direction, despite his past.
“I see that I did wrong, I acknowledge those wrongs, and I can’t make those things right, ever, I wouldn’t be giving the people that I hurt any justice, but I’ve made one of my goals to be a better community member and make my community better for those after me,” said Lacayo.