A Student Volunteers
Even though she was a leader of her Flathead High School
class, UM senior Trina Zahller says she really didnt start to get involved in her
community until she went off to college.
There, at Cottey College in Nevada, Mo., she began the first of many service
commitments by volunteering to participate in College Bound, a program that
introduces fifth-graders to higher education. She also started spending several hours a
week providing administrative support at a haven for battered women and children.
Since Cottey was only a two-year program, Zahller returned to her native state to
finish her undergraduate education at UM, where she is focusing on studies of rural and
environmental change. As a recent McNair Scholar another opportunity for service,
in her opinion she is working on a report about the effects of the United
States $1.3 billion aid package to further the war on drugs in Colombia.
On any given day you might find Zahller attending classes in her sociology major;
planning events with La Raza Unida, UMs Latin America interest club, or CAJA, a
community group focusing on Latin American social justice issues; working at her campus
AmeriCorps job; dreaming up school programs to present in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
and Black History Month; or applying for service-oriented internships to work on this
As an AmeriCorps volunteer, she served for three semesters as a liaison between the
Universitys Volunteer Action
Services office and the Center for Leadership Development, creating projects such as a
daylong leadership seminar for selected Missoula high school students. She also brought
the College Bound program each semester to two fifth-grade classes at Missoulas
Franklin Elementary School in Missoula, substantially rewriting the program curriculum to
make it more relevant to youngsters.
Zahller says she involves herself in activities well beyond the scope of her course
work in order to pass on some of the security and comfort she had growing up, take
responsibility for solving some of societys problems and learn more about the world.
I think its good to have a sense of responsibility about your place, your
community, she says. If by doing something with your time or your voice you
can make your community better, thats being responsible for the well-being of where
The middle child in a family of three children born and raised in Kalispell, Zahller
says she didnt come from a wealthy home where everything was handed to her,
but we did have a good life, and if I can make someone elses life better or
more just in some way, then its totally worth it.
Zahller recognizes the positive impacts of volunteering not only on the recipient but
also on the people who volunteer. She believes that a spirit of volunteerism is beginning
to replace apathy in communities.
When you see a positive response to your work, you have a sense of pride in
yourself, she says. In the midst of all the problems [in society], you feel
like you can make a difference. If you dont get involved, you never get to see any
of the good things that can happen.
Zahller is particularly mindful of how stereotypes can cloud the truth and how
involvement can break down unfair assumptions. Her time volunteering at the womens
shelter in Missouri, for example, was at first very uncomfortable for her, she says,
because the situations she saw were so difficult.
There were also a lot of misconceptions on the part of the community toward the
college and vice versa, she says. Working at the womens shelter put a real
face on the issue of domestic violence and helped me learn about the realities of the
community. Whenever you have contact with people you wouldnt normally see its
She thinks the same is true for her fellow students now.
So many people stop by Volunteer Action Services and say they want to do
something, make some sort of positive contribution, she says. If its an
hour a week or 10 hours it really improves a persons outlook on the world.
As Zahller wraps up her final semester at UM, she is looking forward to spending next
year in Australia at the University of Queensland on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.
This summer she expects to work, as she has in summers past, for the Center for Talented
Youth at one of their camps for children aged 11 to 14.
Her ideas for community action and involvement just keep coming, spinning off one
My mom asks me how I find out about the things I do, she says. I
dont know. I search them out or one thing leads to another. I guess I just
dont know what to do with free time and I want to be involved in everything.
For more information call Volunteer Action Services at (406) 243-2586.
Caroline Lupfer Kurtz