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Writing Coaches of Montana has a lot to say about how great our communities are. 

Growth Mindset, March 2023: ABC: The Added Bonus of Coaching

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them,
and it will change your life” (Amy Poehler, American comedian, actress, writer, producer and
director). When volunteers rally around a common goal it creates a sense of community, unique
to that group. As coaches we have come to Writing Coaches of Montana (WCM) with a diverse
collection of backgrounds: lawyers, nurses, teachers, accountants and therapists, to name a
few. The commonality you will find is our shared love of the written word and a belief that writing
is a valuable tool for self-expression. There are many coaching communities within WCM,
designated because of location. Montana is a big state. As WCM grows, the common bond
between every coach, that will keep us united and inspired, is not only our rewarding
connections with students but with each other. This is especially true for two of the Bitterroot
writing coaches, Denise Mahrer and Donna Lambiase.

Having moved to the Bitterroot Valley in late 2013, by fall 2016 Denise was looking for a
volunteering opportunity. As a retired English teacher she knew it had, in some way, to involve
stepping back into the classroom:

In the late summer of 2016, I was leaving Clark Fork Farmers Market when I was
approached by the former director of WCM. The program was hoping to expand into the
Bitterroot and was in need of additional coaches. Her brief overview of the WCM philosophy
was all it took for me to sign up for the next training session. Here was an organization that
wanted to work with every student in the class, foster their love of writing and help move their
ideas forward. From the very first meeting with the new coaches the sense of camaraderie was
infectious. Knowing there were others, akin to myself, who valued education and wanted to
show student writers that folk in the community cared was heartening. Working one on one with
the student writers, listening to their thoughts and guiding them in articulating their ideas is
rewarding. Spending time before and after coaching sessions with fellow coaches, discussing
the assignments the students are working on, learning about each others’ lives, careers, and
literary tastes has been equally rewarding. It has been through these “after hour” interactions
that friendships have blossomed.

Donna came to WCM after reading an article in the February 2018 edition of the The
Falcon View about coaches working one-on-one with Florence-Carlton High school students:

My fond memories of after-school library hours spent working with student writers
bubbled to the surface when I read the article about Writing Coaches of Montana. With
experience as a fiction writer and reader for a publisher, I felt confident as I hurriedly applied to
WCM in 2018. I believe when a person takes on a new endeavor they enter with expectations
limited to their past experiences. I was so eager to relive the joy of working with students I
believe I was blind to other possible benefits. My eyes were opened during my first WCM
training class. Unexpectedly, I was welcomed into an entire community of volunteers who shared my strong personal commitment to spreading the value of the written word. Not only
would I be engaging with students in a rewarding setting but I made connections at this first
training which became the foundation of my own community of coaches. Over the years I have
worked alongside many coaches, teachers and administrators and I highly value the history
behind each of these brief, but enriching, encounters. It seems there is another unexpected
benefit of belonging to a group of like-minded individuals, the development of friendships.

One never knows where or when a chance encounter may spark a friendship. While we
have mutual friends, if it weren’t for WCM, we may never have met. As C. S. Lewis once said,”
Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that
no one but myself...” The initial commonality, in our case, the love of the written word and the
desire for the younger generation to be as enthused as we are, is what led us to WCM in the
first place and to the ever-evolving friendship we have today. What started as rereading and
chatting about the works students were analyzing, such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Fahrenheit
451, transitioned into discussions regarding best coaching practices. How best to approach the
reluctant student who either hasn’t read the work and has no intention of doing so? Or the
student who hasn’t even begun his/her essay and doesn’t know where to start?

In our case, it didn’t take long before we began talking about the books and authors we
enjoy reading. Soon we were meeting to discuss new literary gems, or aspects of the students’
writing assignments prior to coaching sessions. We discovered we have other interests in
common; baking, gardening and quilting as well as our passion for writing. When we aren’t
helping students within the valley with their writing assignments, we use each other as sounding
boards for our own work. We, and our families, frequently celebrated the quintessential
American and British holidays, July 4th and December 26th, Boxing Day, in each other’s
company. Five years ago, we met as strangers, today we ride to coaching sessions together as

WCM Executive Director, Cassie Sheets, ends her communications with the following
quotation, “It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’
Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes” (Fred
Rogers). Neither of us expected to find heroes or fast friends when first volunteering for WCM,
however we are fortunate to have found both. Those who coach alongside us have chosen to
make the child, the community, their world, their problem. They have seen the need and
responded. We feel privileged to be a part of the WCM organization as a whole and specifically,
here in our “Bitterroot Valley” neighborhood, where our coaching “neighbors” have become
friends too. Mr. Rogers would be proud.

--Donna Lambiase and Denise Mahrer