Mara Hanks, a sophomore at Flathead Valley Community College, is an advocate for social equity for marginalized youth. For the last five years, she has worked closely with Sparrow’s Nest of Northwest Montana to create a home funded and staffed by local community members for unaccompanied high school students experiencing homelessness. Additionally, she has worked with the Center for Restorative Youth Justice to provide restorative justice for youth in the community and empower youth to recognize the impacts of their decisions and actions on their community. Mara is an exceptionally charismatic leader who works hard to provide a welcoming and inclusive campus at FVCC, where she is a vital part of the TRIO program, AmeriCorps, the Native American Student Association, Phi Theta Kappa, and Student Government, and serves as a Resident Assistant at Founders Hall. She excels at connecting people with the resources they need to achieve greater independence and success.
I have been fortunate to have had many opportunities to be active in community organizations that are making a true difference for marginalized youth. When Sparrow’s Nest opened for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness, I had the privilege of working directly with them and learning about the importance of encouraging youth to use their voices. Our students had been discounted in many areas of their life because they weren’t adults, but often had adult responsibilities. Later, while working at the Center for Restorative Youth Justice, I learned more about our legal system and how restorative justice works very well with youth who have harmed the community in some way. Empowering people to fix their mistakes works wonders and creates stronger, more resilient youth who recognize the impact of their decisions and actions on their communities. As a student at FVCC, I have been active with TRIO, AmeriCorps, the Native American Club and as an RA in student housing. These opportunities have helped me learn to connect students to the resources available to them. Additionally, I have developed an appreciation of the importance of offering a welcoming campus environment that celebrates diversity and respects culture.