20th Anniversary Spotlight: Steve Nelsen

20th Anniversary Spotlight: Steve Nelsen, founder and first Executive Director of Montana Conservation Corps

For the next year, the Governor's Office of Community Service will be spotlighting key contributors to AmeriCorps in Montana from the last 20 years. Be sure to look for the spotlight each month in this newsletter to learn more about the impact and history of AmeriCorps in Montana.


As the Montana Conservation Corps arrived at the AmeriCorps "Kickoff" in Sept of 1994, we were overwhelmed with the size and aura of the crowd that filled the front of the Capital lawn. The Office of Community Service was less than  3 months old yet the Director Mary Blake and the newly appointed Commission had managed to convene the Governor, University Presidents, Legislators, and a couple thousand enthusiastic folks for a rousing launch of Montana's National Service endeavor. It had the feel of a pep rally with a righteous, virtuous cause.  

A couple of MCC's Corps members had signed up literally the night before and none of us really understood what this AmeriCorps thing was. MCC received its formal grant award about 30 days earlier and had been frantically putting together the components of our program - hiring staff, finding vehicles, securing projects and recruiting Members. It was like we'd been running a marathon and the Kickoff event was the finish line where we could look around and see that we were part of a truly amazing happening.  

The preceding spring/summer had been filled with 16 hour days putting together an AmeriCorps grant application based on Guidelines that were still being refined. I would have to compare it to building a house while the blue prints were being drawn. The saving grace was a young, bright and passionate staff at the newly formed Corporation for National Service who put the meat on the bones of AmeriCorps based on President Clinton's legislation. In Montana we were blessed with a newly elected Governor, Marc Racicot, who embraced national service in his first State of the State address and created the Office of Community Service as Montana's vehicle to implement AmeriCorps.

In retrospect, the AmeriCorps launch was a true highlight of my professional career. The optimism and passion of everyone involved with the beginning of this national movement was exhilarating and contagious. I applaud the efforts of those who have continued to build and grow this effort, and thank all those involved in those early days.

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