Teen Volunteer Experience

Interview with Emma Friedman,

2019 Montana Blackfeet Alum

Returning for 2020!

Name: Emma Friedman

Hometown: New York City

Relationship to VISIONS: 2019 Montana Blackfeet & 2020 Montana Summer Participant

*The following written interview was conducted in April 2020, and the video clips below were filmed during Emma’s program in the summer of 2019.


What does your daily life look like right now?

My name is Emma Friedman, I am 15-years old and I live in New York City. I try to fill my daily life with things that make me feel happy and are important to me. I love to smile, laugh, sing and learn about the world around me. I like to read in the park, watch thunderstorms and listen to the rain. I am fascinated by history and I love to ask questions so I can learn new things.

Have you volunteered lately? If so, how?

I volunteer with the Mental Health Club at my school where I work to raise awareness about mental health in the hopes of breaking the stigma surrounding it.

What does the word community mean to you?

Community is one of the most vital parts of my life. Although, I didn’t learn the true importance of community until it became apparent to me what it was like living without community. In Montana, the community I felt was something I had never before experienced. It wasn’t only a community, to me they were family. I had only ever had glimpses of community like this on a team or at my synagogue. It wasn’t until my time in Montana that I was able to witness this whole other way of life. To me a community is a group of people where I feel comfortable to be exactly who I am.

Leaving Montana, I came back to a community where I no longer fit. I had grown and changed and I wasn’t the same person I had left behind. I had also come to the conclusion that I wasn’t willing to change back to the way I was before. It was hard and I often felt lonely because I had finally found where I fit and this place wasn’t it. I joined the swim team at my school and found a sense of community that reminded me of Montana. I hope to continue living my life by finding communities that make me feel like I belong like Montana did for me. If I was lucky enough to find my place I know others will too.

What was most memorable about your VISIONS experience?

Although the planned activities were some of the highlights of my experience it was the unplanned moments that were the most memorable: the little moments that came with each day like making tea in the mornings to warm cold fingers, working together to flip pancakes, trusting someone to hold the wood steady as you drill, jogging through the hills completely out of breathe to finally sit down and watch the sun rise, singing in the car, running through the grass while the sun sets behind you to warm your toes by the fire and as you sit down listen as the friends who surround you tell stories.

It was one of these unplanned moments where I found myself lucky enough to witness some of the truest beauty the world has to offer. One weekend we went camping and after dinner some of us headed out for a sunset hike to the top of the mountain. Up among the clouds and above the helicopters the view was enthralling. We watched the sun set over the town and began hiking back down.

I was exhausted from the day’s excursions and was desperate to fall asleep in my sleeping bag. A friend standing behind me told our group to look to the sky. Reluctantly, I looked up and found myself at a loss for words. I live in a city with no stars but I am a girl who loves stars with her whole heart. I had never seen this many stars in my life. The sky had transformed from the setting of the sun to a night sky covered in twinkling stars. When you stare into an endless sky you realize how much more there really is to the world. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the sky fearing I might forget the beauty of the world above me. We ended up laying down in the tall grass together to watch the stars. I felt peaceful as I listened to the words of friends telling stories under the dark night sky. In this moment as I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep I thought of how I loved being alive.

What did the VISIONS experience teach you?

The VISIONS experience taught me the importance of pushing my boundaries to try new things balanced with learning to trust myself. An example of this is a moment in Montana that I will never forget, as it is one of the most incredible moments of my life. There was the possibility of going to a Sweat Lodge for the afternoon. I was told it was going to be a cleansing ritual the elders led with a lot of heat. I was definitely not a fan of being really hot, so I had initially decided not to go. Although, my friends convinced me to try something new and I decided to step outside my comfort zone. This is when all of my adventures of trying new things began and there was no turning back once I had opened the door.

We drove to an open field and went inside a lodge shaped like a dome completely covered so no light could get in. I hope everyone can experience something as incredible as this for themselves one day. We went inside for the first round and the rocks came in heated one by one, smoke rising to the top. I had my head close to the ground overwhelmed by the heat while my body sat enveloped in darkness. The second round was even more intense as I cupped my hands to my mouth to breathe back in the cool air from my lungs with my head in my lap. During this round I was sure I could not make it through another round. But I ended up going in for the third round and I am so grateful I did.

My body had adjusted to the heat so my senses heard and felt everything around me. I watched the one ember that burned in front of me and instead of suffering under the heat it fueled my body with warmth and energy. I needed to go in for a fourth round. This round I realized how incredible the experience was as I sat in the lodge holding hands with those next to me for support. I listened to the elders chanting, which I had barely heard before under the weight of the heat. I swayed along to the rhythm and felt empty when the chant ended, but then a new song would begin and I found myself chanting along and I noticed that everyone was chanting too. We were all connected. From the ground where I had laid in the first round I had lifted myself up to breathe in the heat that now filled my body with warmth. When I stepped out of the lodge, it felt like I was breathing new air into my lungs. All of my scars from time and pain had been washed away. I turned to the friend next to me and said, “When can we go again?”

What is something that makes you hopeful for the future?

I feel hopeful for the future because of the good people in the world–those who care about more than just themselves and work to help others. In Montana, I was surrounded by people who care about the world and the people in it. These people give me hope.

What do you feel is one of your greatest strengths that you have to offer the world?

I think the greatest strength I have to offer the world is that I will fight for what I believe in and fight for those who don’t yet have the voice to fight. I think it is crucial to stand up for what I believe in because that is when I am truly being me. When I watch others stand up for what they believe in I feel hopeful for the future.

In what ways, big or small, would you like to change the world?

I frequently think about what it means to change the world. To me, you can change the world by making people feel loved and like they belong. I want to work side by side with the people who want to make the world a better place by raising awareness to issues that are important to them and helping others to see their importance.

What would you like to be remembered for?

I want to be remembered as someone who wanted to do good things in the world, and as someone who really loved people and cultures and the world she lived in. I hope to leave handprints of hope and kindness and joy throughout the world and make people feel happy to be alive.

What do you hope to be doing 10 years from now?

10 years from now, I hope to have been able to experience new cultures and witness more of the beautiful things the world has to offer, specifically the northern lights. I want to become a lawyer to stand up for those who don’t have a voice, so they can get the voice they deserve. I would like to live in Montana so I can run through the hills in the early mornings with my husky, Scouty, while the world is still asleep.

Why did you decide to return for Montana Summer and what are you most excited about for the program?

I decided to return for Montana Summer because it felt like something that I needed. I needed to take a break from my bubble to be reminded of the beauty in the world that can be hard to see during confusing times. Montana is that reminder for me whether it is the stars, the sunsets or the people. I am most excited to meet new people, live surrounded by mountains, work with tools and get to sleep under the stars once again. This may have not been what I initially planned, but it feels like a gift that I get to go back to this incredible place with such remarkable people.

What would you like to say to other members of the VISIONS community?

To other members of the VISIONS community I want to commend your courage and spirit. I hope you continue to do good because our world could use more people like you. I think one of the greatest gifts you have is your ability to use your voice. It is never easy to speak out in a room where many disagree with you, but when you do you will inspire someone else to do the same. I want you to know that I am grateful for the hope you bring to the world.

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