Women In Action Executive Director Jean Behr has been on the job for about a month, and is grateful for the warm welcome she’s received from the community. “I think my genuine interest and love for the work helps people see fairly quickly that I’m not here to take things over. I want to steward this growing organization that has become such a big part of this community,” she said.

Jean Behr now leading Women In Action

And counseling intern Ian Anderson joins the team

The recent marathon resort tax allocation meeting was the perfect crash course in “Big Sky 101” for Women In Action’s new executive director, Jean Behr. She’d been at the job for less than a month, and what better way to learn how Big Sky works than a combined meeting of all the nonprofits and organizations?

     “I’ve learned quickly that everyone here feels ownership over the community, over what’s happening here,” Behr said, recalling the June 18 meeting. “It was such an illuminating way to start my career here. I learned about the other organizations, got to see who’s who, and as an outsider—which can be odd and terrifying—I felt so welcomed here. Everyone has been enthusiastically welcoming.”

     Behr is originally from northern Minnesota, but her first love—politics—sent her across the country, from Colorado to Pennsylvania. For a few years she ran the offices of Grassroots Campaigns, an organization that canvases the streets for groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and Save the Children. 

     “The job was insane. It was like 100 hours a week for no money, and I was 30 while everyone else was 12 it seemed like, but it was cool,” Behr said of the job that took her around the U.S. for a couple of years.

     In 2012, Behr worked for NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, and in 2014 she took a job with the North Dakota Dems in Grand Forks before landing her dream job in 2015 as the South Dakota manager of advocacy and development for Planned Parenthood. 

     But life had more planned for Behr. During a road trip with her now fiancé Kyle, who moved to South Dakota from Wisconsin on the premise the two would find a more suitable place to live. Then after a year or so, the couple found their way to Livingston, Mont. 

     “As soon as we got to Montana, he said, ‘Ok, this is where we are going to go,” Behr recalled. “And I said ‘OK!’”

     That was about two years ago. Behr looked into a number of jobs around Bozeman, but eventually stumbled upon the WIA executive director position. 

     “And it just clicked for me,” she said, highlighting the work of the women who started WIA 10 years ago. “It’s one thing to identify needs or problems in your community, but it’s another thing to actually do something about it. I really admire that spirit.”  

     Behr will work part time, which is fine by her. 

     “Coming from the world of campaigns, where in 2014 I had two days off between June and the election day, this is kind of great,” she said. “We moved to Montana with intent. We want to be able to be in the outdoors, so working with WIA and having that flexibility in my schedule fuels my passion for the work that I do and I get to feed my need for the outdoors.”

     Behr hopes she can help WIA evolve to match the needs of the community. One way WIA has done that is through its counseling programs, which range from substance abuse to individual and group sessions.

     Counseling intern Ian Anderson also joined WIA in May. But he’s not the young, twenty-something student one might expect. Anderson’s career path once led him in a completely different direction.  Before going back to Montana State University to gain a master’s degree in marriage, couples and family counseling, he worked as an economist for two decades in Bozeman.

     A year ago, he decided to go back to school. To explain why he made that choice, he cited Dr. John D. Krumboltz’s “Happenstance Learning Theory.” 

     “The idea is you basically go through life trying things until you find something that’s a good fit,” Anderson explained. “And that was a little bit of what I did. I’ve always been a person who values depth in relationship, and if I’m in a social event I would prefer to have an extensive conversation with a couple people rather than cover the room.”

     The choices he made in his original career path—getting a master’s in economics—“Was the opposite of counseling in many ways,” Anderson said. “It didn’t really allow me to go in that direction. So, I eventually got to a point where I had enough self-understanding to say, ‘Yeah, I’m decent at what I’m doing, and I kind of like it,’ but it wasn’t resonating. I had the luxury of taking a deep breath and asking, ‘What do I want to do with myself for the next 20 years?’”

     It was a classic midlife crisis we all hear about, and Anderson said he was the first of his friends to experience it. 

     “I thought I’d put it off until later in my 40s, since life is really pretty good,” he said. “I realized I’d done what I’d done, but I wanted something different. And when I really listened to myself, I realized I wanted to be in more relationships with people, at depth, and this was a good option… It’s always been in the back of my mind. It just took me 25 years to listen to myself.”

     A year into his studies, Anderson joined the WIA team in May via the nearly decade-long partnership between Big Sky’s public health organization and Montana State University’s Human Development Clinic. He’s seen a number of patients here, and while he said he’s familiar with the ski town aspect of Big Sky, it’s been rewarding to get to know the people who reside here. 

     “One of my favorite things is that the people I work with are year-round Big Sky residents, and they have a good sense of the community,” Anderson said. “They’ve introduced me to that small-town Montana community that is here, but isn’t obvious when you think about Big Sky. I grew up in a small Montana community, so I share a lot of those core values—the things people appreciate like going in and out of Ace, the market and seeing people you know and taking the time to say something.” 

     It’s those elements of the community, Anderson said, that Big Sky residents really seem to identify with. He’s also discussed the pros and cons of living in a rapidly growing resort community: “We can sit here and identify what the bad is, but they will talk more about the good, being grateful for what it is, that it gives them the opportunity to stay here.” 

     Anderson will be offering counseling services this summer on Tuesdays and Thursdays, switching to Mondays and Wednesdays when school starts in the fall. He’ll be with WIA until May 2019.

     WIA offers a number of counseling programs on a sliding scale. Visit www.bigskywia.org.

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