STEPHANIE MCDOWELL, executive director Bridgercare As the nonprofit’s executive director, Stephanie McDowell has overseen Bridgercare’s long-awaited move to its new space off Oak Street. And having started working as a volunteer at the organization’s front desk back in 2003, McDowell can attest to what a larger office will mean for not only Bridgercare, but also the people it serves. “It was a big project,” McDowell says. “But it’s gotten people excited, and we need people to be excited.” McDowell, who graduated from Montana State University with a degree in cell biology, had visions of being a practicing physician. But following volunteer work at the university’s Voice Center as well as Haven, she decided to focus her energy elsewhere.
“That really lit my fire for women’s issues and reproductive health and healthy relationships,” she says of her time with the two organizations. “Over those years, my perspective and exposure really drove what I do today.” Everyone knows the changes that have taken place with regards to access to health care and contraception over the last several years, McDowell says, but for the most part organizations like Bridgercare have been insulated due to the community’s strong support and the shoe leather work ethic of volunteers and staff members. “I love the people,” she says. “My colleagues are so dedicated, and this job is not easy. It’s an honor just to work with them. They remind me that there are good people in this world.”
KELLI STANLEY, owner Tree of Life Doula Care With five children of her own, it comes as no surprise that friends and family members came to Kelli Stanley for advice about childbirth and parenting. It comes as no surprise, too, that her role as childbirth guru eventually led to Stanley founding a doula service, Tree of Life Doula Care, based in Manhattan, that offers care and advice for families across the Gallatin Valley. “It’s one of those things where people keep saying things to you like, ‘This is what you should do,’ and if you listen long enough you get pointed in the right direction,” Stanley says with a laugh. Tree of Life follows a collaborative care model, meaning the agency employs five certified doulas who offer everything from
lactation advice to bereavement counselling to education and meal preparation. “We don’t have the care we had years ago where we live near our families,” Stanley says. “A doula can really be there with a family during birth and postpartum and fill in those gaps and be there when someone needs it, as well as provide education.” Stanley is also involved in a variety of other childbirth-related causes in the valley, including serving as the president of the Montana Childbirth Collective and helping found the Gallatin Breastfeeding Coalition. “When you’re really passionate about something and realize it’s where you want to be, it makes it easy,” the 39-year-old says. “I feel blessed and humbled that I get to be a part of all this.”
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