Barbara Bonifas

Alumni story
Barbara Bonifas 1970 1972 Helena
Photo of Barbara Bonifas (center)
Barbara Bonifas, center

I started my VISTA service by doing six weeks of training in Denver from June to August 1970. Training included living with a family in Fort Lupton and working as migrant seasonal farm workers. We were issued paper sleeping bags, which we used while sleeping in their basement. At the end of training, four of us were assigned with six other volunteers to Governor Forrest Anderson on a national model project created by regional director Gil Roman, from the Office of Civil Rights.

Since I had nearly a year of experience working as a juvenile probation officer, I was given the duty of creating community-based alternatives to jail and prison for youth and adults. I was one of the first females in the state Corrections Association. I was serving with my husband and we worked together creating Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs across the state, as well as youth group homes and assisted release programs. Montana was the "wild west" in 1970. But the 10 of us accomplished amazing feats in our one and two year stints. Assigned to work directly under the state agency directors, we experienced terrific access to policymakers.

We helped to create: 13 community Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs, helped pass Montana's first minimum wage law, created an 8-state health program that accompanied farm workers as they moved back and forth from Texas to Washington, and so much more.

I've spent the past 40 years working in public service at organizations including: the National Immigration Law Center (10 years), the Montana Department of Labor & Industry (10 years), and the National Institute on Money in State Politics (current job: Development Director, 8 years).

Decade: 1970s