Mary Poole is featured in a short film by Starbuck's "Upstanders" series about ordinary people creating positive change in their communities. Poole helped launch Soft Landing Missoula, which supports refugees resettling in Missoula and does community outreach and education.

Starbucks boss Howard Schultz was talking to Charlie Rose and the gang on CBS This Morning on Oct. 10 about the second season of “Upstanders.”

It’s a collection of 11 short films about “ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities,” according to advance publicity.

Schultz, executive chairman and former CEO of the Seattle-based, worldwide coffeehouse chain, mentioned one story subject by name.

“We met a woman in Missoula, Montana, Mary Poole, who against all odds, with no training whatsoever and against the mentality in Montana ... brings refugees from Syria,” Schultz said. “These are people who are ‘upstanders,’ people who are not listening to Washington and doing things that I think speak to the American spirit.”

Missoula gets a look at all 11 stories Monday night, when executive producer Rajiv Chandrasekaran brings “Upstanders” to the Wilma at 7 p.m. for a free screening.

It’s the third and final full showing. The premiere was at Times Center in New York City the night before Schultz appeared on CBS, and it screened again Tuesday in Seattle. An abbreviated program was held in San Diego on Friday night.

“We’re coming to Missoula to do this at the Wilma because of how strongly we feel, about Mary’s story but also really what it says about Missoula as a whole, as a community, and how Missoula shows us the best of the United States,” said Chandrasekaran, senior vice president for public affairs at Starbucks, where he moved in 2015 after finishing a 20-year career as a senior correspondent and associate editor for the Washington Post.

Season 1 of “Upstanders” was worth 80 million views, “not bad for a non-media company getting into this endeavor for the first time,” Chandrasekaran noted.

It was distributed via mobile app, Wi-Fi and social media. This time, he said, it’s also available in video form through Amazon Video Direct and in audio on Audible and Starbucks.com/Upstanders.

The 90-minute screening at the Wilma will be followed by a 30-minute panel discussion featuring Chandrasekaran, Poole and Jen Barile, resettlement director of the International Rescue Committe's Missoula office. Complimentary popcorn and Starbucks coffee will be served.

For the second season of “Upstanders,” its producers went looking for stories of ordinary people demonstrating extraordinary courage.

“We wanted to share stories that weren’t just the sort of debate you see on cable news, with one side yelling at the other, but stories that are thoughtful and show that a community can have a discussion, even around a sensitive issue,” Chandrasekaran said. “We quite frankly found a lot of them, but what Mary has done there in Missoula really stood out to us.”


It has been more than two years since Poole, her first child just 6 months old, launched Soft Landing Missoula to attract a refugee resettlement office to Missoula. Nearly 120 Congolese, Eritreans, Iraqis and Syrians have arrived in town since the International Rescue Committee started accepting them and Soft Landing began welcoming them in August 2016.

Poole was a nurse, arborist and small-business owner who stayed out of the media limelight until Soft Landing came to be. Her triggering story is fairly well-known in these parts. She was moved by a photo of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old whose family was attempting to flee Syria. Kurdi was face-down on a beach of the Mediterranean Sea, drowned.

“It was like a forceful, visceral gut kick, just having a new family and not being able to even begin to imagine the horror of going through that,” Poole said. “I don’t know if I would have had the same reaction pre-family. It must have been hormonal.”

“One of the things that I find so powerful about Mary is she had no background in foreign policy or domestic policy,” Chandrasekaran said. “She isn’t someone who ever worked the levers of government. She was moved by a picture that quite frankly hundreds of millions of people saw. How many of us looked at that photo of Alan Kurdi and thought, 'Oh, that’s a terrible thing,' and went on with our day? But she was moved to act.”

In the face of sometimes-fierce opposition to refugee resettlement, Poole and Soft Landing were joined by ever-widening circles of support and relationships that now include the refugee families themselves.

“She wouldn’t say ‘We’ve got to do it this way.’ It was: ‘Do you think this is something we can do as a community?' ” Chandrasekaran said.

Poole gave birth to her second child in June, just two weeks after the Upstanders segment was filmed over a period of three or four days. Mayor John Engen has a part in the film, characterizing the support within the city. So does a man who opposes refugee resettlement in Missoula, talking amicably with Poole in the Old Post Pub. They exchange a hug at the end.

Poole has been the most public face of Soft Landing Missoula, at community programs and in the local media, but also in national and international feature stories by the likes of BBC, YES Magazine and the Los Angeles Times.

Yet she deplores any notion that the efforts of Missoula and Soft Landing are a one-woman show.

“The last thing I want is to be put on some pedestal, some made-up pedestal,” she said.

Indeed, even interviews with local reporters remain nerve-wracking.

“It’s not a place that I am naturally comfortable in,” Poole said. “It’s a lot of responsibility to come up with the right words, especially when your baby brain is forcing you in another direction.

“But I also think that we’re a very genuine organization, a very grassroots, organic organization. We don’t have sound bites. We speak from the heart, and I think that has resonated with people.”

The Soft Landing movement was never intended to be divisive or a political statement.

“We see the value in reaching out to people who think differently than we do,” said Poole. “We understand that our mission is to create a welcoming community and that we have to extend that welcome to more than just refugees or it will never be a welcoming community for refugees.”

This story has been updated to reflect the inclusion of Jen Barile of the IRC's Missoula office on the panel Monday night.

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Mineral County, veterans issues

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian