By Annie Carlson, AmeriCorps VISTA
During the second week of March, I traveled from Missoula to Helena to attend the ServeMontana symposium. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but hey, it was going to be an opportunity to get out of the office and switch up my routine for a couple of days.
I was more than surprised when I was told there were nearly 300 AmeriCorps State and AmeriCorps VISTA service members that would be attending the event. As the room filled up and welcoming statements were made, we were asked where we traveled from to get to our service positions in Montana. When asked who was from Montana, my hand went up with another 30 or so hands. When asked who was from out of the state, most of the hands in the room flung into the air.
At that point a flood of emotions came over me; a mix of gratitude for all of those who chose to serve in Montana and extreme pride for this place that I have been lucky enough to call home.
About a year ago now, when I was searching for an opportunity to serve with AmeriCorps, the one thing I was sure of was that I was going to stay in Montana. For many AmeriCorps members, a service term is an opportunity to pack up and move across the country to discover a new place. For me, it was a chance to give back to the people, the communities, and the state that has raised me.
As I dug deeper into the opportunities within AmeriCorps, I landed on becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA. Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs) are passionate service members from all over the United States that make a commitment to a full-time, full-year, service term with a nonprofit or public agency to work to bring people out of poverty in their community. While the programs and the work that individual VISTAs do during their service year varies, the common goal is to help people out of poverty in their community through capacity-building work.
My search led me to the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition (CFAC). To say the least, I was nervous for my first day, but now that I look back on it, it was in true CFAC fashion that I started my year as a VISTA: I traveled to a place I had never been in Eastern Montana to attend a meeting of local ranchers where I knew no one. Like, way out there, the part of Montana where there are triple the number of cows than people.
From that point, I have not stopped experiencing and learning new things through the work that I have been able to do with CFAC. I have learned how to be flexible when curve balls are thrown my way, how to work as a team, and to celebrate the little things. I am so thankful for this opportunity to serve through AmeriCorps with CFAC, and I know I have become a better person for it.
No matter where you call home, if your tools of service are a chainsaw and a hard hat or a computer and an excel sheet, AmeriCorps service members are united by a passion for service and excitement to learn that is represented by the “big A” we all wear. As an AmeriCorps member and a Montanan, I am thankful for all the things that get done in my home state because of national service.