By Alexis Van Pernis
I remember feeling a peculiar kind of melancholy as I drove over the continental divide back in early October. I had just spent three days in Butte at orientation for Energy Corps and I had met all the other Energy Corps members serving with me around the state. I had just met some of the coolest, most grounded, thoughtful, and interesting people and had hung out with them non-stop for 3 days and then…it was time for me to drive three hours southeast to Livingston. I was thankful I had met them, that there were people in the world like me who cared about the things I did, but it also felt a little cruel to have met such a group and then find out that they would live anywhere from one to seven hours away from me.
So I focused my energy on cultivating a community in Livingston. I tried to learn the nooks and crannies and idiosyncrasies of the town. I met some friends. I went to movie nights and school plays. And I put the relationships I had cultivated at orientation on the backburner. Until I looked up and somehow it was March and it was time to see everyone again in Helena at the ServeSymposium.
The symposium is a gathering of all AmeriCorps members in Montana for three days of speakers, activities and, of course, service. On the first day we collected over 13,000 pounds of food and $31,000 for Helena Food Share’s Doorsteps to Kids Packs program, all in about three hours, which is a pretty big accomplishment in my book.
I’m not going to lie though, I was excited for this past week’s ServeMontana symposium for the programming and speakers, yes, but also to be reunited with some very cool people. And, I wasn’t disappointed! There were the familiar faces I knew from orientation, but I also got to meet some new faces (equally cool…don’t worry). And as we talked and listened about Montana and service (and even sang some, most-likely very off key, karaoke), I was reminded about how nice it is to be a part of a larger community. I have a community in Livingston, but I hadn’t previously felt linked to other places in Montana. It often feels that, although Bozeman is over the hill, it might as well be on Mars. Butte or Billings might as well be in another galaxy. But talking to other people who are working towards the same aims as I am, sharing triumphs and disappointments, and tips and tricks, was a great reminder that not only are their sympathetic ears all over the state, they are paired with willing hands who want to pitch in to make projects happen. Their willingness only made mine, to help out in my community and around the state, grow.