Heading Westward

By Imani Hall

I applied for the Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) Program, per the recommendation of a mentor, my senior year of college. He was a county planner in Ithaca, NY and we both attended the same college for our undergraduate experiences. I met him through an environmental policy class and have been interested in planning ever since. My mentor told me about his experiences in this program and recommended I apply, if I am interested in planning. I applied and it has been one of the most formative experiences of my life: shifting my comfort zone, creating new relationships, allowing me to see the Pacific northwest, and allowing me to better understand myself and all things I have gained through the RARE Program.

I am from, just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and drove all 2,919.8 miles from my front door to my new apartment in Independence, Oregon. It was a blessing that I was able to drive cross-county, which has always been a goal of mine, and RARE was the impetus for that experience. Not only did the plains, mountains, deserts, and valleys of the United States give me a newfound appreciation for the beauty of this country but it also afforded me the hours to reflect on my college experience and what I was about to embark on, in this new position. I was not sure of what to expect. I knew living in a rural community and away from my family would be an adjustment but otherwise, I approached this position with an open mind that, I think, allowed me to make the best of the experiences and interactions with people once I got here. I recall looking up Independence and the surrounding area on Google Maps, trying to get a sense of it and now having lived here for some months, it feels like home. I drove to San Francisco to visit a friend and, on my journey home, Independence felt familiar, the nature, the architecture, the people, the signs, was all familiar. These are a few the experiences RARE has given me, that have caused me to reflect on where I have been, where I am going, and what I can work through, but I have also developed professionally.

My first month in Oregon, I attended a conference focused on community development and it was empowering to see the degree to which people of all ages, were interacting and assisting one another in how to better their individual communities. In college, community development was something few people in my year were interested in but, in a professional setting, it almost become my world where every conversation, connection, and presentation was geared toward my interest and it was very empowering to be in that space. I have also pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I am an introvert, which, at times, makes it difficult for me to assert myself in presentations, meetings, or other areas. However, in my position I have to run meetings and present to the Independence City Council, among other things that, make me uncomfortable. But I have learned to enjoy that un-comfortability, understanding that it brings growth. And now, I know what I need to work on, professionally, to make myself more effective.

I am growing through my RARE experience and am very thankful to be in this program. Of course, there are challenges: less diversity than I am used to, not as strong of a dance community, lack of expendable income, but overall I would not change a thing about my position or situation. My roommates are amazing, my boss is great, Independence is centrally located in the Willamette valley, making other parts of Oregon accessible. The RARE staff is extremely helpful and my other service members are a group of talented, bright individuals, whom I am learning a lot from. This has been a life changing experience and I look forward to my continued professional and personal growth, during the rest of my position.



A bit about Imani Hall:

  • B.A. in Environmental Studies with a minor in African Diaspora Studies – Ithaca College
  • People may be surprised when they learn I have a SpongeBob pillow that I sleep with every night! I won SpongeBob at Dave and Busters my senior year of high school and he has been with me ever since.
  • My most significant accomplishments are the breakdancing events I planned my junior and senior year of college. My college planned the event for years but I was able to partner with Cornell University and get high profile dancers to attend. The breakdancing event has become a staple in the central NY hip-hop scene and is s ll going strong.

Does community development work interest you?  Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon?  Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: https://rare.uoregon.edu/

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