Discovering Your Purpose

By Ciera Guerrero

When I was little I had decided that I was going to be a veterinarian. I was so set on the idea that even by the time I had finished high school I still hadn’t done any real thinking about what career path would be best for me. It was so systematic. One day I graduated high school and two months later I packed up all my belongings and drove to a town I had never been too simply because I had heard through the grapevine that it was a good college for pre veterinary classes.

Little did I know that I would loathe the town itself. Little did I know that a veterinarian’s lifestyle was not one I would find appealing. Little did I know that I had made the mistake of laying out a path for myself without putting any real logical or emotional thought into my career goals aside from what my 5-year-old self had decided for me.

And then it began.

The never-ending journey to a destination that kept on changing. First it was biology, then anthropology, psychology, social services, and then finally environmental science. As you probably can imagine, my poor mother was getting whiplash from the number of times I had called her to announce my new found passion. Nothing had felt better than finally walking across that stage and receiving my bachelor’s degree. And nothing felt worse than getting home and realizing that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with it.

I decided I was going to spend a couple of years doing things that were going to help me decide what my real passions were outside a classroom. I had spent so many years absorbing knowledge I wanted an opportunity to give it back for once. I wasn’t sure how, I just knew I needed to stop planning and start doing.

Soon after I pursued a year of teaching through AmeriCorps. While I thoroughly enjoyed my role in the school, I knew it wasn’t right for me. About this time a year ago I was trying to decide what I wanted to do the following year. As most people know, life is in constant motion, there are hardly moments when you’re not trying to do something while also calculating your next step.

Jump ahead to the present and here I am, a RARE AmeriCorps member. Per usual, I didn’t know what to expect. I had about a million ideas as to how it might turn out, and not one of those turned out to be accurate.

I could tell you about my position in every formal detail but it wouldn’t be an accurate description. Instead I want to tell you about the single occurrence that illustrates nearly every aspect outside of what you can find posted on the job description part of my organizations website.

A couple of months into my position I was told about a new non-profit organization, Animal Aid Inc.. Having had worked for a non-profit before I knew that there is never really enough help to go around and so I decided to reach out to the organizations director. Shortly after I visited the organization to see what it was all about. Natasha, the director, had told me about how the organization was formed to help provide shelter for animals had been seized by law enforcement from their owners. Each animal had a different story with a different background as to how they got there. I was moved by the work they were doing, and even more amazed when I found out they were fueled completely by volunteers and Natasha herself. The challenge they were facing was that there simply were not enough volunteers and they didn’t have the funds to hire anyone. Natasha had spent endless overtime hours at the organization reassuring that each animal received the care it needed. Everyone knows that working over 40 hours a week is a challenge, but also having a child in grade school makes it that much more difficult.

I spent hours at Animal Aid Inc. that afternoon. I couldn’t seem to step away. I felt deeply for Animal Aid Inc. and the work they were doing just to reassure that these animals weren’t left to fend for themselves. I knew I wanted to do what I could to assure that the organization to continue the work it was doing and there was nothing more satisfying than realizing my organization had the resources to help give Natasha the much needed break she deserved and Animal Aid Inc. the assistance it earned.

I discussed the organization with associates and together we figured out a way we could help contribute. Within the month Northwest Oregon Works in partnership with Community Service Consortium was able to connect with a youth, Alana, who happen to be looking for a position working with animals. Alana was an outstanding youth who had just graduated high school and had the desire to work but did not have the resources to make it happen. It was in that instance that I realized how many privileges I had taken for granted in my own life, such as a vehicle to get me to job interviews or a parent who was able to provide me with the tools such as work ready clothing. It’s easy to forget about the challenges other people have to accomplish just to get to the same finish line.

Luckily CSC and NOW had the tools that not only assisted her in getting the right clothing but also supplied her with a bus pass that would enable her to get to work every day. Soon after Alana interviewed with Natasha and it turned out to be a match. After we confirmed it would work we were able to enroll Alana in a work experience program that then allowed us to pay her wages so that Natasha wouldn’t have to.

At that point I had never went home feeling as satisfied with an work related outcome as I had that day. Alana was more than thrilled to start her job and I had the joy of getting to help her get there. As if that weren’t enough Natasha was so thankful for the pair of extra hands at Animal Aid Inc. With Alana’s help she now had more time to spend at home with her child and I got to be a part of that.

If I were to tell you that I have now discovered what I want to do for the rest of my life because of this experience then I would be lying to you. But what I can tell you is that I am about 5 times closer to understanding what kind of work makes me happy, and that is helping people. This realization in itself may not be a big deal for some people but it felt like a big deal to me. For those of us in this world that are indecisive about what we want to dedicate our entire being to understand that finding a little piece of something that clicks, lets us breathe, if only for a second; is amazing.

A bit about Ciera Guerrero:

  • Currently serving as a Youth Development Success Coach for the Northwest Oregon Works.
  • Bachelor of General Studies in Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Spring 2016
  • People may be surprised… “that I know how to change my own oil!”

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/application-process/member-application-process 

 

A Natural Progression

By Taylor West

Three months ago I walked into a Food Justice class at Willamette University to invite students to attend the 2018 Mid-Valley Food Summit event that I planned as one of my primary RARE AmeriCorps projects. Although it was a brief and informal encounter, I was struck by the self-reflection it prompted about the factors leading up to that moment.

Tracing back to childhood, my father’s chronic illness first sparked an awareness of the connection between food, body, and mind. This gave me a powerful taste of culinary consciousness, and as I grew I was inspired to dig deeper into issues of health, sustainable agriculture, food security, and social justice. Throughout college, my focus in Environmental Studies deepened my understanding of the inextricable linkages between humans and their environments, and allowed me to explore these concepts in tangible ways. As light was shed on the raw truths about humanity, quite frankly I felt disheartened and baffled by what my role should be in ameliorating the injustices that ruthlessly plague society.

In my subsequent position as Undergraduate Coordinator for the very program that simultaneously invoked fire and fear into me, I helped students navigate the murky waters of channeling their care and concern for the state of the world into a meaningful career path. A feeling of hope always washed over me as I watched these students pursue their passions, temporarily tempering the sting of pessimism. As the wave subsided, feelings of uncertainty about my place in the larger picture rocked in its wake. Only when another student would sit down to discuss their future or the printer inevitably malfunctioned would I jolt back from my spiraling descent down Anxiety Avenue.

In my final year with the Environmental Studies Program, a cascade of events (but fortunately not the Cascadia event)  prompted me to re-evaluate whether this tiny desk was really where I was meant to sit the rest of my life, churning out an impressive group of fierce leaders, but nonetheless remaining glued to my meshy vinyl throne. I engaged in various opportunities to support the implementation of a Food Studies minor, develop a Food Security Working Group and plan the first campus FEAST event at the University of Oregon, provide food pantry clients with tasty recipes, and demonstrate how to make fresh raspberry vinaigrette salad at the Eugene Farmer’s Market. With a rumble in my stomach and flutter in my heart, I realized that the common thread that pulled my sleepy, introverted, and caffeine sensitive self out of bed every morning was food… (quite literally, my obsession with berry-bursting overnight oats gave me enough reason to rejoice upon waking).

Being catapulted into work that emphasized community food security illuminated a way for me to find greater purpose in the midst of social, political, and ecological chaos. Despite being comfortable in my job, I knew the time had come for me to take the advice I had offered to thousands of students over the years, and embark on a new path of my own. The seeds that had been planted throughout my life were burgeoning and beckoning me to take a leap of faith into the unknown world of RARE AmeriCorps.

I knew my placement was a good fit when I stepped in and saw my new work space speckled with posters proclaiming the joys of asparagus, brimming with banana boxes of food to be delivered to local pantries, and bustling with people diligently working to eradicate hunger in Marion and Polk Counties. I now find myself fully immersed in food systems work, permeating the principle that ensuring equitable access to fresh, affordable, and culturally appropriate food is an inherent human right and an integral part of building a sustainable local food system. Although this position is a sharp diversion from my previous job in many ways, I can see how it is a natural progression of my personal and professional journey to finding fulfillment in my life’s work.

As I shared my enthusiasm for the Food Summit with the Willamette University students that drizzly November day, I felt comforted by the familiarity of the classroom, inspired by their budding commitment to promoting food justice, and confident that I’m heading in a direction that resonates with my core values. It is often the obstacles overcome, the gripping fears faced, and the raggedy spaces of discomfort that stimulate significant personal growth. However, it is the seemingly trivial moments in between that offer a chance to recognize where we are and reflect on how far we have come. Appreciating the trials and triumphs leading up to the present moment may even provide unexpected insights for the future.

While I don’t exactly know what my next steps entail, this RARE opportunity has undoubtedly solidified my interests in addressing the root causes of hunger and empowering people to grow healthy, vibrant, and resilient communities. Each day I am gaining a better understanding of the history, challenges, assets, and opportunities rooted in the place I have always called home, but apparently know so little about. I am also learning to let go of the daunting uncertainty of the future by trusting that the pieces will continue to fall into place, much like the ingredients for my elaborate pizza creations that fuel these endeavors.

Standing at the podium to commence the official Food Summit event, my excruciating dread of public speaking briefly subsided as I focused my eyes on the vivacious vegetable centerpieces planted between guests, and contemplated the countless details that culminated in that moment. Looking back over approximately one to twenty-five years, I am overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunities that propelled me forward and the people that nourished my spirits along the way. As I careen down my career path, this awareness empowers me to dive into the sea of wicked problems with tenacity, patience, and self-assurance going forward.

A bit about Taylor West:

  • Currently serving as a Community Food Systems Coordinator with Marion-Polk Food Share.
  • Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies with Minors in Economics and Anthropology, University of Oregon, Spring 2014
  • People may be surprised… “I enjoy spending time listening to rap music and learning from hip hop as a powerful form of cultural expression. “

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/application-process/member-application-proces