An Unexpected RARE Adventure

By Sarah Kersten, Community Food Systems Coordinator, Oregon State University Extension Services of Wasco County

Upon finishing my fall semester of undergrad at the University of Iowa, I noticed all of my friends were starting to apply for jobs and figuring out a plan for life after college. While developing a plan of my own sounded like the logical thing to do, I decided a two week trip out to Oregon was a better solution.

My brother, Jake, and his partner, Liz, had just moved to Bandon, Oregon for Liz’s new job in a program called RARE. When I arrived I was blow away with the vast scenery that Oregon had to offer. Just the drive from the Eugene airport through the dense forests, all the way down to the south coast was like nothing that I had ever seen before. The adventure continued as we made our way down the coast enjoying incredible food, finding beautiful recreational opportunities, and sharing great conversations with the people each day.

One evening Jake, Liz, and I were sitting at The Spoon (an incredible diner if you are ever in the area and want some of the best home style cooking) when the dreaded question of “so what are you going to do after you graduate” came up. I immediately put the fork with my next bite of pancakes down, and started feeling anxious, because I had absolutely no idea what the next chapter in my life was.

That’s when Jake asked if I had looked into the RARE program. Liz commented that it was a great opportunity to gain professional development skills, and to really immerse yourself in a new community for a year. They both mentioned I could apply for a position in Food Systems, and that I should look into it. I answered that I had not really considered it, because I thought that my background in Public Health would not be suitable to fill a position.

I went back to Iowa after my visit to the Pacific Northwest dreading the fact that graduation was now only a semester away, and I still did not have a plan. I watched as friends snatched job opportunities left and right, or they were celebrating as their acceptance letter into graduate school came in the mail. While trying to apply for other jobs, the thought of RARE still resonated with me. I decided to go out on a limb and apply anyways thinking my chances of moving out to Oregon were low.

Man, oh man was I wrong.

Fast forward to August when I accepted a position as the Community Food Systems Coordinator with Oregon State University Extension Services of Wasco County while I was still back in Iowa. I soon found myself packing up my apartment, fitting it into the back of my Subaru, and moving 1,818 miles west to a state I had only visited once. I was leaving my friends, family, boyfriend, and dog all back in the Midwest. The entire drive out to Oregon I was anxious and kept asking myself “why am I doing this? What if I’m not qualified for this? What if I fail?” When I started working with OSU Extension Services I soon realized exactly why I was here, and what this year was all about.

I serve in the Columbia River Gorge, where 1 in 3 residents are worried about running out of food and 1 in 7 residents have skipped meals. In order to improve food security for community members, I work to help expand the reach of the Food Hero program. Food Hero is a multi-channel, social marketing campaign that provides low-income Oregonians resources on inexpensive, nutritious and easy to make recipes designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. My work with Food Hero allows me to directly engage with community members on a day-to-day basis, and I get to strengthen an individual’s relationship with food through the work I do.

I am able to apply the skills and knowledge that I gained through my background in Public Health to my job, yet I am still learning every day with the hands on experience I have in my position. My supervisor, Lauren, told me from day one that I am allowed to try new experiences even if that means I fail. As long as I can learn from my failures and grow from them. For example, I learned that if there is even the slightest chance of rain in the forecast and you have to work the Farmer’s Market Saturday morning, bring a tent. Just do it. Otherwise you risk the chance of standing out in the rain, while it is 45 degrees, and you are trying to make smoothies for kids. Also, smoothies in the 45 degree weather may not be the best idea either.

The summer before I moved out to Oregon, I would wake up feeling anxious trying to figure out what my next chapter in life was. Now I wake up each morning with a sense of purpose to serve my community to the best of my ability. Even if I am not perfect at what I am doing, I am still growing and learning from my mistakes. RARE has taught me to shift my focus from worrying about what’s next, to allowing myself to fully embrace this beautiful adventure out in Oregon that I am fortunate enough to experience.

About the Author, Sarah Kersten: Sarah studied Health and Human Physiology (in the Health Promotion Track) at the University of Iowa. Sarah enjoys being active – the outdoors, hiking, running, ultimate Frisbee and more. Having fell in love with Oregon this winter visiting family, she is excited to return for the RARE program.

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: 

Life Doesn’t Come With An Owner’s Manual And Neither Does A RARE Placement

by Sarah Abigail, Community and Economic Development Assistant, City of Florence

The cool thing about RARE is that, no matter where you are placed, your placement is truly happy to have you. Your supervisor is probably overworked or even a volunteer, and the ability to shift some of the work off of their plate and onto yours is truly a blessing to them. However, as a RARE, there will be plenty of times that you say to yourself, “Am I supposed to know how to do this?”

Here are three examples from my first five months of service that I said in my head, or out loud to my supervisor, “Am I supposed to know how to do this?”:

  1. September 19, 2018: 2:30 PM
    My boss and I are catching up about the economic development part of my work plan. She says, “It would be really nice if we could figure out how to get a brewery to move into X property in Old Town Florence. Maybe if you could start drafting an RFP, we could bring it to LOC and they could help us.”

    “Great, no problem,” I think, “I’ll just google RFP and LOC and see what those mean and then I’ll be on my way…”

    I learned that RFP stood for Request for Proposal and LOC stood for… well, first I thought she meant Library of Congress, but then I learned she actually meant League of Oregon Cities… and there were loads of examples of RFPs on the LOC website, so I was in business! I clicked on an example and it was a 55-page document with a bunch of hefty language that I didn’t understand and lots of information that I did not have….

    And there it was my first time thinking, “Am I really supposed to know how to do this?”

  2. November 5, 2018: 9:00 AM
    Part of my work plan in Florence was to create and distribute fliers or door hangers to all multi-family housing units in Florence about their Right-to-Recycling under Oregon State Law. I was to create the educational materials with what could and could not be recycled in Lane County and distribute them to all multi-family housing units. Sounds easy enough, right? WRONG. Little known fact, there is not a concise way to figure out how many apartments there are in a certain town without going around and counting them all individually… which is a pain and a waste of my precious time so, I called a meeting with the Community Development Director and my supervisor.

    The CDD told me, “just email the garbage haulers in town, get their lists and then send those lists letters…”

    “Great, no problem,” I think, “I’ll just email them, and they will send me excel spreadsheets of exactly how many units and we’ll be on our way…”

    What I got back was a garbled mess of information in a word document (not even a .docx, might I add) that I then needed to associate with each property’s owner who then would then, hopefully send the information along to their property manager, if they even had one, who would then send me the information I needed.

    It was then I thought to myself, “Am I really supposed to know how to do this?”

  3. January 7, 2019, 2:00 PM
    Part of my position here is staffing the City’s Public Art Committee (PAC), a dedicated group of 8 volunteers that have loads of ideas and excitement for Public Art in Florence. To fund these big ideas that they have, they hired a grant writer to apply for some grants. After sending the grant writer as much information as I possibly had about the projects that PAC wanted funding for, she said, “All of this looks excellent, but if you could send over PAC’s organizational budget, that would be great.”

    “Great, no problem,” I think, “I’ll just ask my supervisor where that is stored on the City’s public access drive, and I’ll send it over to her.”

    Well, little did I know, asking my supervisor for PAC’s organizational budget would open up a can of worms, leading to the next week of my life being dedicated to CREATING A BUDGET FOR AN ORGANIZATION. Little-known fact about me, I haven’t taken a math class since Sophomore year of HIGH SCHOOL, I chose my college because there was NO MATH REQUIREMENT, and I barely create a budget for my own personal finances, let alone a BUDGET FOR AN ORGANIZATION WITH OVER $200,000 IN CASH RESERVES.

    I actually asked my supervisor that time, “Am I really supposed to know how to do this?”

The best part about RARE though is that I was not supposed to know how to do the project perfectly without help any of these times… or the other 1000 times that I thought it. Every time, I was able to either ask a RARE staff member in Eugene to help me (Shout out Titus for sending over some RFPs from the LOC database), or someone at a different agency to give me examples (Shout out to Sarah at Lane County who sent me a few door hanger examples), or community members that was able to help draft a budget with me (Shout out to Harlen and his MBA for coming in handy while creating a budget for PAC post-haste). I’ve learned a lot in my five months in RARE so far, but the biggest thing I’ve learned is that nothing and no one does anything by themselves. Everyone is willing to help you and participate in your growth and development in some way, because at the end of the day, when someone helps you, they also help the rural community that you are serving in and that’s what RARE is all about.

About the Author, Sarah Abigail Moehrke: Sarah Abigail majored in Politics and Government at Ripon College (WI). She has an excellent sense of direction, writes and produces her own podcast, and has life experience in both rural and urban communities across the United States. Sarah looks forward to seeing and implementing real change in rural communities.

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: