Be Okay Being Out of Place

By Emma Gerona, Renewable Energy Coordinator, Lake County Resources Initiative

Be okay being out of place. This is something I have told myself over and over through the last few months of my RARE service year in Lakeview. Though I was born and raised in a similarly rural and remote community of 2400 in the Colorado Rockies, economically the two communities could not be more different. Lakeview is primarily a ranching community still recovering from the downfall of the timber industry. Most families who live here have deep generational roots, whereas my hometown is a patchwork of misfits, most of whom moved there as ski bums in the 70s and 80s. I have gotten used to getting called out at business meetings, restaurants and the grocery store as ‘not being from here’ and have memorized the ‘I’m new’ narrative that ensues. At first being labeled as new to town felt isolating, but I have begun to shift that narrative.

Emma Gerona at Summer Lake, Lake County, Oregon

RARE gives us the opportunity to bring resources to communities that might not have the capacity to pursue the type of community development that we are focusing on. This program is an opportunity to bring new resources to help tackle long standing problems faced by rural communities. Through the few months that I have been working in Lakeview I have seen only positive responses to my arrival in the community. I have allowed this label to be an exciting way to introduce the work that I am doing, and frame the renewable energy conversation in a new light. When I introduce the renewable energy development work that I am doing I have been surprised at the openness people show in sharing their stories and desires for moving to renewables. I have heard stories of family farms that have been handed down for generations, of families that have been here since Lakeview was founded in 1889. These families have lived through the boom and subsequent bust of the local economy and are searching for ways to revitalize their sleepy cowboy’s paradise to the flourishing community they once knew. There is a clear shared motivation to do what needs to be done in order to make significant change and it is easy to get swept up in the obvious optimism for the community’s future.

Though I have experienced a general sense of intrigue in my project, I have had to learn that this motivation is focused closely on the economic well-being of the community. I have had to shift my narrative about renewable energy from one of climate advocacy to center around economic stability. When I discuss the savings associated with energy efficiency upgrades, people see more money in their pockets, which can mean groceries for the week, or gas money to travel to the next town over for items that cannot be found in Lakeview. The health of the climate is not a present concern when you are focused on keeping the farm that your family has held for decades afloat. I needed to become comfortable with this shift in the portrayal of the benefits of the type of energy development that I work with and embody this economic centrality in my conversations around the work that I do.

Being a part of what really is the RARE family has expanded my understanding of the diversity of issues faced by Oregon’s rural communities. These distinct histories and problems are what shape the collective consciousness to drive positive change throughout the communities where RARE works. Though I moved here completely unfamiliar with the unique economic complexities of Lake County’s past, the past four months have taught me to enjoy being out of place. You can learn the most from those around you in unfamiliar situations if you are open to listening and learning from others’ lived experiences.

Photo of the author smiling in front of a red flowering currantAbout the author, Emma Gerona: Emma Gerona was born and raised in a small mountain town in Colorado. She studied Finance and Sustainable Business Operations at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She was introduced to the world of renewable energy nonprofits in her time at the American Solar Energy Society (ASES). She was most recently living in Japan working for ASES and enjoying the great skiing in Hokkaido. She is excited to explore all that Oregon has to offer by spending her free time running, climbing, skiing and hiking through the state’s beautiful outdoors.

Rural Oregon needs you now more than ever. 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. Applications due April 24th. 

Community Impact

By Emily Bradley, Lower Umpqua Destination Development and Marketing Coordinator, City of Reedsport

Making a lasting impact in the community is the entire goal of the RARE Program, from the furthest corners of Wallowa Lake in Eastern Oregon to the western-most point in the continental U.S., which just so happens to be on Oregon’s Coast. On the largest and smallest of scales, within each organization, city, county, region, the entire state, the purpose of the program is the same.

Group of five enthusiastic young individuals
Group of second year RAREs at the Year 26 Orientation in September 2019

Community Impact

We hear this phrase “community impact” so much as RARE participants that by the time it’s four months into the term of service, the phrase almost loses its meaning. (And here I am four months into my second term of service.) This blog post feels like a good time to reflect and remember that the phrase “community impact” is anything but meaningless, especially as my time with the RARE Program is going to come to a close sooner than later. The biggest thing I was reminded of when diving back into this phrase “community impact” and what it means for this chapter of my life is that it went beyond just my placement in the RARE Program and the work I’ve been doing in the community I’ve been living and serving in for the past year and a half. RARE Program had an impact on my personal community I’ve been able to cultivate in the state of Oregon, and that is what I’ll be leaving with then I walk away from RARE on July 31.

There’s nobody who knows what you’re experiencing in your placement quite like the other 30+ people in the cohort diving into the same overwhelming storm that is drinking from a community development firehouse. There have been major highs – like my placement organization getting awarded a grant I wrote for $165,000 as part of a $200,000 project – and some surprising lows – like my supervisor leaving less than halfway through my second term of service. Through all of the highs and lows, nobody supported me and cheered me on more than the people in the RARE cohort. I met one of the best friends I’ve ever had through RARE, who ended up in a placement just 25 miles from mine. We’ve talked easily every day since our terms started in September of 2018 and it’s strange when we see each other less than twice per week. She’s brought me home to her family in Seattle for holidays as well as for not holidays, we do Sunday dinner together every week, she’s the first person I call when something great happens or when I’m about to have a meltdown. I’ve said it before and I can still confidently say that I would not have done a second year of RARE if she had not also done a second year. I’ve gained a lot of valuable experience and resume boosters in my time in RARE, but none of that compares to the relationships I’ll be walking away with. Community is vital when having any kind of community impact, and RARE solidified that for me.

Author standing with award with award giver in downtown Reedsport
The Oregon Main Street Network awarded Reedsport Main Street Program with an Excellence in Downtown Award for the best downtown image campaign at the annual Oregon Main Street Conference. Pictured is Emily Bradley with the award and Sheri Stuart, the State coordinator for Oregon Main Street from the State Historic Preservation Office. Photo courtesy of Reedsport Main Street Program.

Photo of author smiling and standing in front of a conifer on a sunny dayAbout the author, Emily Bradley: Emily is originally from Michigan’s Metro-Detroit area and moved to Oregon in 2018 to serve in the RARE Program with the City of Reedsport. Currently in her second year with the RARE Program, Emily first served as the coordinator for the Reedsport Main Street Program and now is serving both the City of Reedsport and the Reedsport/Winchester Bay Chamber of Commerce. Emily has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Information Science from the University of Alabama where she studied Public Relations, Communication Studies, Spanish, and Global Studies. In the future, Emily plans to earn her Master’s and PhD to conduct research and teach as a professor.

Rural Oregon needs you now more than ever. 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.