Head’s up: this isn’t a piece about nice scenery.
One thing about New Hampshire that’s special (though it probably shouldn’t be) is that it’s pretty easy for a young New Hampshire resident to get involved and effect positive change in their communities. Democracy and community building are definitely not spectator sports in the Granite State.
For those of us that are naturally community-minded, this is a real gift. It means a lot to me, for instance, that people who were born and raised in Claremont want to hear my thoughts about the future of the City. It makes me feel empowered, and binds me stronger to this place.
I wanted to share a little about two young women who are having a similar experience working in Claremont right now – Bella and Alexis.
Both are here through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Bella is working on community nutrition and access to healthy, affordable food. Alexis is working through Habitat for Humanity on a neighborhood revitalization project in one small area of Claremont.
I think their answers to the questions below shed some light on the way that service work can form really strong community ties.
What were your expectations of living in Claremont or New Hampshire going into this year? Were those expectations met? What has surprised you so far?
Because I was coming to Claremont through a service organization, I sort of expected to be moving into a difficult, low-income city with nothing to offer. These expectations were completely wrong. Claremont has a lot to offer. The thing that has surprised me most is how engaged the community is. It seems like everybody I meet is involved in something around here.
It’s true! I have been amazed by the passion that drives volunteers and community members across Claremont that work in various capacities to make Claremont a healthier, happier place.
Your work connects you to this community in a different way than most. How has the work you’re doing impacted your relationship with Claremont and the region?
I think that I am able to see things that other people in the community may not be able to. I meet a lot of people who are very positive, and willing to do whatever it takes to keep Claremont moving into the future in a healthy, happy way. A lot of people think that everybody here has just given up, but that is not true. This town is thriving.
Food is a unique approach to community development work because everyone, in some capacity, is connected to the food system. Not everyone grows it, harvests it, cooks it, distributes it, or disposes of it, but everyone eats it.
On one hand, doing work that addresses the immediate need to improve access to affordable, healthy food has helped me forge new connections and bring people together in the community. On the other hand, this work has also made me realize how much more work there is to do – here in Claremont but also across the region – in tackling the larger issues of poverty, drug abuse, and homelessness.
Overall, what is it like living and working in Claremont? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
I like living and working in Claremont. I love that I do not have to travel far to get to my office, and I really have everything I need. Compared to other places I have lived, Claremont is a small-medium sized city, but has everything you need. It has grocery stores, pharmacies, a movie theater, bowling, night life, restaurants, and even a pet store.
When I first started my service year, a few people warned me that I would not be readily accepted into the Claremont community. I spent the majority of the first two months of my time in Claremont building relationships with everyone I met and had a very different experience than I was cautioned about. I have yet to meet someone through my work who is anything other than welcoming and interested in working together to help the community become a healthier place. So many things are possible in Claremont that would take longer and come up against more barriers elsewhere due to its size, history, and community.
I really believe those last answers reveal just how important service work – whether full-time or on a volunteer basis – can be in attracting and retaining young professionals to our cities and towns. If you know of opportunities for young people to participate, or are a young person yourself, work hard to make the barriers to entry in these as low as possible. We’re so excited to have Bella and Alexis here working in the Claremont community!