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Recently I took a look back at my time as a Fellow up to now, first realizing that it’s already been 8 months since I started with Ashe County, and second, realizing how much the world has continued to change as this fellowship has progressed. COVID, seemingly, is on the decline, though we must continue to be aware of new variants and protecting the vulnerable who rely on us all to do the right thing. In my office, co-workers I had come to call close friends have found new paths forward for their careers and personal growth elsewhere, and it’s been strange getting used to new faces, though I wish everyone the best. More sharply evident, we are faced with attacks against democracy and basic human decency around the world, nowhere more evident in this moment than on the battlefields of Ukraine. The last few years may well have felt like an eternity, and that on its own can make us feel like nothing we do can possibly effect change.

This fellowship has shown me that even now, we as individuals, as public servants, are capable of making things better for our fellow citizens and the world around us. I think back to the success Ashe County has had in bringing people together around a shared love for the outdoors, whether it is in preserving the natural beauty of the world’s oldest river (I still don’t understand why we call it the ‘New’ River) or promoting and safeguarding agriculture in an age where corporate farms and urbanization have pulled so many away. I think back to a recent Friday, where our County Manager Adam and I gave tours to third-graders from one of our local elementary schools, their very first field trip since March 2020. The opportunity to explain AND show how local government works I hope engenders a respect and maybe even admiration for public service, though of course the free pens were the greatest hit of the trip for them.

The world will keep changing around us, and for fellows new and old, that may seem daunting. Even now though, making change is not only possible, its perhaps the best time to do so. My advice to any fellow, really anybody period, is this: If you see a problem where you live, get into the thick of it, build the coalitions and plans you need, and make a better tomorrow possible for everyone. Times are a-changing, and there’s no better time than the present.

-Stephen Wright, Fellow – Ashe County