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This past year in Tier 1 County has often felt like an exercise in discomfort. Moving to a new community, adjusting to a new culture, and taking on large projects have been some of the many (but by no means only) sources of anxiety that I have faced during my year of service. But whenever I feel overwhelmed I ask myself – “Did you really think that you would reach a point where you would no longer have any problems to solve?” Life is an unending series of complications, and learning to embrace the discomfort that accompanies them will give you the tools necessary to tackle any issue thrown your way.

Moving to a new community and learning to adjust to a new culture has been my first and foremost problem. Back in August I did not know anyone in Kinston and it quickly became evident that I also did not share the same ideologies of many of my neighbors. However, rather than go home every weekend I made it my mission to throw myself into my new community and find like-minded individuals. This took the form of volunteering with nonprofits, attending city events, and exploring the City’s plethora of cultural sites. It is still a work in progress, but I can confidently say that I am now a known figure in the City’s circle of movers and shakers. Just as importantly, I have also learned that I can thrive and adapt in an array of social situations.

It is no secret that our rural institutions are in a state of crisis. Its public servants are underpaid and its departments are both understaffed and under resourced. The beauty of LFNC is that we provide critical manpower to communities in need. The problem then lies in the scope and depth of some of our tasks. Working on ADA evaluations without an engineering background, running a citizen academy with no teaching experience, and coordinating the City’s vaccination drives with no medical experience are just a few that have been asked of me. My lack of experience in these fields can make my work scope feel daunting, but qualifications can often be an illusion. What I have learned is that with the right foundation of support and mentorship no task is out of reach.

Thus, I would like to share three pieces of advice with Cohort 4. First, consider the concept that community is fluid. Your community is not constrained to the area in which you grew up. You can build community wherever you go, but only so much as you are willing to authentically invest yourself in it. Second, do not put yourself in a box and never be afraid to ask for help. You are capable of so much more than you can imagine, and you will grow into any role if you are unafraid to lean on those that came before you. Third, and most importantly, push yourself and embrace discomfort. If you can center yourself in the notion that discomfort equals growth, then you will be able to weather any storm that life blows your way.

This fellowship is what you make of it. If you want to go home every weekend and cross off the days like a prisoner of war you certainly can. But you can also choose to create a new community of love and progress, touch a few lives within it, and write a new chapter of growth for yourself. And with this in mind, I would like to leave you with a quote: “To live life you need problems. If you get everything you want the minute you want it, what’s the point of living?”