Hello from your local AmeriCorps volunteer
My name is Cathleen Anthony, and I’m not from around these parts. I was born and raised in Maryland, about an hour northwest of Baltimore. I grew up in the same house my whole life; in a farming community chock full of corn and cows. My dad’s a fire captain, my mom’s a research nurse, my sister is looking into work with non-profits, and my brother likes the thought of being an electrical engineer. I’m not so sure what I want to do with my life anymore.
I received a bachelor’s of science from the State University of New York-College of Environmental Science and Forestry. I also attended Ranger School in the Adirondacks, where I spent an entire school year learning how to be a forest ranger, only to realize towards the end that I didn’t actually want to be one. I graduated from college in May 2014, and promptly moved back in with my very tolerant parents.
The job market wasn’t particularly kind when it came to finding a full-time, long-term position. My first job out of college was actually for the Baltimore Ravens marching band playing trombone. Yes, I am a Ravens fan in Broncos country. I hope we can still be friends.
Six months into my post-graduation job search, I broadened my net and stumbled onto AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is a domestic version of the Peace Corps. It aims to give real world experience, provide money for education and help its members appreciate their citizenship.
Individuals commit to a project and a location for a specific period of time, and projects range from education to the environment. I myself am part of the AmeriCorps VISTA branch. VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) is actually celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but was only adopted into the AmeriCorps program when it came out 20 years ago.
VISTA is an anti-poverty program and works on two fronts. The first is that it employs people like me, people who are having trouble getting a job or real-world experience. The fascinating thing is that this group includes everybody. My pre-orientation class had recent ivy-league graduates, community college alums, military vets, retirees, married couples entering service together, people with children to support, individuals with a criminal record, farm kids, life-long city dwellers, a variety of religious beliefs, every socioeconomic status out there, and a lot of different races and ethnicities.
The second anti-poverty measure is that VISTAs are assigned to underserved communities — a community that got the “short end of the stick.” It’s commonplace to find VISTAs in larger urban areas.
Rural programs are a little more abstract. For example, Rifle is hosting me because the oil and gas industry in the city’s history has been pretty rocky, being a boom and bust cycle. When the oil and gas industry does well, so does the city, but the problem is the growth isn’t stable. When oil and gas does poorly, the growth created by the industry is no longer sustainable and crashes. In the real world, this equates to businesses closing their doors and people moving out of town. This is devastating to a community on a socioeconomic level.
This brings us to something near and dear to my heart, the heart of my VISTA project, and the heart of this monthly column. I am the assistant for the Greater Rifle Improvement Team (GRIT). GRIT is a Colorado Main Street community — a national program centered on historic preservation and economic vitality in more than 2,000 communities in the country. In GRIT, we want to help build Rifle in a more economically stable way.
The four main approaches to this are attracting and retaining businesses — led by the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corporation and the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce — building and beautifying the community, a prime example being the New Ute Theater, marketing Rifle’s tourist attractions and promoting our special events, and organizing it all by maintaining the proper staff, recruiting volunteers, and raising funds to make it all sustainable.
GRIT is not a new organization or committee, rather it’s a “roundtable” of already existing organizations. It is a collaborative effort between the Downtown Development Authority, the Chamber, the Visitor Improvement Fund Advisory Board, the RREDC, City Council and any others. It’s designed to be grassroots, too. The Main Street program may be national, but we as a city get to decide the best plan for us when it comes to our own economic vitality.
GRIT is not something happening to you, it’s something that you are part of. I’ve lived here nearly three months now, and while I love Rifle, I obviously don’t know all the ins and outs of its history. You all have the experiences and the connections. You own this city, so GRIT and I need your help. Do you love Hometown Holidays? Rifle Rendezvous? The Farmer’s Market? All of these things are organized and run by people exactly like you. For more information and opportunities, call me. Rifle belongs to you as much as anyone else living here, so get involved and volunteer.
Driving nearly 3,000 miles across the country to move to a place I’d never even seen was not one of the easier decisions I’d made in my life. So I want to end with a thank you to everyone who has made it such a smooth transition.
This has been your friendly neighborhood AmeriCorps volunteer. I am, literally, at your service.
Cathleen Anthony is a member of the AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service To America branch and the assistant for the Greater Rifle Improvement Team. She can be reached at 970-665-6496 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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