What’s Responsibility got to do with Community?

December 8, 2015 | 

Olivia and a crew mate work along the Charles Brown Brook River in Norwich.
Olivia and a crew mate work along the Charles Brown Brook River in Norwich.

Olivia Riggins, age 17, spent her 2015 summer in Vermont on a VYCC crew. She returned to her home town of Northfield Minnesota with new views, values, and of course, technical conservation skills.

Although she had participated in the Minnesota Conservation Corps in 2014, she says, “Prior to VYCC, I had never sawed wood, hammered a nail, moved a rock, or used a shovel.” Her work in Minnesota was mostly invasive species removal, and she credits the strenuous, technical work in Vermont as an important factor that made her VYCC experience so powerful.

Olivia excels academically: this year, a high school senior, she is taking college classes and is working on her college applications. Thirteen of them!

Despite her achievements, Olivia shares, “I didn’t feel like a part of any community. I felt my actions were inconsequential and didn’t feel a sense of responsibility for them.” Olivia is not alone in her experience: The 2013 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey, published by the Vermont Department of Health, reports that young people today feel more isolated than in the past: only 50% of Vermont youth report feeling valued by their community. This was a significant decrease from 2011.

Olivia elaborates on what she means when she says she didn’t feel like part of a community before VYCC:

“[It’s a] sense that you’re totally different. It’s probably a stereotypical part of growing up – the feeling that no one has ever experienced what I’m experiencing, and the feeling that it’s none of my business if someone’s having trouble. I can’t change anything. It’s an isolating feeling.”

Olivia’s parents own a coffee house, which serves as a community meeting place. Since her VYCC experience, Olivia reports that she is making connections with customers, especially the ‘regulars.’ She is more willing to ask people questions, more interested in starting a conversation and learning about their viewpoints. She says, “At VYCC I learned how transformative a conversation can be. It’s one of the best ways to learn about the world.”

Olivia explains what caused this shift in her:

My crew mates at VYCC had differences and different views.  I have a much broader view of the range of experiences you can have, and who you can be. I pride myself on being an individual and that’s still important to me. But, I have a much better sense that you are always part of a community. Your actions and decisions really affect other people. Through VYCC I realized it’s better to care about things and say ‘It is my business to have a stake in this.’

That “isolating feeling” is becoming just a memory as Olivia enjoys classes like one on the cultural history of Russia. She’s looking forward to college as an opportunity to move to a larger city and study abroad, and to prepare to be in business herself someday.  We’re confident she’ll do great, and we’re looking forward to having one more business in the world whose owner cares about the environment and her community.