On Community Service and What Makes a Community

I spent most of Memorial Day at our local cemetery, accompanying a choir at a Memorial Day service and then attending a post-service luncheon.

This was the kind of thing I used to do in high school—which was one of the reasons why I volunteered to do it—but I found the experience much more rewarding as an adult.

I think it’s because this time I actually feel like I’m part of the community.

I was trying to put it together, afterwards—like, I did all kinds of volunteering and community service stuff as a teenager, but it was easy to feel disconnected from those experiences first because I was doing them for external reasons (college applications, my parents said I had to) and second because I was not viewed by the community as a peer.

I was a part of the community—I literally grew up there—but I was also just a kid, and was treated as such.

When I did volunteer work in Seattle, well… first of all it was hard enough finding volunteer work to do in Seattle, because every organization had more applicants than open spaces. I ended up finding a volunteer gig at a tutoring center, and while that experience itself was fulfilling, it didn’t really integrate me into the community. The kids came from all over Seattle and its suburbs; the tutoring center wasn’t in the same neighborhood as my apartment. It wasn’t the type of activity that helped connect any of us to the rest of the city; it was a room we all met in, a few times a week.

Yesterday I felt like I was an important part of something important—an event that helped people share stories, remember loved ones, and connect with each other. An event that made the community stronger not just because we were gathered in that room, but because we’d see each other again, in other rooms (and grocery stores, and at other events, and so on).

I don’t know if it took me until adulthood to figure out that this is how community works, or if the way childhood vs. adulthood is structured means that young people are always going to feel slightly isolated from their communities. (How exciting was it, as a teenager, to finally find your people online or at summer camp or wherever you ended up finding them?)

Or if it’s just a matter of Cedar Rapids being a better fit for me, as a person, than the rural town I grew up in.

But I really like being part of this community—and I really like being able to serve it. ❤️