Why I Serve

Why I Serve

by Keil Corey, AmeriCorps Member: Vermont Natural Resources Council; Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network

As a Vermonter in his mid twenties, I’m hoping to have many more decades of a good, productive and honest life.  I think it’s safe to say this desire is not some fringe millennial worldview, but a pillar of the foundation that built our country.  In recent years this desire, which was cultivated during boyhood daydreams while basking on the rocky outcrops of the New Haven River, has matured into a pragmatic view of life; one that includes perennial hard work and hardships that arise out of the intricate complexities – both environmental (climate change) and man-made (the global economy) – that shape our time here on earth.  And now, as it has been long before I was born in 1988, my American (Vermont) Dream is unraveling before my eyes by the growing instability of our warming world and changing climate.

Arriving at this clear-eyed understanding of the world I was born into profoundly shocked and angered me at first. Since then I’ve worked hard to counter such feelings through the use of strategies and ethics my parents encouraged me to embrace all of these years. Don’t blame others (a.k.a. quit your whining). Be proactive, not reactive; every challenge is an opportunity. Serve your community. The list goes on.  These tenets have come to be my guiding principles in recent years. I consider it a matter of resilience, to do well and right  in a world very different and far more challenging than the one I was born into.

During tough times people turn to their family, friends and community for support.  The real value of this support network became unmistakably clear not long into my first term serving as the AmeriCorps member with the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) and the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network (VECAN) as their statewide organizer of the network of Vermont’s town energy committees.  In this position I am fortunate to be able to spend my time supporting town energy committees, who serve their community in an effort to alleviate the financial, health and environmental burdens that come with reliance on fossil fuels for much of our energy needs in Vermont – and also to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Hundreds of intrepid local leaders comprise a network of over 100 community groups around Vermont, all of whom operate on volunteer time and very limited financial resources.  As such, they aren’t changing our cultural and political landscape through big money or inside the beltway connections, but rather through an ethic of service that helps strengthen community networks and increases our collective resilience in the face of hardships for all sectors of the community.

With only 25 years under my belt, I feel like I’ve finally discovered a wisdom that one might only achieve after many more decades of searching.  It’s so simple: community service is essential to a healthy, thriving world.. Although the benefits of embracing community service are varied and many, here is a short list of what I’ve discovered:

  • A person who endeavors in the service of their community frees up time to fully focus on others.  While serving your community, your attention is diverted away from the busyness of the daily grind for a chosen amount of time on a monthly, bi-monthly, or on a project-by-project basis.  This refocusing of our collective attention is critical as it seems everywhere today people appear to be busier than ever, which can derail individual and collective efforts to address the societal challenges we all face.  With that noted, many busy people still manage to find time to serve.  And, with this in mind, one could posit that there is always time to give back to your community.
  • The moment you make the choice to serve, you gain access to an experience that illuminates and clarifies the interconnectedness of our personal choices and their effects on the local and global community (both the human and the natural community that sustains it).  That education comes through observing – and in many ways experiencing – life through the lens of others who are different than you in all the possible ways: age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, handicapped, socio-economic standing, different species and so on.
  • Once one has even the smallest peak at life outside of our deeply personal worldview, biases that were once rigid and foundational to how we operate on a daily basis soften, making room for compassion, creativity and real innovation.  Indeed, community service is a tangible, get-your-hands-on-it, method to working through the extremely sensitive, complicated and intimidatingly large problems our communities – and the world – face; I’ve mentioned climate change but you could also think Mideast peace, income inequality in the U.S. and global poverty, a litany of significant environmental issues that include climate change among others.
  • Service creates strong community networks and increases resilience in the face of hardships and struggle – take for example, the recovery efforts undertaken by neighbors in the wake of Hurricane Irene.  Clearly, strong communities are able to ride the ups and downs of life with more stability and endurance.  These are qualities that are beneficial in any circumstance, and as far as facing climate change is concerned, they will be increasingly essential in the years ahead.

Once we’ve considered these benefits, the unhelpful choices that we and our elected officials make begin to stand out like ugly tiles in a beautiful mosaic.  Let’s make the choices that allow everyone to live a good and honest life. Let’s make choices that alleviate the hardships we already face, not exacerbate them. Let’s give ourselves the opportunity to learn through serving our community.

Serving one’s community is one of the most meaningful life experiences I’ve embraced in my young life.  And serving the planet by taking on climate change is the most meaningful undertaking I will do in my entire life.  I can only hope that the divisiveness of the early stages of our energy transition will dissipate as we recognize this work is in the service of our local communities and the entire planet, and of course, that our energy choices all have costs, some far greater than others.

To conclude, there is a rendering of Martin Luther King Jr. that is emblazoned with his quote, “What are you doing for others?”  I look at this picture every day on my bedroom wall.  It is a short but profound motto that helps guide my choices, actions and interactions as I work to address climate change in my beloved state.  Making the choice to serve your community allows each and every one of us to answer this question.  I hope more Vermonters will make the choice to serve and sincerely answer MLK’s question. It may be one of the few real solutions that will help us face the serious challenges in the years ahead.

To get involved with your local energy committee check out www.vecan.net to see if your town is listed; if not, contact us to help you start one (kcorey@vnrc.org).