Back in the end of October 2016, I made the trip up to Washington County Maine to begin my service term as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with Mano en Mano in Milbridge. From the time I received my assignment description, I could not have anticipated the work I find myself involved in or the depth of the unique challenges I would have faced. While I had spent the summer leading up to my start with Mano en Mano in midcoast Maine working with the Audubon Society, fall and winter Downeast have been very different.
When I first started out, the whole Mano crew was very welcoming and I quickly began learning the lay of the land, both in terms of programs around the county and some of the interesting characters that make up the greater Milbridge area. My first Nuestra Voz en la Comunidad meeting was a great introduction to the dynamic leaders voicing and addressing the concerns of Latinx and farmworker community members, in addition to organizing events and workshops. Nuestra Voz members have great passion and energy, making things happen on top of already great family and work responsibilities.
What I quickly began to notice was the seasonality of everything at Mano en Mano and in this community, how each new season affects how people are able to work with the land through agriculture, lobster processing, or wreath making, and how these changes in turn affect how the organization reacts to new needs and possibilities that arise. Planning for La Posada was complicated by busier work schedules alongside wreath season and other work, whereas the recent cultural presentation event organized by Nuestra Voz and a school from Blue Hill was even able to take place in the morning and into the middle of the day as much of the community has a much more flexible schedule through the winter.
Being here in Washington County as an AmeriCorps VISTA member from away has in general been very rewarding. So far I have learned that hard work and having something to offer the community can go a long way. On the flip side, coming into any new space can be difficult especially without much social capital; often times, knowing the right person and having the right connection can make all the difference. If finding an apartment is so difficult for someone doing in my position, I can only imagine the barriers that must exist for other newcomers to the community, and immigrants in particular.
My experience with Mano en Mano is usually through day to day work: paperwork, documents, talking to folks who drop into the office, meetings. Zooming out from all of that every once in a while is important. I am thankful and proud to be part of a nationwide effort, with 8,000 other VISTA members within a body of more than 75,000 AmeriCorps service members. Whether or not we are from where we are serving, or know what we are getting into when we sign up for our work, we are making a visible difference in Washington County Maine and beyond.