Kelly Rehberg, Regional Planning Fellow, recounts her experience at the Annual AmeriCorps Member Conference.
Muted microphones, crying children, and zoom fatigue—something most have become all too familiar with over the past year. This year’s AmeriCorps Member Conference was no different. Like most, what would once have brought all Maine’s AmeriCorps members together for an in-person event went virtual. However, the smoothly choreographed dance of zoom meetings prepared by the planning committee, fostered a warm welcome of community often lost in today’s digital workspace.
As an AmeriCorps member I am excited to be serving as a Regional Planning Fellow with GPCOG. This role includes contributing to regional and community planning documents, whether that is planning for future transit options in the area, helping a town update their comprehensive plan, or assisting in public outreach efforts. For the past five years—two of which were remote—I worked on similar planning documents, although these previous positions were focused on areas outside of Maine. Therefore, I was excited when the Resilience Corps opportunity came along to dive head-first into these local projects that could really help shape the future of my community.
However, I can be so engrained in my own projects that I forget to recognize the hundreds of other AmeriCorps members across the state serving alongside me in areas they are just as passionate about. In a year often characterized by isolation, the member conference gave us the invaluable opportunity to connect with these other members and hear stories of their service. Members also had the opportunity to present on any topic of interest—and did they deliver. From learning how to design accessible websites, understanding the role dungeons and dragons plays on critical thinking, or looking at the connection between yoga and addiction recovery, all used their interests, passions, and experiences gained during their term of service to provide robust insights into community action.
The passion each member brought was echoed by Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows who gave an enthralling keynote speech discussing her service as an AmeriCorps member, election integrity, and the constitution. While I might not carry a pocket constitution, it was a good reminder that our year of service not only helps our community, but can also guide us, shape our interests, and prepare us for future careers.
The Resilience Corps is helping shape my planning efforts and shift my perspectives. At the conference, I presented on the bias in maps; looking at the basics of cartography, how maps can be biased, and the historical misuse of maps. Through my work, I have found that maps—and really any data visualization—are great tools to take technical data and make it reader friendly. It is about finding a way to teach others and reach a wider community, because a picture is worth a thousand words, right? It makes me excited to help shape the use, availability, and teaching of maps going forward to promote equity.
Over the course of the day, some may have learned how to use chopsticks or that they had secret Pictionary skills, but in the end, we were all showing up and coming together to showcase how service is at the heart of what brings Maine together. The 2021 AmeriCorps Member Conference highlighted that even in a pandemic there are still many who are looking to support their community, lift those around them, and plan for the future. And as small as it may be, it makes you grateful for these moments of connection, the reminders of resilience, and the drive to keep moving forward—even if on a full day of zoom.
About Kelly Rehberg
Kelly has hometown roots in both Durham, NC, and Milwaukee, WI, but she has called Portland home for the last two years. She has a master’s in Geography from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s in Environmental Geoscience from the University of Notre Dame. After grad school Kelly worked as an environmental planner for a large engineering company but was looking for a change. She is excited to connect with and have an impact on her local community here in the Portland area through the Resilience Corps, and she looks forward to helping communities problem-solve and plan for a sustainable future. Outside of work Kelly enjoys playing Ultimate frisbee, globetrotting, baking, playing board games, hiking, and enjoying anything outdoors. While her ultimate frisbee season and traveling plans unfortunately got cancelled thanks to the pandemic, the past few months have been filled with delicious desserts, beautiful Maine hikes, picnic dinners and many cozy nights at home with a warm mug of tea in hand and a new board game on the table.