Phew. Here we go.

Jeffrey here with one last howdy to the Grow Appalachia family. As some of you may know, Friday was my final day as a VISTA with the Grow headquarters, and I just wanted to write a post to properly conclude my time as a VISTA. (It’s sort of a companion to my very first post, which you can reread here.)

I was hoping to actually get to this post on Friday, but there were a million goodbyes to say and dozens of projects to wrap up, and not all of them could be topped with a neat ribbon, to my perfectionistic dismay. You’d think that these extra days of reflection would have brought a little clarity to my thoughts on my departure, but instead, I still feel so many conflicting emotions that I’m unsure how to shape. The only thing that I’m certain about is that this–my time working for Grow Appalachia–is something so, so important, a milestone in my journey towards becoming the person that I need to be.

Although I’m sad to say goodbye, I don’t want to dwell too much on that sentiment in this post. I want to focus instead on gratitude. I am so grateful for everything that this past year has done for me. Truth be told, I’m not always a particularly confident person, and this is because I am constantly trapped in my head, but my work with Grow has forced me to engage with the world. I have, if you’ll forgive my standard pun, grown so much. (And my unforgiving readers have groaned so much, too.)

In the past year, I have:

  • Written dozens of blog posts and newsletters
  • Driven across Kentucky, despite my major anxieties behind the wheel
  • Built high tunnels in Harlan and Berea and Richmond
  • Led two workshops on grant writing, even if I felt like an impostor
  • Designed two technical manuals with no prior experience
  • Written countless grants (probably five in just the last month or so)
  • Created Pollen, finding a way to merge my passion for storytelling with the work done by Grow
  • Discovered my grit time and time again, whenever I most needed it

This past year has done so much to help me understand myself better, accept myself, and leverage my unique strengths, and I am grateful that I could do all of this while helping this organization carry out such amazing, necessary work. I am grateful for Candace, David, Mark, and Holly for providing me with an office experience unlike any I have ever had before–one that I know I will desperately miss, whatever the future holds. I am grateful for Fred Gonzales, too. He’s an awesome VISTA leader who’s easy to open up to. (Plus, he secured a bike for me early on. How awesome is that?) And although I didn’t really get a chance to know Chris and Aja that well, I can already tell that you’re both valuable to the team and that you’ll do great work.

Finally, I’m grateful that I could be part of this family. It’s full of amazing folks (like you, whoever you are) who have inspired me and made the rougher parts of the road easier to travel. If I am fortunate, my relationship with the Grow Appalachia family is going to continue in some capacity or another. Only time will tell.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Stay good.

So long, and thanks for all the lettuce.

-Jeffrey L. Helton