My life has turned around Augusts for as long as I can remember. It is the month when school begins, when fly fishing is best in most places in the mountain west, when you can feel summer sliding to a close. In August of 2016 I was in Montana, taking a detour to see friends on the way home to Colorado from my cousin’s wedding in Spokane, not knowing that in a year I would be back. In August of 2017, I was moving up to Montana to spend a year with No Kid Hungry in Helena. Now it is August again, and I am saying my goodbyes. I’m going back to Colorado, at least for now, but Montana will never leave me.

From last August to this has been probably the hardest year of my life, and one of the most rewarding. When I arrived in Helena, the whole state of Montana was still shrouded in a cloud of smoke, which turns out to be metaphorically resonant, because I spent the first few months of my service term stumbling blindly from one project to another, trying to figure out what my role was. Eventually the smoke cleared (metaphorically and literally). Eventually, I figured out how I can contribute to creating alternative breakfast programs, how I can help to fight childhood hunger. Eventually I built a community to keep me sane.

Saying goodbye to places makes me feel, as Vonnegut put it, unstuck in time (yes, I’ve been holding on to that idea since high school). I drive by Four Georgians Elementary and it’s the same drive I did for the months I thought we’d never get a second breakfast program started there (we did). I return a book to the library and I’m walking in for the first time just before closing in my first week in Helena to get a library card.

I have built a life here. I’ve dealt with health problems, made amazing friends, and worked through problems I didn’t even know existed. I have learned how to help others in ways I didn’t know before, and tasted just an inkling of how far I have to go. It’s August again, the smoke is back. I don’t know what I’m doing next, but I know I made a difference, and I know I can again.

Ellen Harris
Montana No Kid Hungry-PRC AmeriCorps VISTA
Helena, MT