The AntFarm I came back to was not the one I left. This might sound like a bad thing, and I’ll admit it was a little intimidating at first, but what AntFarm has grown into continues to inspire me every day. I’m Neal Hatley, and I am the Director of the Outdoor Programs.
I started in the position back in January of 2020. Back then, AntFarm was considerably smaller. We had about a dozen employees, including me, and everything ran out of one small office in the Café building. Given our modest size, the impact we had on the community was something to be proud of. I regularly had groups of 12 youth volunteers helping seniors in many different parts of Clackamas through our CommunityConnect Program. We had YouthCore Crews working for homeowners and many businesses in and around Sandy. We had Trail Crews in the summer doing work for the BLM and National Forestry Service up the mountain. It didn’t feel like a small operation at the time, but looking back on it, we had so much room for growth.
Our CommunityConnect has long existed to serve seniors and people with disabilities in Sandy and surrounding areas. We provide much-needed services, such as lawn care, landscaping, debris, invasive plant removal, and much more. We do this by bringing together a group youth volunteers each Saturday. I’ve seen young people grow so much when given the opportunity to help someone. It shows them how much value they can bring to the people that truly need them. These acts of service build confidence and a sense of pride in a profound way. It gives them the opportunity to be part of a team, and to work towards something bigger than themselves.
Ever since my first day on the job at AntFarm, a Saturday leading CommunityConnect, I have been proud of what we do. Many of our CommunityConnect clients have no other way to get this work done. Many of them don’t have a family network to rely on, or the resources to hire this work themselves. I’ve seen the sparkle in the eye of a youth as they receive the heartfelt gratitude of someone who could not have completed these jobs without our help. This sentiment, being there for a member of our community in their time of need, is what makes me so proud of what AntFarm has grown into in the era of COVID.
I was called away to my home state of North Carolina for a family emergency at the end of August 2020. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would be gone for an entire year. This year would bring about a great deal of change, for me and especially for AntFarm.
The AntFarm I returned to after my year of leave was very different. Instead of a dozen employees, we had about 40 full-time staff, most of whom were hired to work on the team to provide rent assistance and COVID Wraparound services. We had just finished the Summer Works program, which employed another 60-plus youth. We had additional office space to house all these employees, and that space was abuzz with people all working towards the same goal as our CommunityConnect program; helping members of our community in their time of need.
Something I used to say to my youth as we got ready to help a senior was “There are no small jobs”. Whatever we are doing for that senior, however small it might seem to us, is of the utmost importance to them. They’ve likely been thinking about this job for weeks, and they will be filled with such a sense of relief once it’s off their plate. This is our gift to them. That sentiment is what makes me value the work of our COVID team so much. Every single day, they take a burden off of a member of our community’s plate. Whether they’re providing groceries for someone who can’t leave home or they’re helping someone who’s lost their job pay the rent, the COVID team is helping in a way that I never thought AntFarm would be able to. I have felt the palpable sense of relief from a senior for something as simple as mowing their grass, so I can only imagine the sense of relief felt by our COVID assistance clients.
As we continue through these unprecedented times, I’m truly proud to be part of this organization. I’m proud of the work that we do. I’m proud of the skills and the confidence our youth build through this work. Most of all, I’m proud of the fact that our organization was willing to take a risk in pursuit of an effort to better our community. No matter what the next year brings, I know that AntFarm will continue to find new ways to help folks in their time of need.
If you have any questions about our YouthCore, CommunityConnect, or COVID assistance programs, please reach out by sending us an email at email@example.com and we can get you connected with the right people.