Living in Community

Community is a fundamental pillar of Chewonki. Where at home I would spend hours on end by myself, at Chewonki every piece of daily life is filled with people. Meals, cleaning, free time, homework. There’s a sense of rawness in your every emotion on display to not just your friends but your teachers as well. Word gets around fast when there’s only 36 students. Before making my decision to come here this idea was one of my greatest fears. Telling myself that I would become overwhelmed and claustrophobic in such a people rich environment. Over the past month here I’ve found these notions to be untrue.

Seattle, Washington; Boston, Massachusetts; New York City; Orono, Maine; Missoula, Montana. My cabin Binnacle houses members from across the country, bringing together groups of people who in any other circumstance would have never met. A sequence of cascading events leading each one of us together, in search of an experience and a life outside our known world. Every person brings uniqueness with them; this can be demonstrated simply through the cabin’s decoration. Walking into Binnacle you’ll find a bright star lantern, many twinkle lights, colorful rugs, and next to each of our beds hang letters from family members, images of friends, pets, sports, school events.Tokens reminding each of us what we’ve left behind. The separate lives that have created our very identity and yet now are virtually unknown to those around us. 

This diversity is the very thing that makes life here so comfortable. No matter your need, no matter the struggle, there will always be someone to help. Someone to make you laugh, to set up a meeting, share a snack, offer a hug, give advice. The power of a small community: if something isn’t working there is always a way to make a change. Chewonki is a place filled with kindness, generosity, and overwhelming empathy. This support makes living by yourself easy, makes you feel like you have a say in creating a world which works for you. 

During my time away on backcountry trips I noticed our language regarding Chewonki began to shift. At the beginning we referred to the Chewonki using its name. “I miss everyone back at Chewonki” , which turned into “ I can’t wait to go home”. Not referring to the homes we departed from but instead the home we’ve built and grown to love. Where I once found fear in constant community I’ve now grown to find joy. 

Liezel Strohmaier, Hellgate High School, Missoula, MT

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