What’s Your Origin Story?

In the Community Care copilot, we’re having conversations about what inspires us to care for the community we build here. I find my Origin Story – what happened when I first showed up to Code for America’s Network, what kept me coming back, keeps me coming back – teased out in bits and pieces with each meeting.

And recently, that came full circle when an important figure in my origin story, @kryskreative, joined me for a care session.

How it All Began

If we go back to the very beginning of my earliest introduction to Code for America as a name, entity or Network of volunteers, it’s not a Brigade Meetup. It’s some talk or video – evidence of which I struggled to surface in the writing of this post so take it on faith until I find it – that was a blend of org staff and Brigade members representing different projects.

I didn’t quite catch that there was a difference between the two, org staff and Brigade members (I’d learn quickly!). I reached out to the Integrated Benefits team first. I had made my own welfare cliff tracker and hoped to share it with as many recipients as possible – and give voice to the realities of our broken, inequitable systems, ones only learned when you’re scaling these cliffs yourself with tools to measure just how dire it truly is.

Hearing my story in full, especially how important it was that this work be distributive, decentralized (vocabulary I didn’t have then but do now, thanks to this community), made finding a local Brigade to get started with a natural answer to the help I was seeking.

Easier Said Than Done

So, here’s how I usually show up: suddenly, intensely and ready to stir things up. My first months with my closest Brigade happened around the beginning of the pandemic – not only were more people suddenly needing our badly woven safety net, but it was also shredding apart as we clung to it all the more desperately. Formal and informal coalitions gathered in rapid response meetings of all kinds.

Swept up by the very real public emergency and my own years-long experiences with falling through the safety’s net’s patchwork holes into the abyss between the cliffs – I was everything I usually am. Sudden, intense, ready to stir things up in every space opened up for me. And the Network community opens space readily, big spaces, and asks only that we agree to follow the Code of Conduct in order to make use of them.

The trouble with being a stir-things-upper – especially around a lot of other stir-things-upper types – is that I can push limits to the point of breaking past boundaries on the regular. I struggle to filter and abstract under normal conditions, but if I’m in a high-energy, action-oriented space – I may not have the time, the energy, or my full sense of self may be hard to secure, so that I can do that as-needed.

Communicating Care

All that intensity I brought with me every time I showed up anywhere in the Network community in my first months – locally and as I joined farther-flung teams and projects – meant I was pushing limits every step of the way. It’s really hard to encourage someone whom you want to believe in when they’re just doing a lot, saying a lot, moving fast and breaking things along the way.

And that’s what happened soon enough for me – I moved fast, and I broke a thing. My fast moves strained the local Brigade’s relationship with another civic tech group pretty significantly just as we were readying a report for a state rep; I’m assured it wasn’t the end of the world, but it sure felt like it then. I remember calling my boyfriend in a fit of tears, reading over the Brigade’s Code of Conduct to guess at how bad it was going to be, those consequences to come.

Moments like that are hard for me to shake off no matter how they shake out. It would probably still feel like the end of the world to me if it weren’t for how gently and kindly Krystina helped me through that experience. The fact that one moment doesn’t haunt me deeply to this day is a testament to the impact caring, kind responses to crisis have in the process of trauma recovery. Without her help, fully empathetic and human-centered, I might not have been able to recover my belief that I could actually belong in this community fully as I am.

In the context of who I am when I’m here, she saved my life. I’m eternally grateful. Hearing her own origin story made it all the clearer the powerful impact it has when we see someone else living up to the values they espouse, how it affirms our own conscious call to do the same when it’s our turn to meet a need.

And now I’m hungry for more origin stories – how did you first find your way to this community? What kept you coming back after those first few experiences? And have you ever felt like you couldn’t, only for someone to save you and bring you back to that feeling of belonging again?

For bonus points, check out @Shaunm44’s Slack thread and ask yourself what advice you’d give to yourself as you were starting out!