Defining Success in Service By Robyn Michalec

April 21, 2022

The Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center is a beautiful mess of color, filled with mismatched furniture, shelves of books and board games, and always an abundance of goldfish crackers and fruit snacks. We are located in a building with a lot of history; built in 1899, the space has seen thousands of faces and has heard just as many stories. While the Center has only occupied this office for a few years, countless moments of joy have added to those stories. Hundreds of members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies have been able to enter this space and add their authentic and precious stories to the ones these walls have heard.

“A beautiful mess” may be the best way to describe my eight months of service, as well.

There are days those moments of joy feel just beyond reach, overshadowed by anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric that seems constantly present at national, state, and local levels. It feels like an unstoppable wave of states are writing and passing anti-trans and anti-LGB legislation. The Great Falls school district canceled “rainbow day” during their Inclusion Week due to parent complaints, quite literally erasing the day with Wite-Out on the posters hung up in school hallways. The local newspaper’s Facebook comment section is flooded with hate whenever they share a story about the LGBTQ+ community, with comments accusing the community of indoctrinating and harming the youth of our town.

There have been plenty of days in my service at the LGBTQ+ Center where I find myself wondering how much of a difference I could possibly make in an environment where asking for kindness is so often met with animosity—where to some, my service is immoral. What is considered successful service in this sort of context?

I don’t necessarily think I’m going to change minds in my twelve months of service. That’s not why I am here; I am here to strengthen the foundation and reconsider the operations of the Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center so they can continue to create opportunities for joy, health, and prosperity within the LGBTQ+ community no matter what the sociopolitical context. Through education, conversation, and as much kindness and compassion as I can give, I may plant seeds of opportunity for change, but even that sometimes feels like a herculean task for one VISTA in one year.

Where I have found the most success in my year of service is not from confronting the hatred but instead embracing the joy. The Center has helped community members find spaces where they can embrace both their identity and their faith. The Center has connected affirming healthcare professionals to individuals who avoided seeking care out of fear of discrimination. LGBTQ+ youth have gathered in this space and filled it with laughter and an unfiltered, unapologetic joy of being.

This is success in my service. If the people that enter this office recognize how much they are valued and how happy I am that they are here, that is success. I cannot control the hatred or disgust of others, but I can ensure others know they are loved. I can create a space that welcomes joy and fosters connections through the projects I pursue in my service. Success in this year of service may not take the form I imagined eight months ago, and it is certainly a beautiful mess, but I am happy for the form it has taken and the lives I hope it has impacted.