Just a Small-Town Girl
By Alina Croft (Instagram: lina_gail, Twitter: alina_croft)
I very rarely write pieces about myself, but this week it seemed appropriate. We’re almost done with the first month of our new year, and I want to give more of myself to my work and the people who shaped me.
We Are Alike
If you’re reading this, you’re probably from a small town, and that small town is perhaps Elko, NV. Even if my small mining town of 20,000 isn’t your own, you can still probably relate to what I’ve experienced growing up and the way it has shaped me into the person I am today.
I moved to Elko when I was about seven years old, in the middle of the school year. I’m still friends with the girl in my class who played with me at recess that very first week. I’ve watched her grow into the strong woman and mother she is today, which is truly such a unique and fulfilling feeling. I stayed with many of the same people I met in elementary school through high school graduation, where I sat next to my best friend, I met in fourth grade. I was able to cheer her on as she said her valedictorian speech to the near 300 of us ready to throw our caps in the air that day. Those of you small-town natives, I’m sure, can relate to that feeling of seemingly knowing someone your whole life. In some regards, it is amazing to have people know every part of your history; the middle school debacles, the high school drama, and the secrets you keep from most of the world and have them still love you and choose to be your friend into your adult life.
It wasn’t just school friends, though, that helped me develop into the woman I am, but my neighbors and business owners, my parents, friends and coworkers, so many people touched my life and stayed in it to help me achieve my goals.
Two of those goals would have been entirely impossible without the town’s support. When I was seventeen, I competed and won the title of Miss Elko County’s Outstanding Teen. Competing in this scholarship organization is fueled by community support. I spoke to business owners to secure ads for our program book to pay for the endeavor and fund scholarships. Those ads were mostly bought by people who had seen me grow up down their street or in their family-owned restaurant, something like that. They saw a spark in me and helped me, recognizing the small-town girl I was and what I one day could accomplish. During my service year, I was blessed to meet even more of our community and hopefully inspire some young ladies to follow in my footsteps. Those connections I made are still influential in my life today. And the scholarship money I won helps to pay for my collegiate education.
I took a break from the spotlight for my senior year of high school and partially into my second year of attending college at the University of Nevada, Reno but then I decided I wanted to compete to be Miss Elko. When I reached out once again to the community that had supported me in my teens, they eagerly stepped up once again. At 20, I won another scholarship, which is paying for classes I am taking at this very moment. I learned so much about myself that year and knew I could always return home and find comfort and love from my community. However, things have changed.
A Change of Scenery
As I alluded to earlier, I graduated high school from Elko and decided to go away for school, if staying in state and only being four hours away from home can count as going away, that is. Moving to Reno was a scary experience for me. I had only my best friend by my side, and we were both aware that our college paths were going to take us on different journeys (but don’t worry, almost four full years later, and she’s still my best friend). I started alone, living with strangers in a dorm room in a city I had only visited three times before moving.
My first semester was so hard on me, to be quite honest. I spent hours on the phone with my parents missing my community, tears shed, and thoughts of transferring home crossed my mind more than once. Every time I returned home, it seemed like so many things had changed to make it even harder. But then I would walk into my favorite sandwich shop, and the workers would greet me with a smile like an old friend coming to visit. It was reassuring that all the small-town things I had enjoyed growing up were still there, just evolving much like I was.
My second semester was easier on me. I had fallen into a routine and started to build my own small community within this big city that I now call home. I’ve realized that you can make your own little town anywhere you go. But it does take time and a willingness to grow beyond the person you were the day you graduated from high school, knowing the name of practically every person that walked across that stage.
Here and Now
I write this the day after beginning my last semester of my undergrad. That feels a little bit terrifying, like the time I’ve spent over the previous few years has simultaneously flown by in an instant but also feels like forever. I live in my own apartment, pay my own bills, and am in the process of applying to grad school. But I’m still connected to the place I grew up in, obviously evidenced by at least my internship with Anthony Around Town. Since I was in my early high school years as a family friend and now, he is a mentor and boss to me, Anthony has known me. I wouldn’t have been able to have this opportunity of working with someone of such integrity and drive that I trusted without my history in Elko. I’m so thankful for my time there and how it is still influencing my life. I don’t really see myself ever becoming untangled from my small town.
As I’ve said, Elko is home, and it has made me, me. But if I am to be entirely frank, which is how I prefer to be, leaving when I did was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life, if not the very best. I left it and still love it. Coming home is comforting and like a different reality, but if I could say one thing to any kid like me at 18, graduating high school, it would be to push yourself. Leave for a couple of years and find who you are on your own. Then return and love the nostalgia, the warm feeling of knowing exactly where you’re driving without having to use maps on your phone. It will be waiting for you, ready to have you added back to its ranks as an adult or changed person.
I hope some of this made sense to my Anthony Around Town-ers, who I am so fond of, and I hope you can understand the growth of being from a little town and moving to the biggest little city in the world has done for me.
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Until next time, we’ll see you around, Elko!