The Estonian Society of Los Angeles is proud to present the winning essays of “The Importance of Community” contest for Middle and High School students
by Allison Vilms
There have been times in my life that I have felt very alone. Times where everything seemed to fall out of place. Being an eighteen-year-old girl, these feelings have consumed me. I have fallen in love with routine and then been thrown out of it. People shared unkind opinions when all I needed was an encouraging word. Some days I have felt like there is no one to turn to.
It is in these moments that I am grateful for handwritten letters from far away friends and three-minute phone calls that span long distances across multiple states.
Although the Estonian community was not the first one I was a part of, it was the first community that truly felt like home. My introduction to the Estonian community was attending Suvekodu, an Estonian sleepaway camp, the summer before my fifth-grade year. My parents had learned about this camp from a cousin and decided to send my brother and me for one week, as a trial run. In this week, I made new friends, reconnected old family ties, and fell in love with the culture of a country I had never seen. After the week ended, I collected emails and addresses in a composition notebook to ensure that I wouldn’t fall out of touch with my new best friends.
I wish I could go back and tell little Allison that she would not miss a day without texting the girl from camp who never forgets the blue cookie shirt I wore on my first day at camp. If I could tell my past self that I am going to college with the boy whose hugs never failed to cheer me up when I started getting homesick, I think little me would laugh and yell, “I hate hugs!” as she ran away. Little me would think it’s crazy to drive four hours to folk dance at the New York Eesti Maja for three hours only to drive another four hours back to Boston, but now it feels like going home. The Allison of eight years ago couldn’t see how full her life would become just by going to a week at sleepaway camp. I never thought that I would enjoy dancing under the hot sun so much or yearn to draw chalk art on the slanted driveway that I commented on eight summers ago. But now these are things I find myself reminiscing about when a trip to Maryland doesn’t fit into my schedule. That composition notebook still comes in handy when it’s time to send a birthday card. Little Allison had so many thoughts and big ideas, but she never realized how beautiful her life became on that summer day in July.
The Estonian community is a hidden gem spread across the world. The connections made through this community were built out of perseverance and strength from beloved ancestors and continued through the love and comfort that is shown to new generations of eestlased. My grandparents always spoke about how important their Estonian friendships had become in their lives as they grew older. My grandmother continues to stay in touch by email with her life-long Estonian friends, but she also makes it a point to connect with more recent Estonian acquaintances to ensure that everyone is doing well.
My grandfather was very “tech-savvy,” but he also loved to join Estonian friends in person, preferably on the ski slopes. He placed silver whenever he raced against his best friend, the gold medal-winning Mart. Their love for each other was strong but their competitive natures were stronger. These two never failed to make skiing a competition. My grandfather passed away in the summer of 2021. At his wake, his friends spoke about friendship and the love that grows from it. I realized that the main characters in the stories my grandparents had shared with me growing up were, in fact, small pieces of what makes the Estonian community so beautiful. My grandfather’s friend spoke about the idea of extended family, a friendship so strong that it turns into family.
The Estonian community is a family spread throughout the world. Whether three people are folk dancing in a plats on Long Island or crowds are singing folk songs at laulupidu, the Estonian community is stronger than every other community I have seen. This strength is a testament to the love shared between its members.