Jennifer Rorich
Ashley, North Dakota: for all the right reasons. (Jenny Dewey Rohrich)

Members of Ashley's 6AM Crew in the newly renovated weight room at Ashley High School. (Michelle Kempf)

The historic Johannestal Church, which is now Ashley Baptist Church, belonged to the Jewell Churches, which constisted of five churches: Jewell, Johannestal, Bertsch Station, Long Lake and Frudental.

Nearly four years ago, I met a born and raised North Dakota farmer via Twitter and fell head over heels in love. I took the leap of a lifetime and moved my life to North Dakota. Only five months before I was happily living in my hometown of Chico, California working for my parents at their retail meat shop and deli. It was all I had known. It was safe. It was comfortable.

Leaving that comfort and moving to North Dakota was a huge challenge for a gal who considers herself slightly introverted. Looking back now, I cannot imagine calling anywhere else besides North Dakota home.

When I first moved, I commonly heard the term "North Dakota nice". I was unsure of what exactly everyone meant, but I quickly learned. People in North Dakota are known for their friendliness. Saying "hi" to someone on the street or in the grocery store, looking people in the eyes, and waving to someone as they drive down the street is just common practice for North Dakota. And if I had to sum up in a nutshell what North Dakota is like, it is indeed "North Dakota nice".

"North Dakota nice" has helped me adjust to living here. However, going from living in a city with every modern convenience and anything to do at any hour of the day or night to a small town of around 800 people and the most elderly population per capita in the United States was certainly a huge change.

I think many people believe that, when living outside of any large metropolitan area, there is nothing to do. There is nothing in the community that helps you feel connected to something beyond your home. In Ashley, this is far from the truth. It just took a little time for me to realize it.

I will never forget my first fall here. My husband was gone all hours of the day and night harvesting. I didn't know very many people in town. In the evenings, I was utterly and completely alone. I can remember nights spent literally crying and thinking to myself, "Dad I make the wrong decision?" But, almost like clockwork, I suddenly found myself with opportunities that fall.

The first opportunity was an invitation from a friend to attend a Sunday morning church service with her. Four years later, I've found myself a church home. I serve on their kitchen committee where I've had the pleasure of utilizing my gift of cooking and serving for events such as potlucks, funerals, and weddings. I also have the opportunity to teach our Sunday School class. I look forward to teaching "my" kids one Sunday every month.

The second opportunity came when two of my friends in town invited (scratch that, dragged) me to workout in the mornings at our school gym. Two years later, we've formed our own workout group we call the 6AM Crew. We continue to work out each morning, adding more people to our group each year. We even held fundraisers such as color runs and secured grant money in order to purchase new equipment.

The third opportunity came when I was nominated by an outgoing member to serve on our local hospital's Board of Directors. Being that I was a transplant to town, I felt unqualified. However, through experience, I've learned that seeing things from the outside provides another perspective to those who have lived in a town their whole lives.

Even if opportunities such as these aren't brought before you like they were in my case, it doesn't mean there aren't any opportunities to be connected within a city or town of any size.

Whether we realize it not, where we live shapes and influences us. How we become connected to a certain place stays with us and becomes us. Whether you're new to town or lived here your whole life, don't be afraid to get out there, take a step out of your comfort zone and get involved.

California-born Jennifer Rohrich lives with her farmer husband in Ashley, N.D. She writes about family, food and farming at