After 46 years, Kathy Kluesener continues to live out the mission of CAP.
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It was a dream that first brought Kathleen (Kathy) Kluesener to Kentucky. “Reverend Beiting had the dream, and he’s allowed each one of us to be a part of the dream,” she said. “During my time, I’ve witnessed countless people who have come to be a part of Christian Appalachian Project (CAP). They created new dreams that are lived out by all of us today.”
Kluesener began her own journey to CAP when she was called into service as a teenager. Her high school in Massachusetts brought in speakers to share their stories. “I saw their passion, and I thought maybe one day I could get involved. That’s why I felt drawn to ‘religious’ life as my faith was pretty important to me.”
When a mission group that returned from Kentucky relayed their story about working with CAP, Kluesener, then a college student, was inspired once more. She began making plans, and a year later she came to CAP to volunteer as a camp counselor for the summer.
Forty-six years later, Kluesener remembers that summer like it was yesterday. “I started out at camp, and I absolutely loved it. For the girls I worked with, the camp experience was an opportunity for them to enjoy the outdoors and meet new friends in a place where they could feel safe. It was a place where they could discover their gifts.” When Kluesener returned to her home in New England, camp was all she could talk about. After finishing her associate degree, Kluesener took a temporary job at a local factory with the understanding that she would be leaving to return to Appalachia for a year of service.
Reflecting back on her experience, Kluesener believes that being surrounded by a community that wove prayer into daily life greatly influenced her determination to return to the mountains. The relationships she built with other volunteers were compelling; and she still cherishes the volunteers she met during that time.
Living in an intentional community helped Kluesener grow her faith. She was raised Catholic and had not spent time with Southern Baptists before coming to CAP. But living with, praying with, and working alongside a Southern Baptist volunteer named Wanda helped her understand that she could learn from people from other traditions. She hopes that Wanda also learned from her.
“What she taught me didn’t make me want to be Southern Baptist, and it didn’t make her want to be Catholic. To this day, I thank God that we had the opportunity to share life together, as volunteers. CAP brings together people that you would never have picked to live with, people that you didn’t imagine could become your best friends. God has that ultimate plan, and when people are open to that and realize that the unexpected can happen, there is a lot of good that takes place. And a lot of growth.”
Kluesener is still awed at how different her life is from the one she planned. “I didn’t realize what God had in store for me. When I embarked on the journey, I thought it was going to be for a year. Some of my friends back in Massachusetts said that they could see in my eyes that I wasn’t coming back.” By the end of her year of service, she knew that they were right.
“I found something extraordinary that first summer that I volunteered in Mount Vernon. That’s where my heart was.” Kluesener agreed to an additional six months and began to search for opportunities to join a religious order. But that never happened.
Kluesener’s trajectory was forever changed after a former volunteer named Tony asked her to attend a banquet with him. Confused, she went to CAP’s founder, Reverend Beiting, and asked for guidance. He told her to pray about it, but that God would not send someone like Tony into her life to hurt her. Kathy and Tony married, and will celebrate 39 years of marriage this year. Children followed, and Kathy says that CAP influenced their parenting. “We’ve tried to provide our children opportunities that reflect the values of faith, compassion, and service.”
Kluesener noted that her ideas about faith, service, and compassion were something her family valued, but her experiences at CAP really refined those beliefs. “I came thinking I was going to be the ‘do-gooder’ and make things better for everyone. Little did I know that God had something else in mind, and I became the one who was changed. I feel CAP took that and allowed me to grow and brought people into my life to nurture that seed that was planted many years ago.”
Over her years of service, Kluesener has seen growth both personally and in the organization, but the thing that strikes her most is how often those changes aren’t immediately apparent. Thinking back, she remembers a time that a woman came in and wanted to talk to Reverend Beiting. The visitor spoke to Kluesener about her struggles with an unexpected child and a life of turmoil. Beiting also met with her, and afterward, the staff gathered to pray for the young woman. Two years later the woman saw Kluesener and Beiting and stopped to tell them how much that day had meant to her. She said that her life was now in order.
“I think about how often CAP employees do things not knowing what will happen, but simply because we are inspired. It’s our mission. It’s not about having a job. It’s not about having to work every day for a paycheck. It’s because our founder was a model for us, and he set that faith and vision.” Kluesener said that importance of that vision remains today. “I feel like Reverend Beiting wanted Christ to be the center from the very beginning, and that hasn’t changed. There have been peaks and valleys, but that hasn’t changed.”
The impact of her journey alongside Reverend Beiting continues to guide Kluesener’s work in CAP’s Volunteer Program. He was an influential person, and his incredible belief and support of volunteers informs the way she works with volunteers today. She understands the incredible commitment that it takes to move thousands of miles away from home, and she doesn’t take that lightly. “Responding to God’s call to service often requires much exploration and discovery. We hope that when volunteers go through the application process that it is not only for CAP’s benefit but for their benefit as well. We want to give them a chance to reflect on what has drawn them to apply,” she said.
Kluesener is grateful for her time at CAP. “When I look back and think about Beiting’s legacy I am in awe and humbled by the experiences I have each and every day,” she said. “Reverend Beiting and so many other people here at CAP have ‘breathed life’ into me. I can only hope and pray that maybe, along the way, I’ve had an opportunity to do the same for others.”