By Will Berard
Ever since I decided to serve with CAP, I’ve been faced with the same question from about everyone I talk to. Why? A little background on who I am before we get into that. My name is Will Berard, and I am an AmeriCorps member in the Elderly Housing Program in Rockcastle County. I recently graduated high school in June, and at the ripe age of 18 decided to pack my bags and move to Appalachia. Coming from outside of Boston, Massachusetts, to Mount Vernon, Kentucky has been a very different change of pace for sure, but one that was needed.
Getting back to my question. Why? Well, the answer is not as easy as it may seem. To many people, leaving the life that I had to do what I have done may seem strange. I had gotten into college, a great family behind me, and even had a group of friends who were all excited to go off to college together. But for me, something didn’t seem right. I felt like there was something missing. Growing up in the town I grew up in, everything was picked out for me. Everything was based on what everyone else in our little suburban town wanted us to do. I felt trapped. I have always had a knack for adventure and pushing my comfort zone. I had started to be accustomed to everything around me, and that terrified me. A life of fitting in and doing what others were telling me to do looked like a real possibility at one point. I decided, enough was enough. I took a chance and defied what everyone thought I should do.
“Christian Appalachian Project? What is that?”
It was really hard for me to explain to people why I made the choice to come to CAP. I was always trying to justify why I made this choice, and at a point I couldn’t expect people to understand. To me, the decision to come here was one based out of the idea that change was a good thing. There are certain moments in everyone’s life where you have two options. A) Stick to what is expected of you and go down the path of those before you or, B) Branch out. Push yourself to limits that you never thought were possible. These moments and our decisions during these moments are the ones that define us. I made a choice. I decided that I wanted to push myself and go out of my comfort zone.
The area of service I do here in Appalachia is one in which I have had zero past experience. I had never done any sort of home repair in my entire life. But I decided I would give it a shot. I came to Appalachia with two suitcases and an open mind. I never had any clue what I was going to be doing down here—I just knew I wanted to do it. Pushing limits and making myself uncomfortable is something that initiates growth. I’ve discovered in my short time on this planet that those who follow what they want and do things that might be seen as unconventional are the happiest of people. It’s the people who learn and grow every day that live that fullest lives. So what I lacked in knowledge of construction and physical talent in the field of home repair, I made up for in a willingness to learn and listen. My crew leader, Kenny, sees that. We both know that I am not the most skilled carpenter, but we both understand that I want to learn and give 100% to making it fun and learn at the same time. To me, coming here was not just about building and fixing houses. To me it is so much about growing and learning both for myself, and with other people. Being here has taught me that you can never expect things to go how you plan them to. It’s all about adapting and going with what you’re given. It’s so much about going with the flow. I recognize within myself, that I don’t know everything and in fact I know very little about a lot of things. But what I do know about myself is that I am opening my mind and starting to take in what’s around me.
So why did I come here? It boils down to one thing: never settle. Don’t live a life in which you look back and wish you did more. In the moment, it may make you uncomfortable and unsettled, but when you look back on it you’ll be happy the way things turned out. It’s not easy to confront yourself with the thought that you could be doing more. I've decided I’m going to do as much as I possibly can in my limited time on Earth. Some people never fully do what they want. Lives filled with regret and wishing things were different are lives that aren’t as enjoyable. Coming to CAP was my way of doing something both for now and for later. In 60 years, I’ll be able to tell my grandkids I helped people in this region. I will be able to say I left an impact on someone’s life. The other volunteers and I will all be able to say we did.
In the grand scheme of things, all of us are here because we knew it was meant for us. We made a choice that we didn’t want to live a life where we felt like we could’ve done more. So when I go back home this Christmas and people ask me how I am enjoying my time here, I’ll be able to tell them how much I love it. Maybe them hearing about what I’ve experienced will show them they don’t need to follow what others have been telling them to. Maybe they’ll see they can live their lives with the same “go get em” attitude that me and my fellow CAP volunteers and AmeriCorps members do. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, and I’ve felt just about every emotion in between. And when I look back on it, there’s not one thing I would do differently that’s led me to where I am today.
Will is an AmeriCorps member and long-term volunteer serving in CAP’s Elderly Housing program. He is a member of the Rockcastle Volunteer Community.