Oh man. I hope my manager doesn’t read this. My name’s Joel, I’m a long-term volunteer with CAP, and yup, you read that right:
I didn’t come to CAP to serve.
I’ll be honest: Before arriving down in Kentucky for my service year in CAP’s Housing Program, I had this idea that anyone who went out to volunteer for an extended period of time was some sort of Mother Teresa. They were just such disciplined, selfless people—it was only natural for them to give up their energy for those in need. And I’ll assure you, I’m far from disciplined, or selfless.
This past year, with high school in Cincinnati wrapping up, I took the next step toward becoming an adult—I began applying for college. But man, after years of thinking about it, I just had no clue what I’d even go to college for.
I’d always carried this idea that I was going to be some kind of engineer, but when it finally came time for me to apply, the passion just wasn’t there. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life, or even what the next step was. And it stunk. As graduation approached, I figured I’d just resign to going undecided at a school I wasn’t even sure I’d like. It was tough—and I wasn’t reluctant to tell people, “Yeah, I have no idea of what I’m doing.”
I was so blessed when one of my favorite high school teachers ushered me into his classroom mid-day in March, thrusting CAP’s website in my face: “Joel, I think you should look into this, you know, take some time off to volunteer and get to know yourself more!”
I was hesitant at first—duh. The world, my parents, all my friends were yelling at me to go to school. But man, just the idea of hitting the pause button, removing myself from my comfort zone for a year, and digging deep and learning all the while—it appealed to me! I asked, “Why not volunteer for a year before college?” I couldn’t even imagine all the growth, experience, and skills which God had in store for me to learn. In my mind, it was like free growth! I love free stuff—except for those mint thingies you get from restaurants when you leave.
That’s why I’m down here for CAP this year. I’m down here to find who God designed me to be. What are my passions? I’m down here to figure out my next step. What am I supposed to run toward in my life? I’m down here to grow. What are some of my weak spots? Down here in Kentucky, outside of my comfort zone, there’s no better reason for me to lean into God and just listen for what He has to say.
Now, know that in this exploration, yes—I’m going out every day and digging holes, fixing floors, repairing roofs, and doing all sorts of service for the people in Appalachia. I’m giving so much that at the end of each day, I’m pretty much depleted and ready to fall asleep. But there is no greater joy than when God uses these challenges to show me something new.
Just today, He used one of my housemates to show me how to clean a cast-iron skillet. A couple of weeks ago, He spoke through a devotion to show me how to better talk with Him in prayer. And as I’ve been out here missing my old city life, He’s shown me that I’ve got a deep passion for people.
So, just know that as I’m down here, digging deeper into this year in Appalachia, I can’t wait to keep on sharing what God’s teaching me here. Past that, thanks for all the support you give, whether through donation, service, or prayer. I wouldn’t be here without it.
Joel Engelhardt is a long-term volunteer and AmeriCorps member serving in CAP's Housing program in Johnson County. If you want to learn more about volunteering with CAP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.