The economy is unstable, people are fearful, and uncertainty is the only certainty. So why not drop everything and serve as a volunteer or AmeriCorps member for a year? Though it may seem like an unusual time to take that leap of faith, here are five reasons why now might be the perfect time to serve with Christian Appalachian Project (CAP).
#1 Poverty and Injustice Haven't Taken a #Quarancation
The pandemic has shone a light on and even exacerbated existing inequalities throughout the country, and Appalachian Kentucky has been no exception. One public expert described Appalachia as having a "'perfect storm' of vulnerabilities to the virus" with 46% of adults in Kentucky at risk of serious complications, many communities lacking access to healthcare, and new job losses creating more need for an already-strained social safety net.
Although some programs have had to pause for the safety of staff and participants, CAP's Food Pantry has remained open for drive-up food pick-up, responding to ongoing and new food insecurity brought on by pandemic job losses. Shutting down our home repair programs for several months means we'll have a need for many volunteers this August to address the backlog of home repair projects for struggling families. And our under-resourced elderly participants will need care and attention. Whatever issue you're most passionate about, the need for dedicated volunteers has never been greater.
#2 Unemployed Doesn't Have To Mean Unengaged
The coronavirus pandemic has left many people unemployed or pushed into early retirement, and many college and high school graduates are facing inhospitable job markets or major uncertainty about whether or not colleges will resume in the fall.
"Gap Years" aren't just for backpacking through Europe (which we wouldn't recommend right now)— they can also be a time for self-discovery and assessing next steps while also making a positive difference in the world. Whether you're waiting for the job market to improve, considering a career change, taking a year off school, or find yourself retired earlier than originally planned, a service year is a wonderful way to keep up your skills and build new ones. We're all experiencing hardship in different ways right now, but One-Year volunteers turn their new-found availability into a blessing for communities in need.
#3 Build Community With Like-minded People
In a time when we're more isolated and possibly lonelier than ever, many are craving community. Along with Service and Spirituality, Community is a core component of CAP's One-Year Volunteer Corps. Most volunteers live in intentional community, sharing in dinner and spiritual reflection several nights a week. These communities, which range in size from three to 12 people, give volunteers an opportunity to grow in faith as they serve alongside others who share their values.
#4 Build Community With Unlike-minded People
In a time when we seem more divided as a country than ever, we could all benefit from spending time some time outside our echo chambers. Though CAP Volunteers are all committed to transforming lives in Appalachia, they are far from homogeneous in the theological and political perspectives that inform that commitment. Building community with people with whom you sometimes disagree is challenging, but volunteers often point to that challenge as a highlight of their volunteer year. Non-Appalachian volunteers also benefit from immersing themselves in a part of the country that many be very different from where they're from. A Service Year will challenge to confront and upend your biases about rural America, people living in poverty, Christians, non-Christians, and yes, even liberals and conservatives. We could all benefit from getting out of our comfort zones.
#5 The Church Has Left The Building
Many people of faith who are no longer able to worship in a building are examining what it means to live one's faith without familiar rituals. As a Christian organization, CAP has always sought share Christ's love through service. For our volunteers, faith means action--we share Christ's love by being His hands and feet, whether that be through repairing a house, tutoring a child, or bringing a senior to a medical appointment. Whether you identify as a Christian or simply believe in the Christian principles of love and compassion, a service year can be a powerful way to live out your values.
At CAP, we've implemented strong health and safety precautions to protect our volunteers and the communities we serve. As we continue to reopen our programs, we'll need dedicated volunteers more than ever to deliver much-need services to people in need in Eastern Kentucky. Is this year an unexpectedly perfect year for your service year? Make your gap year and CAP year!