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Charity’s Story

Charity’s Story

Unmistakably Appalachian

To people from the mountains, Appalachia is like no other place on earth, and they can often feel that their identity will not be welcome outside of the place they call home. Charity ’24, of Fogertown, Kentucky, frequently engages with this notion in her work and music at Berea College, where every aspect of her Appalachian background is not just welcomed—it’s celebrated.

Growing up on a remote tobacco tenant farm in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, Charity’s tightly knit family gave her a home full of love and laughter. Despite struggles with poverty and poor access to healthcare, she and her family weathered it all because they knew they could rely on each other. Like the mountains surrounding the farm, Charity’s loved ones held her close and supported every part of her they could.

But when Charity was a teenager, she and her family moved off the farm to be near her aging grandmother in Oneida, a small mountain town nearby. Though Oneida is not large, it felt enormous compared to the peaceful quiet Charity knew on the farm. Despite being closer to businesses and major highways, it became more difficult to make a decent living away from the farm.

To cope with such a big life change, Charity took up playing the guitar and the claw-hammer banjo. In channeling her toughest teenage emotions into music, Charity began to witness parts of her family and her entire region emerge from her art—and they were unmistakably Appalachian.

One morning, I was playing my banjo, and my uncle told me my picking technique looked exactly like my great-grandfather’s,” she said. “I felt so close to him, so rooted. That’s one of those parts of our culture that I don’t want to be lost just because it’s hard to pay the bills with it.

Charity '24 standing on the Brushy Fork copper bridge step. She is holding a guitar on her lap.

As a star student, Charity had always heard that her best shot at making a decent living was by going to college. But as the first in her family to graduate high school or attend college, Charity faced a tall task in finding her place in higher education, let alone affording it. Fortunately, Charity’s pastor told her about Berea College, where more than two-thirds of her classmates are also first-generation students like her, and more than 40 percent are from Appalachia. On top of that, neither she nor any of her classmates will ever be charged a penny of tuition

If it weren’t for Berea, I don’t know how I’d make college work,” she said. “We couldn’t have even afforded gas to drive up to Berea to tour campus if not for my high school guidance counselor giving me a ride up here. I’m really glad Berea exists.”

Now at Berea, Charity plays in the Bluegrass Ensemble, works in the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, and leads hymns during Campus Christian Center worship services. In the Appalachian Studies department, Charity even designed her own major and is well on her way to earning her degree in winter 2024. These experiences have helped her find more ways of appreciating her Appalachian identity, but Charity says it’s the people of Berea that make it feel like a second home.  

These people include generous friends and alumni like you. With the opportunities you’ve given her, she’ll pass your generosity on to countless others when she interns this summer with a nonprofit in her home county that serves the needs of the poor in Appalachian Kentucky. 

“What I love about us is our ‘make-do’ attitude. We help each other any way we can, with whatever we can,” she said. “I feel lucky to have my family and to make it to college at all. I want other people back home to feel as lucky as I do. To me, that’s really what it means to be Appalachian.”