Rick Childers graduated from Berea College in 2016 with a degree in English. As a student, he discovered his love for storytelling and published several stories in literary journals. To read Rick’s work, take a look at Still: The Journal at http://www.stilljournal.net/richard-childers-fiction.php
He currently works with students in the Appalachian Male Initiative as the BereaCorps Appalachian Male Advocate and Mentor in the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, alongside Bobby Starnes and Chris Green.
Strategic Initiatives Program Associate Ethan Hamblin sat down with Rick to learn his Berea story, in his own words….
I am from Estill County, Kentucky, and I ended up at Berea College by chance. I was set on going to one of the big state schools because that is all I had really heard about and looked into. I wasn’t very active in my college search, I just knew I was going to college somewhere. And then about my junior year in high school, I heard about a school visit to Berea, so I signed up to get out of class. On our visit, they were talking about the no-tuition promise scholarship, and I started thinking, ‘well maybe I should look a little bit further into this.’ Berea seemed like a pretty good opportunity to be so close to home.
My mom has worked at a pharmaceutical company in Winchester and my dad has done much of the same, just different factory jobs, and sometimes construction. Neither of them went to college, so they were always very encouraging about me getting an education. One thing about Berea that my dad didn’t like is that I had to stay on campus. That was the one issue they had with me coming to Berea and of course worrying about me coming home different from the son they sent off.
In high school, I would have defined myself as more the nerdy type. I mostly played video games with my select friends. When I came to Berea, I was paired up a basketball player for a roommate. It was a different personality than I was used to, but it worked out very well. We become pretty dang good friends. When it came to the social aspect of campus, that roommate and I were not excited to be involved in the Berea activities. We secluded ourselves as much as possible.
By spring semester, I got really depressed and was ready to leave. I remember talking to my mom and saying, “Yes, I’m transferring. I am done with this place. I don’t like it here.” A lot of that was fed by the exclusion and keeping to myself. I was also beginning to question my major. I had come to Berea with a declared major of chemistry and was not enjoying it. My advisor told me to explore a different major. I talked to him about English, since I brought some English credits with me. He pushed me to go for it. I took an English class that made me start thinking about my family history and all of the events that led up to various happenings in my life. I was looking back on the past and realized I had a story to tell. I was confident that I was one of the few who could tell it well.
I would say that I began to find myself. I branched out a lot more: meeting people through my roommate and building new friendships. Beginning to question what I wanted to do and find the path that was meant for me at Berea really served as a catalyst to wake me up. That’s what it did.
And in regard to his BereaCorps experience…
Upon graduation, I was skeptical about BereaCorps, because I didn’t know what the pay would be like or what the finer details would be. I told a lot of people I was going to work in a factory and a lot of my friends did not like that. BereaCorps provided me an opportunity. I wasn’t just taking an easy way out by working in whatever job I could find.
My first year, I worked for the Office of Admissions. I utilized the skills I fostered through my English degree, especially when relating to people and the students I met. But when I saw the Appalachian Male Mentor position, it just lit something up inside me because I thought, I have been where these kids have been. I’ve been angry about things that these kids have been angry about. I thought I could definitely help them. I knew that I could see myself in that role and making a difference.
I have been overwhelmed and humbled with how responsive they have been. They talk to me for an hour if we have the time. I have read their journals and hearing how they have considered leaving, knowing that the initiative has drawn them back.
I hope I’m no big trailblazer or anything like that, but I hope that if for some reason, I am brought up to future generations, I pray that students from similar backgrounds like mine can possibly look at me and realize that you don’t have to think a certain way, you don’t have to go along with everybody else, you can be yourself, and that it ain’t that serious.