Kentucky Youth Advocates is sharing a series of blogs from GEAR UP Appalachia, GEAR UP Promise Neighborhood students in Eastern Kentucky. We know that youth in Kentucky are key to creating positive change for kids, and their leadership galvanizes other youth, parents, educators, community leaders, and legislators. In the Kentucky Youth Speak Up series, GEAR UP students advocate for policies, encourage other youth to serve their communities, promote strategies for student success, and motivate all of us to build the best commonwealth for Kentucky kids.
By Caleb Ballinger
Growing up in rural Kentucky on a cattle farm has made me appreciate nature. From the first sounds of frogs in the spring to a lone hawk dominating the skies, I am in touch with my surroundings. Nature is part of me and I am part of nature. My goal is to protect and preserve this land that is so important to me. There will never be more land made so it is our responsibility to ensure that it is sustained for future generations. Living on a farm and being exposed to the natural world has shaped me into the person that I am. I have learned that nature must be respected and even in the 21st century it can quickly humble an entire region.
Although mankind can undertake space journeys and scientist can cure many once deadly diseases, nature will always be more powerful than man and will always prevail. To one who is not familiar with the makeup of the wilderness, let me paint you a picture. Imagine this scenario: It is dawn and the sun’s early rays are bursting through the night sky. The ground is damp with dew and the wind blows gently through the trees. The wilderness sounds are deafening as species of all kinds come out of their night’s seclusion to begin the breaking of a new day. To the untrained eye, the wilderness may seem colorless but once you focus your attention on your surroundings you realize the vast colors and shadings that encompass the environment. As you sit in wait your senses become heightened and you begin to notice that everything is alive and flourishing without the footprints of mankind. This is the land that I hold so dear. This is the same land that many generations of my family have traveled and explored. I am part of this land and this land is part of me.
My younger sister also shares this same love of the land and of nature. She and I spent Sunday evening just as the sun was sinking below the horizon line fishing in one of our ponds. As I helped her into the kayak and we traversed through the water, we stopped to silently listen and observe the glass like surface of the pond. She too has an eye for nature and together we sat, listened, and observed. As we began to fish, I thought about how important it is for me to be her mentor; to teach her the value of the outdoors. I am teaching her to appreciate and enjoy the natural world. Just like myself, she is a part of nature and nature is a part of her.
These experiences are meaningful and I will forever be thankful to be raised in the mountains of Kentucky. I may not have lights and action, but I am surrounded by the majestic creation of God. Kentucky is a special place: a place of magical mountains and flowing rivers. This is home. I am a part of this land and this land is part of me.
GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. The program follows a cohort of students from 6th grade to their freshman year in college and emphasizes academic success, career preparation, and building a college-going culture in schools. Berea College has been awarded multiple grants to serve students from 17 southeastern Kentucky counties and 19 school districts: Bell County, Berea Community, Breathitt County, Clay County, Estill County, Garrard County, Jackson County, Jackson Independent, Knott County, Knox County, Laurel County, Lee County, Leslie County, Madison County, Owsley County, Perry County, Powell County, Pulaski County, and Rockcastle County. GEAR UP serves more than 14,000 students and their families.