Kayla Reed is proudly serving as an AmeriCorps member for the 2019-2020 year, focused on education, prevention, and recovery programs for teens at the Hub and at summer camps.
When I talk to other alums about High Rocks and how it has impacted our lives, we tend to use a symbol to represent how High Rocks influenced our teenage years and early adulthood. For other alums, that symbol is often a shield, or a mama bear or something of that nature: protecting, nurturing, and empowering them to face their futures and to be their best selves.
Mine looks a little different.
When I look back, I feel that while High Rocks gave me tools necessary for my education and my life, I see her more as a lighthouse, a large, beaming beacon of light standing in the middle of nowhere, refusing to go out or give up, always calling me home.
I had, at times, a rough and frantic childhood. Growing up (like most of us I'm sure), I never felt like I fit in except when I was at High Rocks, standing on a picnic table with my spoon microphone singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye, boosting the morale of the newest camp members.
I went away to college right after high school, determined to make High Rocks and my family proud, but once I got to college I felt like I was all alone on a little island. During this time, High Rocks staff would call me just to check in, or send me care packages, even employing me one summer as an intern; like that beaming lighthouse, she was always beckoning me to come on home when I was done, that my High Rocks sisters would be waiting.
I've struggled with drug addiction off and on for most of my life, and when I got to college it was a free for all. Once my addiction spun out of control, I avoided High Rocks. I flunked out of college and ended up homeless.
I got clean and sober January 25, 2012, and have since learned a lot about myself and the person I want to be. I recently graduated college with my AS and AA in Human Services/ Addiction Studies and am up for review to be an International Addictions Counselor. Who would have thought the thing that seemed to rip my life apart would give me a whole new one?
About a year before I graduated, that lighthouse once again started shining in my direction, and I started to get really fired up about home again. I started to wonder: how can I make it better, why did I have to leave to get help? I thought about the the devastating affect that addiction has had on High Rocks girls and their families, what addiction is doing to my community -- and High Rocks, my lighthouse, said, “We’ve been thinking about this too; come home and let's fix it together.” High Rocks’ light, its blinding faith in me, is what has always drawn me back home, and no matter how far away I drift she has always been there, waiting patiently for me to come home, shining a light of hope and faith in me that I've never felt anywhere else.
I'm so glad and so proud of my sobriety, but I'm also so glad and proud to be a sister of the High Rocks, for she has been my guiding light, my signal of hope and redemption in the darkest of times, my home; and I'm so glad to finally be home.
Tristan Nutter served with High Rocks as an AmeriCorps member for four years. During that time she completed her Master's Degree from Future Generations University in Applied Community Development. She now works as an outreach advocate for Just for Kids.
A few months ago I was introduced to The Hub, a youth center in Lewisburg that is a project of High Rocks Educational Corporation.
My 13-year-old daughter would beg me to take her there daily; she loved the creative atmosphere, the technology, and the variety of board games. She developed an unbreakable bond with the program director and that sparked my curiosity.
The decision to become an AmeriCorps service member at High Rocks was easy. The opportunity to give back to the community that my family loves is a blessing. Serving at The Hub allows me to interact with my daughter’s peers, her mentors, and meet a variety of good-hearted people that create the community that I love. Serving with AmeriCorps has enhanced my sense of purpose, self-worth and confidence.
Over the past couple months at the Hub we have launched a student entrepreneurship project where young people run a smoothie bar and we see around 15 students a day coming in to work on homework, participate in daily programming, receive mentoring and have a safe space to spend time with their friends. Daily interaction with the youth at The Hub is a constant reminder that I have a positive impact on future generations, and that is the best thing anyone can do.
My name is Lexie Ruckman and I am a current High Rocks girl and the High Rocks Youth Advisory Board President. When I arrived to High Rocks’ camp, New Beginnings, my life changed for the better. I entered the campground as an insecure, 12-year-old girl. I left as a confident, empowered, 12-year old-woman. I’ve been to New Beginnings, Camp Steele, and a Junior Counselor at New Beginnings.
Every year I learn something new about myself, and how to lead others in a positive way. Being able to teach younger girls about High Rocks is one of the best feelings in the world. I absolutely adore High Rocks. Not only do I get to attend camp for free, but I also can attend overnights and college trips throughout the year. I’ve been able to visit a college that I hope to attend and I can go to overnights and reunite with my High Rocks sisters almost every month. There’s also a youth center in my county that I can go to after school if I need tutoring or if I just want to have fun. Everything that High Rocks offers is funded through scholarships so there is no cost to me or my family. I get to have the wonderful opportunity of going to camp for two weeks free of charge. I want everyone to be able to experience this extraordinary place and we need your help to make this happen.
High Rocks Academy for Girls has had a long standing motto to educate, empower, and inspire; as an alum of the program I can attest to this motto. High Rocks takes incredible strides to give girls the resources to explore their creativity, leadership skills, and their sense of adventure. They open up doors and avenues that are not usually accessible to young girls in rural Appalachia. High Rocks has touched not only my life in a deep and fundamental way but also hundreds of other girls, who would not have had an opportunity to even go to college without this program.
While growing up and living in small towns in West Virginia, we as young women are faced with a surprising amount of adversity.
As an adult, I now understand how to deal with the challenge but as a teenager I felt isolated, confused, and bored with my peers, teachers, and adults in my life because they wanted nothing more out of life and all I wanted was to be an artist, exploring the world and understanding the meaning of life. I had questions, questions that were answered in an appallingly disgusted tone, saying, “You’re a freak” or “You’re so weird”. They didn’t understand my desire to excel in spite of having the entire deck stacked against me because we live in extreme poverty, because we live in rural West Virginia, because someone somewhere said that I was not good enough.
Like most people in West Virginia I had to overcome a painful childhood. I became an adult long before my teenage years, dealing with situations that most adults in their thirties and forties could not handle. Looking back I would humbly say that I dealt with them in a fairly graceful manner, I would not have been able to conquer my demons without the support and dedication of High Rocks and all of the loving people who work there.
There was this was this overwhelming sense of acceptance when I sat down at the recruitment meeting when I was in the 8th grade. As the women spoke of their traditions and ideals, I felt myself falling in love with High Rocks before I even step foot on the land. They threw around concepts that I had only thought were creations in my mind, such as judgment free zones, long last bonds of sisterhood and friendships, and most importantly that it was okay to think beyond the small world of Marlinton, WV.
I found the foundation of who I am with High Rocks and with every discovery of my soul I gained confidence to take on the world and I was able to better articulate and express myself. These seem like novel ideas to most but I never had anyone in my life tell me that it was okay to be whatever I wanted to be or that if I worked hard enough no dream was impossible.
Like every girl and lady who has come before me and who will come after me, we hold a reminder of these achievements, in the form of a photo. The photo is of me from New Beginnings Camp. This picture is not a glamour photo, in fact my hair is disheveled, my forehead is beading sweat, and my cheeks are bright red. My clothes are old and ragged and stained with droplets of mud. Even though I am a mess in the photo, I still have it framed in blue painted wood with daisies mached on all four corners. I will carry it with me where ever my road may take me because it was the first time I ever felt accepted, like I wasn’t the freak my peers called me, and that I wasn’t alone. It was the first time I felt like I had power. The picture of me is beautiful because you can see the true me being able to shine.
High Rocks teaches girls that it is okay to be themselves and that the only person that they should please is themselves. Those photos are what High Rocks is all about, it doesn’t matter what you look like, all that matters is if proud of who you are then you are gorgeous!
Meike (Class of 2003) graduated from Berea College in 2007. She shares her experience from her summer after graduating, when she brought a piece of High Rocks to a small classroom in Haiti.
Dear High Rocks,
Here I am in Haiti, a hot, dirty, crowded and poor place teaching English, a job I have never been trained to do, and making a lot of it up as I go. There is not much in terms of a curriculum or materials to create with so my imagination, the magazines, and few books become the basis for discussions, homework assignments, and grammar lessons.
In this place I feel forsaken by so many familiar things and people; communication has been very limited and it is simply a different reality here. I’ve lost some of the freedoms that I take for granted and that are so important to me in my life at home — like being able to go places alone, decide what I eat, etc. Meals are prepared for me and I cannot leave the house without someone accompanying me at all times.
I’m handling about 50 students instead of the original planned-for 20. They are mainly males older than I and all of them are as black as I am white. Yet, somehow we have found a connection through what we are studying and through mutual interest and desire to understand and be understood by each other. We deal with some of the world and life’s biggest questions in class and have some of the most profound discoveries about each other and ourselves as well as some of the most heart-felt laughs that we have ever known. They have become my friends as well as my students and we all appreciate it.
I’m telling you all of this because both directly and indirectly High Rocks has helped prepare me to do this and given me tools in order to pull through it: be it the idea of making a lot of things up as you go to the songs we are singing (Lean on Me and Trouble in Mind) to the way that High Rocks always seems to get to the heart of an issue. I have received many gifts from you. I have learned assertiveness and to act like I’m confident and know exactly what I want when the situation demands it even if I’m feeling terribly intimidated on the inside. Basically I’ve learned to jump right in and trust that I will do my best and make the best of whatever I’m doing. I’ve learned to laugh, to be patient, and to make connections with different kinds of people.
Being in Haiti to teach showed me the wonderful nature of the people who are so friendly, family-oriented, and helpful, and most are so eager to learn (quite the contrast from the education system as a whole in this country where students can’t wait to leave class — in Haiti mine would stay as long as I let them). For some of them this was a whole new reality; something new and exciting, and their chance for hope and growth. It was an honor for many of them to have this chance and for some it may be the first time that they truly saw themselves as becoming someone important and capable of doing something good in their futures. It was very special and very rewarding to be able to watch and help these students grow. Some aspects of the country are dirty and difficult to adjust to, but overall I was able to step out of my usual role and ideas and take on the role as teacher of a large class of diverse students and learn about a new way of life by being immersed in it.
I am grateful for so many things. I’m grateful for my faults, my challenges, my past, and all my teachers. I’m grateful for the hard times though which many of you have been my steady moorings in a churning well of emotions and confusion. I’m grateful for the times you have been honest and exposed some of my hidden hang-up — after you made me face them, I had no choice but to deal with them. I grew up a little more each time.
So, while I’m here eating sardines for breakfast, spicy peanut butter for lunch and fresh mangoes for dinner and teaching a room full of tall ebony-colored men who bow in front of me about global warming ( in English), legendary leaders like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr., and how to pronounce “throughout”, I’m thinking of you. And, I want you to know that a piece of High Rocks is going to stay in a small classroom upstairs in a downtown house in a small city in Haiti and in the hearts of some more youth who are driven and passionate about changing the world. You have shaped my values and nurtured my life and I was able to pass a little bit of that along. I love all of you!
Valarie (Class of 2001) is a former board member of High Rocks. During her second year of college, she shared this story with us about the difference High Rocks has made in her life, her relationships, and her confidence in the future. Valarie is now a Physician’s Assistant in a practice in Marlinton, WV.
The High Rocks Academy has been an important aspect of my life for the past six years, but I am not alone. It is phenomenal what High Rocks has done for me along with many other girls over those six years. It may be difficult to illustrate the importance of such an institution in my life, but I will attempt to do so. Keep in mind that this is a very abbreviated version of the importance of the High Rocks Academy and what it has done for me.
I started the High Rocks Academy in the summer of ’97 when I was fourteen years old and preparing to go to high school the next school year. Like most girls my age, I was bored with my life, I wanted to grow up fast, I did not get along with my parents as well as I should have, and I was beginning to experiment and get myself into trouble. I knew nothing about the camp prior to going except that some of my friends told me it was a “Nerd Camp” which made me apprehensive about going. The day before camp was starting, I asked my mom if I had to go and she responded very wisely saying that I did not have to go but that she thought that I would really like the experience. Fortunately I did choose to participate in the “First Year” camp in the second year of the program’s existence.
At first I thought that it would just be a summer camp that I would attend once, like most other summer camps I had attended previously. I was wrong — very wrong. Over the next four years while I was in high school, I participated in tutoring, weekend retreats, alumni camps, SAT/ACT preparation, College trips/tours and many other activities sponsored by High Rocks. Besides help with school work, I was also provided with an environment where I could spend time with many of my friends, also involved in the program, that was free of the pressures of a normal, teenage life. We got to know each other based on our personalities instead of how we dressed, or who we partied with, etc. Even better than that I was provided with a network of adult mentors, who truly were my friends that I could talk to about certain issues that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to with my mom and dad. They did not replace my mom and dad but actually encouraged a better relationship between my parents and I. They would listen to me, respect me, and guide me to make good decisions. Even though there were many more girls than adults, I still felt a very close relationship with all of them. The amount of time that they had to invest in order to establish this personal, warm relationship with each and every girl is unbelievable.
After being in the program, I began to understand the importance of many things that I might not have otherwise. I took more care in deciding a path for my future and what college I would attend. As I mentioned earlier, my relationship with my parents, especially with my mom, improved. I still made many bad decisions, as we all have and will in life, but I was better able to deal with the consequences of those decisions. I knew that no matter what happened to me, I would always have High Rocks and that was very important to me in the unsteady years of high school and even now in my second year in college.