Education helps Will Eberle pay it forward
Will Eberle was lying in bed recovering from a broken back, unable to walk, when he decided to go back to school.
He needed to change the course of his life. He had gone through a rough divorce and at one point was living out of his truck. To make ends meet he washed dishes, fought fires and worked construction.
“Thinking about school was impossible to do in the normal way. I really had to think about just the whole picture of where am I going to stay, what am I going to eat,” Eberle said about that period when he wasn’t just living paycheck to paycheck, but day to day.
He was blessed with a mentor in the construction industry, but chronic pain and injuries made it clear he needed to do something else. It was on the job site when he discovered his passion. He was training at-risk youth in carpentry, an opportunity he called eye-opening.
The students were eager to share their stories. Eberle said he felt a connection informed by his own history of adversity and angst, but knew he was unprepared and unqualified to help them.
In his recovery bed, he was planning his way out of construction work, but Eberle said he “realized I don’t know how to do anything other than construction.” Eberle, who had dropped out of high school, needed to get a degree.
“Getting to school itself wasn’t something I thought was necessarily going to happen for me, ever,” Eberle said.
He had saved enough for one semester and didn’t have a plan for after that. When he met Andrea Gould from the VSAC Educational Opportunity Center program “it changed everything,” Eberle said. “I was able to get enough grants and scholarships to totally pay for undergraduate work.”
His relationship with VSAC went beyond financial. He credits his success to VSAC staff who “expressed a belief in me that was contagious,” he said.
Now, after five years of night classes to complete his bachelor’s degree, Eberle is a field director with Vermont Agency of Human Services. He works with organizations and community leaders to address issues such as hunger, access to mental health care and the opiate crisis.
But he wants to do even more, so he’s forging another branch in his path forward. He’s working on a Master’s degree in Public Administration at Norwich University. And he’s motivated to pay it forward.
His goal is help improve the way Vermont helps people in need. He said the more he works with people who are struggling to make ends meet, just as he was, the more he sees the importance of higher education for all.
“The more I time I spend in the field the more critical the role of education emerges as being,” Eberle says.
He feels a responsibility to show others what’s possible and support them in that journey.
“Organizations like VSAC are critical because they provide that safety net, advocacy and support to get to people to that next step,” Eberle said. “Not just educationally and professionally, but to really realize that human potential, and that to me is what our society should be emphasizing more than anything.”