ELKHART — Kymberly Byrnes quit her job, sold the gym she owned in Florida, and moved in to take care of her father, who suffered from dementia, in 2009.
When he passed away about a month ago, Byrnes was left in an awkward position. Her grief left her without the strength to search for a job immediately after her father’s passing. The idea of taking a vacation crossed her mind, but it didn’t feel right to do it for herself.
Instead, Byrnes, of Staten Island, N.Y., said she decided she wanted to continue helping others while traveling as a way to rediscover herself.
“From 31 to 35 I didn’t do much. Those are years most people are having children and going on vacation and I didn’t have the opportunity,” she said. “This is my once-in-a-lifetime chance to help people and see the world and just enjoy life.”
Byrnes quickly gained support from her friends and family.
“They thought it was a wild idea, but then they weren’t surprised because that’s me,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go on an adventure.”
Byrnes packed, hopped in her truck and embarked on what she has called “a rediscovery road trip.”
With the help of her friends and family, Byrnes started an account at gofundme.com, where anyone can donate as much as they want to help her pay for gas. Byrnes’ only expenses are gas because she is not paying for hotels or meals. Instead, she is staying with friends, family and in some cases at missions.
Places she plans on visiting include Wheaton, Ill., Nashville, Biloxi, Miss., and New Orleans.
Byrnes’ first stop was in Elkhart County because she wanted to visit her brother, who has been a resident in Elkhart County for about 10 years.
She started out at The Window in Goshen, where she served meals and helped people shopping at the food pantry Dec. 2.
The next day Byrnes went to Elkhart’s Faith Mission, where she also helped serve meals. On Wednesday, she helped at the mission’s thrift shop.
The first few days were eye-opening. She met new people — volunteers and those who needed help — and she learned that it’s never too early or too late to help someone.
Byrnes talked with a few residents in the mission and learned about their struggles and their achievements.
“There’s nothing like working side-by side with people who have seen the world from different eyes,” she said.
Along with helping through volunteering at missions and food pantries, Byrnes is trying to promote the idea of helping others year-round.
“I’m trying to get people aware that there are needy and hungry people every day. It’s not just Thanksgiving or Christmas, it’s all the time,” she said. “I think more people in my age bracket would be well-served to take a day off and volunteer at a local organization. I think that we can do more.”
Byrnes hopes that the money she raises will help her go to different shelters and missions for about six weeks. At the end of her road trip, Byrnes wants to write a book about her experience.
“There’s not a word I can use to describe how grateful I am for having this opportunity, because I know not everyone would be able to have this opportunity,” she said.
Anyone interested in following Byrnes’ road trip can visit her Facebook page and her website.