It’s hard to know how to talk about what we have collectively been through as a country and a region over the last two years. It’s been a period of collective ambiguity, challenges, and a seemingly never-ending series of surprises. Many of us are ending this year wondering, “What could possibly come next?”
The Southern novelist Zora Neal Hurston once wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Believing there are answers that will come gives us comfort during uncomfortable times. We’ve been reflecting on what Hurston’s words and wisdom mean for our work and leadership.
If 2020 asked us if we were a resilient region, this was the year we answered. All year long, we demonstrated that we are a people ready to not just endure and survive hardship, but dig in. We are a community ready and willing to do the hard work of figuring out how we can transform our region and thrive.
This year, while our communities continued to endure challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic and economic struggles, our COVID relief work also continued. Then, in early March, the unthinkable happened. Our region was hit with historic flooding. We watched on the news and over live social media feeds as entire towns disappeared under rising waters. While tens of thousands of families suffered the devastation of losing everything, we found a region more than ready to band together and move to higher ground. Within the first twenty-four hours of the natural disaster, the Foundation launched our Flood Relief Fund and worked with partners across the state. Together, we raised almost $2,000,000 for direct funding to individuals, small businesses, local farmers, and nonprofits.
And we did all this while not skipping a beat on our long-term work. In 2021, our work supporting affordable housing broke new ground. We supported workforce development training for men and women in recovery. We added solar panels to our office. Our affiliates grew their endowments and local grantmaking power by the largest percentage in our history. We supported entrepreneurs, promising sectors, and downtown revitalization projects that are creating new economic opportunities. Our staff took on racial equity work as a priority that will transform our internal policies. And the Foundation continued to prove itself as an innovator in American philanthropy, recognized as a thought leader and celebrated for our creativity.
This year we learned that our work is without question accelerating a promising future in Central Appalachia. We have momentum. We are building power in place. And we, along with people just like you, are rising where we are rooted.
We are excited for what 2022 will hold for the Foundation and our work. We know that whatever comes our way, whatever questions come to light- we are ready to answer.
– Gerry Roll,
2021 Collective Impact
from January 1, 2021 through November 30, 2021