The Appalachian Big Ideas Festival brought together leaders in building locally controlled philanthropy for one of the community conversations sessions.
The panel included Leslie County Community Foundation’s Board member, Kirsten Webb, Perry County Community Foundation’s Wanda Brown, the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky’s Community Engagement Officer, Kathy Allen, the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky’s CEO, Gerry Roll, and Shane Barton, Downtown Revitalization Coordinator of CEDIK, the University of Kentucky’s Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky.
During this session, the panel discussed how big ideas are transformed into impact for Appalachian communities.
Creating the Vision
What do you want your community to look like?
At the Foundation, we believe in consistently and intentionally shifting control back into the hands of local leaders. Though rural places might not have a lot of financial wealth, they have great wealth in community. And, when you start with the vision for a community and create the capacity for enacting that vision, you can tackle the asset portion.
By keeping the power and money unrestricted and the wealth within the community, the vision made by the people who are rooted there can be realized. “There are things we can do in communities that make things happen better and make things happen faster.” Gerry
But what does that look like in action?
Revitalize, Reinvest and Revive Appalachia
What does it look like to come together to make critical investments directed by local communities?
Shane Barton, Downtown Revitalization Coordinator of CEDIK, the University of Kentucky’s Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky, discussed how placemaking projects are making community visions a reality.
A major component of this work was building trust between communities and even within them. Creating networks through the regions brought people together quarterly to talk about the impediments everyone was facing.
“Relationships are critical to building anything,” said Shane. “As much as we loved working together, there were rivalries. These meetings built trust, relationships and skills, resulting in a network throughout the region of how we can move forward.”
They soon realized every downtown had an albatross of a building beyond what the town could deal with. So, a power funding program called the R3-revitalize, reinvest, revive Appalachia was launched. The program was dedicated to getting critical investments in the ground.
The COVID-19 pandemic was an example of how this funding brought about one of the first major tests of the efficiency of community organizations. They realized they needed to respond to the challenges of the community in ways that federal governments simply can’t. And they did.
“Before a federal or state dollar hit a hand, philanthropic organizations started thinking about how we could leverage funds to move from the ARC budget to others,” said Shane. “Before we knew it, we had a sizeable fund.”
As a part of that, they were able to leverage funds for community collaboratives that supported local businesses and promoted public health in the face of an ongoing pandemic. They also started building infrastructure for rapid response.
“This is all built on trust, It’s built on relationships,” said Shane. “And that trust comes from doing what you say you will do when you say you will do it. That trust has allowed us to respond rapidly.”
Reclaiming Local Identities
Who are we and how do we want people to see us?
When power and wealth remain within communities, places can rebuild and grow authentically. But then the question of community identity comes up. And, within this system, places have the opportunity to identify themselves.
Leslie County is deep in the work of reclaiming its identity, according to Leslie County Community Foundation’s Board member, Kirsten Webb. With a renewed focus on its heritage, the county has been exploring its roots of midwifery, which has led to drastically reducing the mortality rate for mothers.
Perry County is another example of a county taking ownership of its identity. Wanda Brown, Perry County Community Foundation Board member, pointed out that the Foundation is a collective of “doers”.
“When we get together, it’s unreal—the kind of things we can do,” she said in reference to the impact on the community. “It was so powerful to see all these people come together. The way that the Foundation was able to come in and say ‘We are getting money into these people’s hands,’ and didn’t just talk it to death.”
The culminating Big Idea from the event was an example of people coming together as doers. The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, in partnership with Fahe, HOMES, Inc. and the Housing Development Alliance committed $1.2 million to the Housing Can’t Wait initiative. Sixteen new homes will be built in Perry, Breathitt, Letcher and Knott Counties. Construction has already begun.