How did you get involved in philanthropy?
There’s a personal story behind my move to the Athens Foundation. After 20 years as an arts administrator, the Founder of the Athens Foundation, who was a tremendous advocate for community development as well as a mentor, called me and asked me to consider applying for the director position at the Athens Foundation. I was grateful to her for the opportunity to have an impact on our region. There’s a high level of poverty in Athens County and to start to move the needle, we need to understand the significance of economic development in the region.
The Athens Foundation doesn’t have a specific economic development focus; we fund community improvement and quality of life projects in education, health, community improvement, arts and recreation, the environment, human services, and animal welfare. We also collaborate with economic development groups in the area.Read more
Watch this video present voices of hope from those in Appalachia doing the innovative work of building wealth within a region on the brink of change. Produced by the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in association with the Appalachia Funders Network.
Steering Committee Members on the Radio
WMMT in Whitesburg, KY interviewed Steering Committee members Ray Daffner of the Appalachian Regional Commission, Sandra Mikush of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, and Gerry Roll of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky. To hear their discussion about what the Network is doing in the Central Appalachian region to accelerate the economic transition, click here.
What started your interest in Economic Development?
I started out as a biochemist doing research in labs and did that for a couple years and though it was intellectually interesting, I found it to be isolating to be doing a lot of work in research labs, so I started to look around at different communities for work and there was a group in NC called Self-Help, which had two employees at that time. Self-Help was doing a lot of interesting business development work and said, ‘Well, you know, if you want to do this kind of stuff, community based economic development, business formation, cooperatively owned business, and employee owned business, there is this really good business school you can go to.’ So I went and got my MBA and continued my career with the private sector, non-profits, and government all around the idea of working with business and economic development. I have been involved in some business start-ups, venture financing, and led non-profit organizations in other parts of the country around economic development and business formation, and now I am in a role with a public entity.Read more
What has spurred your interest and investment in Central Appalachia?
I was born and grew up in West Virginia and I feel very strongly about my state, as most people do. West Virginia is the only state completely within Central Appalachia and much of the lack of progress and transition of economy has been attributed to our culture. I like to think that I can affect the transition using the skills I’ve learned from the people who taught me how to be an activist. I also feel like I need to give back, particularly to the women: they spent a lot of time mentoring me and I want to pay some of that back.Read more
Can you tell us about your past work experience as a practitioner and how that experience might inform your renewed role as a funder?
In my case, having spent time in the field (in Kentucky, focused on energy policy) gives me a good sense for the scale and scope of the challenges that many of the grantees of the Network are facing. Understanding the interconnectedness of the capacity issues in Central Appalachia will help me understand, as a funder, how to build a portfolio that addresses the totality of those issues. Money alone is not the problem; we want to direct resources to help leverage support. The purpose of the Appalachia Funders Network is to help augment financial dollars to help the region and move toward capacity building. The dollars are essential, but they are not everything.Read more
How did you get involved with the Appalachia Funders Network?
Several years ago, I was regularly finding myself in meetings with the same people - Wayne Fawbush, Ray Daffner and Mary Hunt-Lieving. We would have individual conversations and realize that we were funding many of the same organizations. This led us to think it would be great if we had more time to connect, learn about each other’s work and explore how we could work better together. These conversations led to the idea of convening funders in the region, which eventually became the Appalachia Funders Network. Around the same time, I was involved in a year-long leadership program at Rockwood and I wanted to give myself a challenge. I asked myself, "What can I do to be an organizer within philanthropy?", which encouraged my involvement in the Network.Read more