Jane Higgins, Blue Grass Community Foundation

How did you get involved with the Appalachia Funders Network?

The Blue Grass Community Foundation has fund holders in 19 Eastern Kentucky counties and five Community Endowments with local advisory boards in Appalachia Kentucky.  It is through this work that we became involved in the Appalachia Funders Network. 

What is the value of working with the Network?

Blue Grass Community Foundation seeks to build a philanthropic infrastructure to meet the needs of the communities we serve by promoting local giving and the power of endowments.  We believe that when people have a means to give back to their community, they will use that tool to improve the quality of life and make their community the best place it can be to live, learn, work and play. Despite all the negative statistics, we know that communities have the assets they need to drive their own community-based economic transformation.

The Network provides us with opportunities to work with different types of partners across the region to share ideas, collaborate and leverage resources to move the economic transition. We believe that by doing what we do really well, we can partner with others and add value to community-based efforts.

The Network’s focus on system strategies to move the economic transition allows us to participate in Working Groups that closely align with our current philanthropic efforts, such as the Food System, Health and Economic Transition Working Groups.  To the Foundation, the Network is really about the big picture and providing an opportunity to align our efforts in the region with strategic partners so as to do broader, deeper, more impactful work.

What are you working on now?

We believe that permanent charitable capital is one of the missing links in the bundle of assets communities in Appalachia need to build more sustainable and brighter futures. 

We are focusing our efforts to inspire local giving and promote the power of endowments.  We are asking all residents in the communities we are working in, to become co-investors by supporting their local community fund.  We also believe that if we want to make long-term, sustainable change, we have to invest in our youth.  Therefore, we are working to create county-based youth philanthropy programs in each of our counties to teach youth the importance of giving and serving, encourage youth involvement in community development and provide ways for young people to take action on issues that are important to them.  If we teach them how to give back, then they learn to believe in themselves and see that they can build from within to transform the economic conditions in their own communities. I’m from Big Stone Gap Virginia, so all of this is really personal to me. I truly believe in small rural communities.  I know who I am today has a lot to do with where and how I grew up. I’ve spent my life invested in community philanthropy and I believe that if we use our expertise and build on our assets the future of our region is bright.