How did you get involved with community development?
Upon graduating from college I moved back to Virginia and took a job at a nonprofit organization funded mostly by the Job Training and Partnership Act. When this funding was replaced by the Workforce Investment Act, the nonprofit I worked for decided to dissolve. I had the unfortunate opportunity of being charged with closing down a program that had been serving the community for 18 years. During this time, I became very familiar with the opportunities and challenges of the nonprofit sector, particularly how fragile they are and how much the ebb and flow of fundraising can impact communities. From there I went to the West Virginia development office and worked in their Community and Economic Development department. Eventually, I was recruited by BB& T to lead Community Development activities in West Virginia and Kentucky. These transitions have been fortunate because I can draw upon experience and knowledge from the Nonprofit, Government, and Private Sectors to my work in community and economic development.
Can you tell me about a time when your work with the Appalachia Funders Network influenced or affected your work at BB&T?
Banks must comply with the Community Reinvestment Act as part of our examination process. This means that we have to put together a performance context for our investments. A performance context helps us understand the people, places, and needs of communities. The Network’s framework has been very useful in helping us to define this performance context. Now we are leveraging our resources to truly benefit the communities we serve.
For instance, the framework inspired us to think differently about the kinds of investments we make to improve communities. I was able to participate in the ARC food systems tour in Kentucky and West Virginia, and during that tour I found businesses and enterprises with which we have been able to develop productive relationships. This successful link with agribusiness would have never come about without the Appalachia Funders Network.
What do you see as the top three critical investment priorities in Central Appalachia?
I actually see four: Economic Development, Nonprofit Capacity Building, Health Care, and Affordable Housing. The first three are current priorities of the Network and Affordable Housing is a top priority of the Bank.
Considering the critical investment opportunities you’ve mentioned, how do you see public-private partnerships working together towards addressing these priorities?
I see the Funder’s Network as a collective place for grant makers to shape a framework that is generally accepted by the membership and therefore can be integrated into the funding priorities of individual grantmakers across the whole Network. I think we all use the framework to help shape our priorities and increase the benefit of our investments. We can see the connection between economic development, housing, and energy. We see how research is a key component of how we can invest in strong organizations who are doing the work on the ground to improve community development in the core areas. The funders provide funds to build facilities and programs that will get us to the end goal and the private sector provides capital. Everyone has an essential role to play.
When you think about your role in the public sector and rural development funding, where do you look for inspiration?
When the Federal Government designates geographically targeted communities, for example: Renewal Communities or Empowerment Communities or Strike Force Counties, that’s very helpful in forming our performance context and we can see how other similar communities are innovating. Those communities have a purpose and while the designations are varied the agreed upon understanding and purpose allows us to be responsive their needs. It’s important for us to understand the context and for the community to give that context to us. We don’t want to have to create a context for our investing.
In a similar way Community Foundations are essential. They know the needs of their communities and fund the highest capacity organizations in their communities. They provide a lot of insight and guidance to me. I’m a small shop and I don’t have the ability to be everywhere. I know that they Community Foundation knows the heartbeat of their community and that they’ll open doors for me.
How do you spend your free time away from work?
Traveling as much as possible. I’m in the mood for something warm and beachy. I went to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls this summer, so I feel like didn’t get enough beach time in. I’d love to go somewhere warm this winter.