Thanks for attending the 9th Annual Gathering!

The 9th Annual Gathering featured an exciting array of learning journeys, panels, and open spaces over three action-packed days. Over 100 participants came together in Pikeville, KY for building relationships and trust, facilitating common understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing Central Appalachia, and fostering cross-sector collaboration to accelerate the Appalachian Transition. Scroll down to read more about the Gathering and find helpful links to photos, partner contacts, and speaker slides.

The Gathering kicked off with members-only working group meetings. Current members of the Network's five working groups met to advance their work plans; attendees new to the Network were invited to attend an Introduction to the Network session, which gave a basic overview of Network structure and practices.  Attendees self-organized into small group breakout conversations during Open Spaces. Attendees proposed and hosted their own conversations or joined a one of the already-proposed conversations. Breakouts delved into The Nature Conservancy's Working Woodlands Program, ARC & NORC's Mapping Health in Appalachia tool, the Network's Equity Committee's goals and work plan, and Impact Appalachia's progress update and next steps.

After a break, newly-appointed ARC Federal Co-Chair, Tim Thomas, said a few words about the region. Participants then caught up with friends and colleagues during a networking reception.Tim_Thomas_2.JPG

Former Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon warmed us up on Wednesday morning with an engaging personal history of southeast Kentucky. George Ella shared her personal history and read her poem, "Where I'm From," then invited attendees to create collaborative poem using their own lines.  Attendees enjoyed the opportunity to think creatively to describe their own homeplaces, and Margo Miller compiled the lines into one big "Where I'm From" collection. 

A panel of Federal and national experts provided perspectives on opportunities and challenges to rural community and economic development in Appalachia. Emily Garr Pacetti, Vice President & Community Affairs officer in the Community Development Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland provided insight into the Community Development system at the Federal Reserve and the Fed's interest in working with philanthropy to address capacity gaps in consistently poor communities. Scott Hamilton, Executive Director of the Appalachian Regional Commission described the Federal and ARC funding landscape, with a focus on POWER. Allen Smart, Project Director in the Office of Rural Philanthropic Analysis at Campbell University, shared strategies for facilitating larger funders' investments, highlighted the unexplored opportunities for building relationships with local and state government, and shared results and recommendations from a survey of rural associations. Download the Federal & National Updates slides here.

Working Group Updates

Members of the Strengthening Community Capacity Working Group provided updates on their work to increase the capacity of place-based foundations to do capacity building work, connect and strengthen the capacity-building infrastructure in the region, and strengthen community capacity through leadership development. View their slides here.

The Strengthening Community Capacity Working Group requests your help with identifying current nonprofit leadership initiatives in Central Appalachia. Please click here to complete a very brief survey.

The Health Working Group provided an informative snapshot of Appalachian health based on the latest data on health disparities, then mapped out their approach to addressing these disparities with a focus on the social determinants of health, oral health, and reproductive health. Download their slides here.

The Food & Agriculture Systems Working Group provided insight into the intersections between its interests and those of the other four working groups, then went on to describe its priorities for the upcoming year: agricultural production; processing, aggregation, and distribution (PAD); and food access. Download their slides here.

The Energy & Natural Resources Working Group described its three priorities for the coming year: restoration and reuse of mine lands, energy efficiency, and distributed solar. They offered a menu of recommendations for funders in the Network to use to develop funding strategies around energy & natural resources.  Download their slides here.

The Arts & Culture Working Group, provided an overview of their focus areas for their first year working together: creative placemaking, arts education, and cultural heritage. Download their slides here.

The Philanthropic Engagement Project provided an update on Impact Appalachia, the Network's work to create a region-wide mix of blended and patient capital to move investment beyond Main St. and into the hills and hollers of Appalachia. Download their slides here.

If you'd like to join or learn more about a working group, contact the Network Coordinator.

Keynote Luncheon

Rosa Lee Harden and Kevin Jones, founders of Social Capital Markets (SOCAP), spoke to attendees about what philanthropy can do to grow local economies. Stephanie Tyree, Executive Director of the West Virginia Community Development Hub, moderated the panel, and Stephanie Randolph, of Cassiopeia Foundation, added her perspective as an Appalachia funder who is co-leading a regional initiative to launch an impact investing platform that will connect impact investors with a pipeline of investable propositions in Central Appalachia. The speakers emphasized the need to keep philanthropy in the conversation about blended capital. Gathering attendees are invited to attend this year's SOCAP18 conference in San Francisco, October 23-26 and receive a $250 discount by entering discount code NP_Appalachia.

Learning Journeys


The Pikeville Learning Journey leveraged the local partnerships of SOAR to bring participants through a story of Re-imagining Coal Country. Participants first traveled to Bit Source to learn from Rusty Justice about the history of the region and how Re-imagination of Self is a critical step in training miners to be certified software developers. From there, they visited the Pikeville Cut-Through to hear from Tony Tackett, Executive Director of the Pike County Tourism, about how one mayor's Re-imagination of downtown Pikeville led to one of the largest civil engineering projects in the Western hemisphere. Finally they visited the Kentucky College of Optometry at the University of Pikeville, where they heard a panel discussion of economic development efforts in Pikeville, and toured the technologically advanced facility where students and faculty are Re-imagining the University's mission of service to the region.


On the Hindman Learning Journey, participants visited the Appalachian Artisan Center and Hindman School of Luthiery to learn about how the Troublesome Creek Stringed Instrument Company works with people in recovery.
Attendees then visited Hindman Settlement School for a roundtable discussion about community capacity and tour The Cannery.  They then toured the Kentucky School of Craft woodworking and blacksmithing shops to learn about the role the community college plays in the school.


The Whitesburg Learning Journey took participants to Letcher County, deep in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields. The first stop was the Appalshop theater, where local partners discussed the history of community economic development in the area, covering everything from Abandoned Mine Land (AML) policy advocacy to the Letcher County Culture Hub to shifting the public narrative about the region. A short walk through downtown brought the group to the old Whitesburg High School, which is being converted into a community kitchen and shared-use processing center: Community Agricultural and Nutritional Entriprises (CANE). There we learned more about the long history of community organizing and unique cross-sector collaborations, including between health care providers and local food actors, that have made Whitesburg and Letcher County a case study in community-led economic transition. 


The Williamson Learning Journey took participants to Williamson, WV, where they were welcomed by Dr. Dino Beckett and other community leaders. They took a driving tour of the town, passing Southern WV Community College before stopping downtown. The tour continued on foot to an outdoor farmers market, where a mobile market and veggie boxes are going out to homes throughout the county. The tour stopped at the Williamson Health and Wellness Center (WHWC) to learn about its new dental, behavioral health, and substance abuse clinics, healthy eating and active living programs, and efforts to scale and spread best practices throughout West Virginia. The tour then continued to the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce and Williamson Convention and Visitors Bureau to learn about Williamson's non-health related economic development efforts, such as pop-up art markets, night markets, festivals, and a downtown wi-fi broadband planning project. Finally, attendees walked to the Historic Persinger Building, otherwise known as "the old pill mill," to see how an historic building is being preserved and renovated to provide recovery workforce jobs, behavioral health support services, a co-working space for entrepreneurs, event center space, and a hostel to provide space for service learning groups. The tour wrapped up with a showcase of economic prosperity work.

Fiddles & Vittles: A Celebration of Appalachian Foodways

Participants enjoyed a scrumptious dinner and square dance in partnership with Appalachian Food Summit. Whole hog barbecue and traditional, yet innovative sides were provided by celebrated chef  Travis Milton of Milton's, Shovel & Pick, and Simply Grand restaurants.  Ronni Lundy, author of (most recently) Victuals, provided context for the food and brought to life the culture of Eastern Kentucky through its food. J.Q. Dickinson Saltworks provided salt and favors, and attendees sipped cocktails poured by Pikeville Main Street. After dinner, attendees danced to music by The Troublesome Ramblers with caller Randy Wilson. 


Young Appalachian Leaders

On Thursday, a panel of leaders from several sectors took part in a discussion of the opportunities and challenges they face as next generation leaders in Appalachia. Adam Wells, New Economy Manager at Appalachian Voices; Candace Mullins, Associate Director at Grow Appalachia; Jill Robertson, Staff Coordinator at Appalachian Arts Alliance; Mae Humiston, CDFI Manager at Redbud Financial Alternatives; and Emily Chittendon-Laird, Executive Director at West Virginia Child Advocacy Network centered on a handful of themes for better supporting young leaders in the region. A few highlights:

  • Meaningful mentorship is necessary to develop the practical skills required to manage a nonprofit – things that seem second nature to more experienced leaders now were once unknown and had to be taught
  • Unrestricted grantmaking allows for experimentation, which leads to innovation, which leads to new models
  • Part of why young talent stays in Appalachia is the opportunity to lead