Thanks for Joining Us at the 8th Annual Gathering!

The 8th Annual Gathering featured an exciting array of activities, panels, and open spaces over three action-packed days. Over 120 participants came together in Abingdon, VA 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.

Click here to view a photo slideshow of the activities. Scroll down to read more about the Gathering and find helpful links to photos, partner contacts, and speaker slides.

Learning Journeys



Participants on the Health Learning Journey traveled to Wise and Coeburn, VA to visit the Smiddy Clinic and the mobile clinic of the Health Wagon. Participants learned about the community-based initiatives to increase dental, medical, and behavioral health services in SWVA. These initiatives include drone-delivery medicines, faith-based health fairs, telehealth, and impactful partnerships with the U.S. Army, local universities, Remote Area Medical, and numerous others to offer a variety of needed services and training opportunities. Participants saw first-hand how innovatively and competently the Health Wagon addresses the health needs of patients and community.

Arts & Culture

On the Arts & Culture Learning Journey, participants walked to the Barter Theatre to learn from Producing Artistic Director Rick Rose about the economic and cultural impacts the Barter has made on Abingdon and southwest Virginia, creating 485 jobs through direct and indirect spending. From there, they rode a town trolley to the Arts Depot, where they learned from resident artists about the growth and development of the Depot into an anchor for new and established artists and art lovers in Abingdon. Finally, participants visited the William King Museum of Art to understand how the museum supports the cultural exposure and arts education of locals and visitors alike through its exhibits and direct outreach.

Energy & Natural Resources


The Energy & Natural Resources Learning Journey took participants to Wise County, Virginia where they saw the Norton Riverwalk, a planned walking & biking trail on abandoned mine lands (AML). The trail would connect a lower-income neighborhood to a school and an expanding trail system in southwest Virginia. Participants also visited MountainRose Vineyard where, for over 10 years, the family-owned business has been producing wine on former mine lands. The journey ended at Micronic Technologies, where local leaders spoke about how the county is growing sustainably by simultaneously training workers and attracting medium-sized technology and other companies for those positions. In fact, a potential solar field located on AML would power data centers already employing 220 people.

Asset-Based Community Development

The Asset-Based Community Development Learning Journey took participants to St. Paul, Virginia to see a long-term effort to leverage environmental assets, engage the broader community, and establish regional partnerships that led to collaboration among various local, state, and federal sources to advance economic opportunity and community benefit. The group visited the once-vacant Oxbow Center, of which the University of Virginia’s College at Wise has taken ownership, to establish a cyber security accelerator to work in conjunction with the University’s software engineering program. They then visited the Estonoa Learning Center, a nationally acclaimed student-based wetlands and outdoors education center that allows local schools and college students from around the county to study the area's vast aquatic life. Other stops included family-run Sugar Hill Brewing Company and the site of the Western Front Hotel, an under-construction collaboration between MB Contractors, Inc., Creative Boutique Hotels (CBH), and Cornerstone Hospitality to transform an over 100 year-old building to support 33 hotel guest rooms, rooftop dining, rooftop bar and entertainment space, and a restaurant and music venue. St. Paul is a perfect example of the Appalachian Transition in action, utilizing natural assets to increase tourism, small business development, downtown revitalization, and educational opportunities while preserving the heritage, culture, and natural environment of the region.

Federal & National Updates


Wednesday morning kicked off with a panel of Federal and national experts who provided perspectives on a range of issues important to advancing the efforts of Network Working Groups, including community and economic development, health, natural resource restoration, and energy efforts. Senator Tim Kaine welcomed Gathering participants to southwest Virginia in a short video highlighting the tremendous assets of the subregion. Guy Land, Chief of Staff of the Federal co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, provided an update on the POWER program and gave his perspective on the future of ARC. Evan Smith, attorney at Appalachian Citizens Law Center, described potential changes to the Affordable Care Act and their impact on both Black Lung patients and the economy of Appalachian counties. Eric Dixon, Coordinator of Policy and Community Engagement at ACLC, discussed the efforts in Central Appalachia to address the issue of abandoned mine lands and the future of the RECLAIM act. 

Working Group Updates

Members of the Strengthening Community Capacity, Health, Food & Agriculture Systems, and Energy & Natural Resources working groups provided updates on their current activities and focus for 2017. The Philanthropic Engagement Project provided an update on the research Next Street is conducting to assess opportunities for Impact Investing in the region. Find the PEP slides here.

Keynote Luncheon


Anthony Flaccavento, President of Sequestering Carbon, Accelerating Local Economics (SCALE), gave a compelling keynote speech over lunch at the Abingdon Farmers Market. Summarizing the principles outlined in his book, Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up, Anthony discussed how funders can build thriving economies from the ground up by focusing on work that is community led, increases self-reliance of people and communities, builds long term wealth, and promotes policies that serve public needs. Afterward, Anthony hosted an Open Space to further discuss the ideas within and sign copies of his book. 

Equity Discussion

In line with the Gathering theme, the bulk of Wednesday afternoon was dedicated to a session entitled "Equity and the Appalachian Transition: What Is It, and Why Does It Matter?" The session began with a storytelling session about the history of equity work in the region presented by Rev. Allyn Maxfield-Steele and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Co-Directors at the Highlander Research and Education Center. 

Next, Gita Gulati-Pardee and Craig White from Open Source Leadership Strategies led the group through a thought-provoking exercise to start a conversation about equity and think about why it's important to the Appalachian Transition. The conversation allowed participants to go beyond the standard definition of equity as the metaphor of a baseball field behind a fence and define what equity means within the context of the Appalachian Transition. Gita and Craig provided a useful framework to think about equity in their presentation.

As the South Grows: Research from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

Network members David Stocks and Margo Miller joined Ben Barge of National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy on a panel exploring what funders can do to create lasting, inclusive change for their communities and beyond. Ben presented pre-release findings from As the South Grows, a campaign by Grantmakers for Southern Progress (GSP) and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) to increase the size and sustainability of funding to under-recognized, high-performing communities on the frontlines of change. Participants broke out into small group discussions to reflect on the findings, then came back together to ask questions about how the research can inform their practice.

Open Spaces

The Martha Washington Inn was the perfect venue to allow Gathering attendees to spread out and hold informal conversations with one another during Open Space sessions and ad hoc breaks. The weather was perfect for porch sitting!

Networking Receptions

Participants enjoyed the chance to get to know one another and munch on delicious food at two receptions at the Martha Washington Inn and Heartwood. Funders had the opportunity to shop for local, handcrafted goods in the Heartwood's retail spaces and enjoy the beautiful view of southwest Virginia's gentle mountain ranges.

Appalachian Transition Vision

Between sessions, Gathering attendees enjoyed the opportunity to think creatively to answer the question, "What does an equitable Appalachian Transition look like to you?" Thanks to all who participated in this creative poetry exercise to envision a better future for Appalachia!

Thank you to the 8th Annual Gathering Sponsors:

Chorus Foundation
Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation
The Educational Foundation of America
Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
Sisters Health Foundation
Town of Abingdon

Thank you to the 8th Annual Gathering Planning Team:

Mary Fant Donnan, Alleghany Foundation
Jen Giovannitti, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
Janell Ray, Pallottine Foundation of Buckhannon, WV
Eric Roberts, Chorus Foundation
Gerry Roll, Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky
Megan Simpson, The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation
Lora Smith, PhilCap Fund
David Stocks, The Educational Foundation of America
Kathlyn Terry, Appalachian Sustainable Development
Susan Urano, Athens Foundation