Virtual Gathering 2021

This year AFN’s Virtual Gathering had 145 participants in 15 sessions over 5 days. Your lively participation, leadership, and passion for the region made this year’s convening a huge success. Available recordings, links, &  other resources that emerged from Gathering sessions are listed in chronological order below. Please be patient during this week as we continue to upload all recordings, links, and documents that were shared.

Monday, April 19th

New Member Orientation / Network Overview

This session will overview the Network and provide new members a space to network and ask questions. Lindsey Wilson, Network Director, and Lora Smith, Network Steering Committee Co-Chair, will walk membership through organizational history, current policies and structures, and ways to get more involved in the Network. There will also be time for Q&A as well as networking.

Making the Most of Zoom Meetings

By now you probably know how to launch a Zoom meeting, but do you know what all you can do online? Meetings and gatherings online can be more than just attendees sitting in boxes on your screen. This interactive conversation will discuss some easy ways to increase engagement, reduce Zoom fatigue, and make the most of our digital environment. This session will be hosted by Heather Pontonio, AFN Steering Committee Member and Senior Program Director at Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation.


Tuesday, April 20th

Policies, Priorities, & Funding - Appalachia’s Role in Recovery

Appalachia is central in America's recovery. The next several months will see trillions of dollars in relief, infrastructure, and economic efforts from the federal government. It is critical for funders, non-profits, leaders, institutions, and coalitions across Central Appalachia to be working together to help shape the policies, priorities, rules, and investments needed to move the region forward. Join us to learn more about efforts already underway, hear updates from federal agency partners, and add your expertise to help shape the region's priorities

For the first hour, representatives of several federal agencies will host informative and engaging “break out rooms” with a subset of attendees. These small groups will get updates from agency officials, plus participants have the ability to provide those officials feedback and ideas. After 15 minutes, the small groups will rotate and the process will begin again for 4-5 rounds, ensuring each attendee gets time with each agency. We are using this format as opposed to a traditional panel in the hopes of more interactivity and conversation.


  • Vince Paumier, Community Solutions Specialist, Innovation Center, USDA Rural Development
  • Marisol Torres, Area Director, USDA Rural Development
  • Mieka Sanderson, Program Analyst, ARC Business Development
  • Jen Simon, Program Manager, ARC Business & Workforce Investments
  • Samantha Beers, Director, EPA, Office of Communities, Tribes, and Environmental Assessment
  • Tiffany Hollin-Wright, Community Development Regional Manager (VA/WV), Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
  • Alex Marre, Regional Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
  • Bonnie Blankenship, Regional Community Development Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
  • Mathew Klesta, Senior Community Development Analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

For the second hour, attendees will hear about policy platforms focused on Appalachia. Attendees will build their knowledge, learn how to engage, and contemplate ways the network and members can more deeply engage in policy work.


  • Lindsey Wilson, Director, Appalachia Funders Network
  • Dana Kuhnline, Campaign Manager, ReImagine Appalachia
  • Heidi Binko, Executive Director, National Economic Transition (NET) Platform & Just Transition Fund


ARC links Strategic goals:

ARC COVID Response:

USDA Resource Page:

EPA Grant Program:

Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond & Cleveland Broadband Report:


ReImagine Appalachia - Listen & Learn for Community Economic Development, 12:30pm-1:30pm

Join this session to discuss how to shape ReImagine's blueprint for Community Economic Development in Appalachia by joining this interactive session. Visit Reimagine Appalachia's website to learn more about their work before the session.


Wednesday, April 21st

Racial Equity Keynote by Dr. Akuoma Nwadike

This session will be led by the Network Equity leader Dr. Nwadike, founder of Inclusivity Education. Dr. Nwadike is a scholar and teacher-practitioner dedicated to Liberation through increasing Inclusivity. Dr. Nwadike uses scholarship, research-based best practices and originally designed frameworks to advocate for, design, implement, and measure Inclusivity development. This session focuses on scholarly frameworks—always intertwined with Liberation Theory—that, when applied, move us towards more liberatory thinking and living. 

**Due to intellectual property rights the recording is not available. Presentation slides can be viewed here.

For more information on upcoming AFN Equity work click here.


CDFI/Bank/Impact Investor Conversation

Over the past few years AFN has attracted several CDFI, bank, and impact investor members. This session will be an interactive conversation focused on how to better integrate those members into AFN as well as ways for CDFIs, banks, and impact investors to better work together. This session will be led by Network thought partner and Executive Director of Rural Support Partners, Thomas Watson.


Thursday, April 22nd

Open Space

Join other members of the Network for this open space discussion room. Members can submit discussion questions or subjects of interest prior to the event. All are welcome and encouraged to attend this unstructured networking hour! Current topics include:

  • Open Discussion Room 
    • Open to any topic suggested by session members.
  • COVID Recovery in Arts - Heather Pontonio, Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation
    • Join us for a session centered on utilizing the arts and creative fields to drive recovery efforts and build community in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Investment Ecosystem - Andrew Crosson (Invest Appalachia), Stephanie Randolph (Cassiopeia Foundation), & Travis Green (LOCUS Investments)

Invest Appalachia is moving forward its vision for a blended capital fund in the region, and this open space provides a chance to learn more about this progress. We’ll pose the question: how can regional and community foundations support the ecosystem in new ways? There is a growing movement of community and place-focused foundations rethinking how they use their full range of financial assets to benefit their communities, looking beyond grant dollars to their investable endowment resources. 

The journey to becoming a local investor requires that foundations do two things: (1) embrace an investment mindset and culture that includes economic development and (2) develop the systems and capacity to effectively deploy endowment assets into local investments. This open space provides an opportunity for foundations to discuss their interest and experience in local investing as well as an opportunity for a cohort of foundations to build and strengthen their local impact investing capacity. 


Friday, April 23rd

AFN Rural Broadband Initiative

AFN Members Athens County Foundation, Just Transition Fund, Benedum Foundation, Sugar Bush Foundation and Sugarbush Valley Impact Investments are delighted to host a strategy working session to expand collaboration on broadband across Central Appalachia and prepare for engagement with national lawmakers as broadband infrastructure legislation takes shape. 

We will hear from AFN members on their local, state and regional broadband strategies and have invited two Appalachian native broadband policy experts to hear AFN member feedback, discuss lessons learned from past rural broadband initiatives, and help AFN formulate a national strategy. Technology visionary Tom Reid, President of Reid Consulting Group, has worked in five states to formulate and lead projects to close the digital divide, and former Ohio Congressman Zack Space leads local and national advocacy and campaigns on rural broadband, Appalachian energy equity and social justice with his Southeast Ohio-based team - Sunday Creek Horizons.


Dolly & Dumplin’s: A Lunchtime Dumplin’s Review with Lora Smith

Pull up a chair and join AFN’s Co-Chair, Lora Smith, as she takes us on a journey to make the perfect Appalachian dumplings. Lora will be cooking her favorite chicken and dumpling recipe live during the session. It is the one she grew up with and belongs to Dolly Parton, lovingly cut out from a 1980s-era Parade Magazine by her grandmother. The recipe is included here and we invite you to prep your lunch the night before if you’d like to share. For chicken and dumplings novices, the recipe is easier than you think! During lunch, you’ll have the opportunity to flex your mountain foodways knowledge with a few trivia questions. But don’t worry if you’re new to Appalachian cooking, we’ll all learn something new, listen to some Dolly, and have fun while breaking (corn)bread and talking vittles. View the recipe here.



Group Meetings 

The six issue focused groups (Health, Arts and culture, Downtown Revitalization, Place-based, Energy and Natural Resources, & Food and Agricultural Systems) will meet at various times throughout the week to define the group learning agenda and logistics for the coming year. For a calendar invitation, email [email protected] with the specific group you'd like to join.


Who attends the Annual Gathering...

The Gathering is open to network members and other funders interested in investing and/or grantmaking in the Appalachian region. The Appalachia Funders Network is made up of funders, financial institution representatives, and federal agency personnel who invest in the transition of Central Appalachia. If you are a non-dues-paying member, we encourage you to attend to (1) learn about the powerful work that’s being done in Appalachia (2) strengthen your connections to other funders, (3) better understand how the Network can help further your mission, and (4) connect to innovative initiatives within our issue focused groups.

Additionally, members of the Central Appalachian Network were invited to attend the keynote address and technical development sessions.