First Book

Opportunity Appalachia – First Book and the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio

Equal opportunity in education

Ending isolation in Appalachia by building sustainable access to resources that create opportunities, connect communities and capitalize on a neglected region’s inherent potential.

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Appalachia is rich with natural resources, resilient communities and pride—but it is also isolated from the resources that lead to opportunity, resulting in a cycle of poverty characterized by unemployment and illness. The consequences are already apparent: Nearly ? of adults in Appalachia lack everyday reading and writing skills, more than ? of children under the age of six live in poverty, and four million people suffer from the toxic stress of trying to keep food on the table.In the richest country in the world, this is not only completely unnecessary, it is morally reprehensible.First Book and the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio propose a sustainable initiative that establishes permanent access to best-in-class educational resources, identifies and scales existing best practices, and builds region-wide knowledge-sharing systems. Opportunity Appalachia will set kids up to succeed using the region’s own strengths, and break the cycle of poverty.

Problem Statement

More than four million people in Appalachia are caught in a cycle of poverty that has led to disproportionate levels of toxic stress, physical and mental illness, substance use disorders, and a lack of basic education skills. The cycle is region-specific, created by the loss of industry and the resources that come along with that booming industry, and the migration of skilled labor to other parts of the country -- but the consequences are nationwide. If we continue to ignore Appalachia, we are throwing yet another generation with potential into a cycle of poverty that affects the economy and the well-being of the region and the United States as a whole. The problem is lack of access—access to top-quality educational resources, access to innovative solutions that already exist within Appalachia, access to the internet, access to philanthropic investment and access to opportunity. By providing access to the connections that break the dome of isolation hanging over Appalachia and build on the region’s place-based strengths, First Book, FAO and the MacArthur Foundation will create a sustainable infrastructure that supports innovation, opportunity and economic growth.

Solution Overview

Opportunity Appalachia will create connections where there are currently few, linking a region suffering from isolation with access to best practices, resources, funding, and hope. The initiative will establish a regional knowledge-sharing system to identify and share existing strengths, develop an app that matches areas of intense need with local resources and solutions, build an online fundraising portal that links donors to specific projects, create a one-stop online hub for top-quality educational resources and support, and improve device and internet access. Taken together, over the course of five years, Opportunity Appalachia will create a regional ecosystem of networks that will: - Strengthen the capacity of schools, community groups, and any organization working to build Appalachia, resulting in a robust community support structure;- Improve basic skills, resilience, and well-being in children, resulting in an increased capacity for learning, increased earning potential, improved mental and physical health outcomes, and stronger families;- Create economic opportunity, resulting in increased self-sufficiency, improved quality of life, and a more attractive landscape for investment;- Nurture regional culture by lifting up Appalachian literature, art and best practices, resulting in increased pride and community engagement;- Build a diverse, targeted funding network, resulting in project sustainability. Opportunity Appalachia will measure progress based on network growth, resource access and distribution, and community feedback. At the end of five years, Opportunity Appalachia will be a vibrant, self-sustaining system that contributes to a connected, thriving region and breaks the cycle of poverty that affects more than 4 million people.

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