Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR)

There is a Bright Future in Appalachia Kentucky

Lead Organization

Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR)

Pikeville, Kentucky, United States

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

Project Summary

Poverty, unemployment, addiction, poor health—for nearly a century Appalachia Kentucky has had well-intentioned outside experts try to “fix” us. Then, in 2008, the coal industry laid off tens of thousands of workers. The single state of Kentucky became home to nearly half the distressed counties throughout thirteen Appalachian states.While the government is supporting economic growth, it will not lead the turnaround. Transformation must come from within.In 2013, the people of Appalachia Kentucky united to draft a Blueprint with goals for a thriving future. The people created SOAR to connect partners and champion these goals.The key to a thriving Appalachia lies in collective impact. SOAR seeks support to build capacity of the most marginalized communities. As we help partners harness their own creativity and support innovation, communities are putting their own Blueprint into action at a local level and leading the transformation of Eastern Kentucky from within.

Problem Statement

For years, Appalachia has been likened to a 3rd world country. Until the 1980’s, even one of our biggest cities, Pikeville, had very few paved roads and no trash pickup service. Garbage was burned or thrown into rivers. Only in the past decade has sanitary water finally reached 90% of homes. For a century, countless well-meaning individuals have tried to “fix us” with little success. Believing most outsiders do not understand or value our unique culture, citizens have become reluctant to change. In the 1960s, Congress created the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to address persistent poverty and growing economic despair. Yet, fifty years later the region still suffers from generational poverty and many of the same issues. Then in 2008, the coal downturn upset the region to the point that local communities decided to band together and do something about it. Coal had been the lifeblood of our economy, yet, from 2008 to 2016, the region shed over 30,000 jobs. This led to the bipartisan formation of SOAR in 2013. While the ARC has built up much of the region’s physical infrastructure, the region is in desperate need of the building up of human infrastructure. Our most talented youth are fleeing to larger cities while our towns are dying. The region needs support building capacity of future leaders with skills in creative problem solving, strategic planning, and project management. We need to build the capacity of local champions within each community to catalyze innovation and serve as 21st century leaders.

Solution Overview

We use a progress dashboard to measure impact on tangible outcomes like employment, poverty, and new businesses. Each outcome correlates to a Blueprint goal. We do not duplicate efforts of other entities. Instead, we are a guiding body for a network of over 200 partners providing: (1)Communication: we share hundreds of success stories and opportunities with partners annually.(2)Convening: Since 2013, SOAR has held an annual summit convening over 1,200 citizens to network, learn, and grow.(3)Consultation and Support: SOAR Champions are housed strategically throughout the region. Efforts tracked on our dashboard show exponential results. We now seek to grow their influence and hire a Champion from within each county. Each will work with local citizens identifying obstacles and building community capacity in creative problem solving, strategic planning and prioritization, fundraising, and agile project management administration.Funds will also be used to achieve Blueprint goals locally. For example, in the impoverished town of Harlan, unemployed citizens wanted telework jobs, but internet quality deterred employers. With only $1,000, SOAR supported local volunteers and high school students placing raspberry pies around town measuring connectivity. Data collected prompted the internet provider to take action. Soon locals will have new jobs working from home instead of having to leave the region for work.Over a 5-year period, SOAR will have a deep, intense impact on the people of Appalachia Kentucky. Rather than providing direct service, SOAR will build capacity of our region’s human infrastructure to achieve Blueprint goals through collective impact.

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Project Funders

  • Appalachian Regional Commission 2015 - 2019
  • Kentucky State Treasurer 2016 - 2019
  • University of Kentucky 2015 - 2019

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