LEXINGTON, Ky. – Joshua Ball, associate executive director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR), spoke to a group of students in an Appalachian Studies course at the University of Kentucky on Tuesday, October 17.
During the presentation, Ball spoke of the history of SOAR and its evolution into a Collective Impact model. Collective Impact is an innovative and structured approach to fostering collaboration across many sectors, including, government, business, non-profit organizations and citizens to achieve significant and lasting change.
“We face many challenges, but within those challenges lie a wealth of opportunities,” said Ball. “If we can work collaboratively with partners who are like-minded in their passion to develop a 21st Century Appalachia, we can truly transform this region, and accomplish one of the most complex transformations in in U.S. history.”
Ball highlighted a map of distressed counties within the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) service area, as well as a map of distressed counties across the United States. It showcased that the highest concentration of distressed counties in the nation are in Appalachia Kentucky.
“It really boils down to this: We can face our fears and run or face them and rise,” Ball told students. “It comes down to us. It comes down to us owning the problems, but also owning and embracing the solutions.”
SOAR is doing that with its Regional Blueprint, a comprehensive plan and vision for a 21st Appalachia. The Blueprint was created by 10 working groups and the input of more than 3,000 residents of Appalachia Kentucky.
“It’s a plan on paper, but when you read the document, it becomes clear this is a vision for the future of Appalachia Kentucky,” added Ball. “The execution of this plan is multi-faceted and involves all partners that fall within the realm of our Collective Impact model.”
The Regional Blueprint outlines seven goals:
· Increase the availability of affordable, high-speed broadband, through fiber, to businesses and residents; and increase adoption rates throughout the SOAR region;
· Develop our regional workforce to be competitive in the digital economy and emerging industries;
· Create more and expand existing small businesses within the region by taking full advantage of the digital economy;
· Reduce the physical and economic impact of obesity, diabetes and substance abuse;
· Increase the amount of industrial employment, which includes manufacturing, natural resources, processing, and distribution by expanding existing companies and attracting new ones;
· Create a local foods movement by connecting local producers to markets for their product both within and outside the region; and
· Establish Kentucky’s Appalachian region as a tourism destination.
Joshua’s wife, Tammy, a professor of human services at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, also spoke to the class about grass-roots agriculture efforts occurring in Appalachia Kentucky. She is a member of the board of directors for Appalachian Roots, a non-profit that supports small-scale farming in eastern Kentucky, as well as a master gardener that works with many community gardens across the region.
“It’s important to understand that agriculture has a role to play in the new Appalachia that we are working towards,” she told the students. “Actually, the culture and heritage that is at the core of our Appalachian culture is an important component in what is happening today in Appalachia. It will play an important part in the future of Appalachia as well.”
The University of Kentucky and UK Healthcare are corporate partners of the SOAR initiative.
“We appreciate the support of the University of Kentucky and UK Healthcare,” said Ball. “Their support has been instrumental in the transformational work taking place across Appalachia Kentucky. I also appreciate the fact that the university is providing a platform for students to discuss and learn about the culture, heritage, and opportunities in Appalachia.”
For more information on SOAR, visit www.soar-ky.org.