As you will see, these eight organizations are an exciting mix of established programs with evolving needs as well as newer programs picking up where past initiatives left a gap or new strategies are needed. Some have a historical connection with the Coalition, and all demonstrate strong local leadership to facilitate change through innovation and collective action.
APPALACHIAN OPPORTUNITY FUND
Based in northeast Tennessee, Appalachian Opportunity Fund (AOF) seeks to foster financial health and community wealth in rural Central Appalachia. AOF is pursuing this mission by providing People-Centered Financial Coaching to low-income single mothers and others excluded from the financial mainstream. The Executive Director, a Vanderbilt Law alum, benefitted from Vanderbilt’s advisory resources when AOF was established in March 2019. With a small grant, AOF’s first priority is to build funds to pay for a new Financial Coach. Specifically, they would like to hire a person who is female and African American and have identified a candidate to fill the position. This will enable them to better serve the local African American community which, statistically, has a greater need for AOF services than the Caucasian community.
COAL CREEK MINERS MUSEUM (Rocky Top, TN)
The museum, a long-time project of Charles “Boomer” Winfrey and the community of Lake City, Tenn. (renamed Rocky Top), honors the rich history of Coal Creek and the culture and economic heritage of coal mining. Its goal is to utilize education and outreach to foster economic and community development. Priorities include improving daily operations by expanding hours and hiring more staff, maintaining artifacts and displays, completing installations on the 2nd floor, a newly accessible space thanks to a new elevator, and expanding the venue for traditional folk arts, dance, and storytelling.
EULA HALL HEALTH CENTER & BIG SANDY HEALTH CARE, INC. (Prestonsburg, KY)
In 1970, Eula Hall, the President of the Eastern KY Welfare Rights Organization, invited the SHC to bring a Health Fair to Mud Creek, Ky., which we did in the summer of 1971. That success helped Eula open the “Mud Creek Clinic” in 1973. After an arson attack, rebuilding and expanding a few times, merging with Big Sandy Health Services, and being renamed the “Eula Hall Health Center” in 2011, that clinic is still operating today. The SHC Legacy Fund is proud to be able to return to Mud Creek with a financial gift of $5,000 to support the community health workers and outreach to the thousands of low-income residents from miles around who still use that clinic as their primary site for health services. Eula remained active as a patient advocate at the center until her death, at the age of 93, in May of 2021.
FUTURE ECONOMY COLLECTIVE (Blacksburg, VA)
The Future Economy Collective (FEC) is a young, queer mutual-aid and economic equity organization that began during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. After a 3-year listening campaign in local communities, they established a safe, community-oriented space near the Virginia Tech campus with a non-profit cafe, free book and seed libraries, and active mutual aid campaigns. During the early phases of pandemic lock-down, they organized and made food/medicine deliveries to the surrounding area. In early 2021, they recovered from severe flooding by re-locating and remodeling a new community space. Recently, they have shifted from area food drop-offs to maintaining and stocking several community accessible freezers/refrigerators. FEC is also active in local environmental efforts to resist the MVP natural gas pipe-line construction through the New River Valley. Their long-term efforts are directed toward sustainability and resilience by building economic infrastructures less reliant on inequality and exploitation.
SOUTHERN CONNECTED COMMUNITIES PROJECT, C/O HIGHLANDER RESEARCH AND EDUCATION CENTER (Clearfork Valley, TN)
Southern Connected Communities Project’s (SCCP) mission is to provide solutions for internet connectivity in underserved or unserved areas, with an emphasis on community input and ownership. Its particular focus now is in the Clearfork Valley area of East Tennessee, working closely with the Clearfork Community Institute (CCI). It has opened a Cyber Cafe at the Institute, which is the only public space and free internet access in the community. It’s also in the process of building an Appalachian Folk Archive, a collection of stories, videos, pictures, recipes, patterns (quilts, sewing projects, crochet/knit, etc) and water quality data housed on a portable network kit at Clearfork Community Institute for the community to view. In October 2021, SCCP launched a weekly Clearfork Youth Drop-In night at the CCI’s Cyber Cafe, offering free tutoring, games, and dinner. The youth drop-in is a safe space where school kids ages 8 and up are welcome to come, learn, relax, and enjoy the space. SCCP has worked to ensure that an adult will be present each night and has secured the help of several tutors to consistently provide tutoring for homework help, SAT and ACT-prep, college application help, job applications, and any other needs. The Highlander Center serves as SCCP’s fiscal sponsor.
STATEWIDE ORGANIZING FOR COMMUNITY eMPOWERMENT RESOURCE PROJECT: SOCM-RP
SOCM-RP supports and promotes leadership development and skills training, grassroots community organizing, public education around important public policy, and active civic engagement in the democratic process. Its origin story is closely connected to the Vanderbilt Student Health Coalition. At a SHC-organized community meeting in January 1972, SOCM was formed and grew to represent 5 East Tennessee counties. Now, it is statewide with projects in East, Middle, and West Tennessee. SOCM is committed to the journey of becoming an anti-racist organization, to overcoming social and institutional racism, and embracing our diverse cultures. A small grant will help provide access to water testing supplies for members in the field, access to hot spots for member leaders working in areas where there is no broad band or affordable internet access, and contribute towards intern/staff support especially in Knox, Anderson, and Cumberland counties.
STAY TOGETHER APPALACHIAN YOUTH PROJECT
The Stay Together Appalachian Youth (STAY!) Project is the only youth-led, regional, grassroots network for young people (ages 14-30) in Central Appalachia. Its mission is to provide critical education and leadership training that will help future Appalachian leaders find meaningful and sustainable ways to actively participate, create change, and remain in their home mountain communities. One program in its beginning stages, the Black Appalachian Young & Rising (BAYR), supports Black youth leadership in Appalachia and has already shown a glimpse of how young black folks in Appalachia coming together can be a powerful force for creating change in the region. A small grant will assist one of the STAY! coordinators, Mekyah Davis, who will be working in his hometown of Big Stone Gap, VA. He will be partnering with Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards to establish a public community building and office space in town. Funds may also go to STAY’s membership support fund, which facilitates STAY! members’ participation in local community events. STAYS! fiduciary agent is Highlander Research & Education Center Inc.
ST. CHARLES CLINIC, VIRGINIA (Stone Mountain Health Services)
Citizens of Lee County, Va. founded the St. Charles Health Council in 1973 and incorporated as a non-profit organization after hosting the Student Health Coalition health fair. Council members, primarily representing St. Charles and Pennington Gap, worked quickly and skillfully to build, staff, and open St. Charles Clinic. Several Coalition alumni joined the staff, including Dr. Art Van Zee, who has worked there for over 4 decades. The St. Charles Clinic is part of Stone Mountain Health Services. Arising from the opioid crisis, Dr. Van Zee established a treatment program at St. Charles Clinic. He identified the need for print resources to help in their buprenorphine treatment program for patients with opioid use disorder. He stated, “Many of them would not have the funds to buy these on their own. If we had these available to give out to those unable to get them on their own, it could play a substantial role in their recovery.”