Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Brushy Fork Institute builds leaders, communities; will manage ARC grants to distressed Appalachia

For 20 years, the Brushy Fork Institute has worked to develop leadership in Appalachian communities. Tonight at Berea College in Kentucky, home of the Institute, its leaders, friends and clients celebrated its success with testimonies from a national expert on rural community development and two women who helped start or revive chambers of commerce in their small, rural counties with training from the Institute.

Vaughn Grisham, right, director of the George McLean Institute at the University of Mississippi, told a packed dining room at the Boone Tavern Hotel that Brushy Fork not only teaches leadership in classic fashion, "They show you how to do it with their behavior," including trusting people "to transform their own lives." Grisham turned over the microphone for two stories of transformation, from the smallest county in Tennessee and one of the smallest in Kentucky, both along the rugged but scenic edge of the Cumberland Plateau.

"It changed our county," Gail Mills said of the training she and others from Menifee County, Ky., received at the Brushy Fork Annual Institute, the latest edition of which is going on this week. As a result, the county of 6,800 not only has a chamber of commerce, but a community center, a learning center and a food pantry. "We were going nowhere, but since the Chamber of Commerce came into being it had broadened our outlook," Mills said.

Deborah Garrett of Pickett County, Tenn., population 5,000, said likewise. "We made tourism a bigger money-maker than farming . . . and that all comes from Brushy Fork," she said. Our guess is that the leadership training also had something to do with Garrett being twice elected a county commissioner. For the county's Web site, click here. Menifee County's is here.

Wednesday, Brushy Fork will announce a new partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission and Kentucky's Department for Local Government. Brushy Fork will provide training for community leaders and administer ARC Flex-E-Grants for projects in distressed ARC counties. "When you combine training with funding you get more out of both," Brushy Fork Director Peter Hille says. The first grants will go to communities that have teams at this year's Annual Institute this year. The second round, next spring, will be open to all of distressed ARC counties in Kentucky. Communities funded in the second round will be encouraged to send teams to next year's Institute.

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