The Appalachian Transition Fellowship program supports a just, sustainable economic transition from exploitative, extractive industries by connecting young and emerging leaders in Central Appalachia with coal-impacted communities throughout the region to build leadership and boost capacity, collaboration, and connectivity across sectors, issues, and geography.
Fellows are placed in host communities for one year in a full-time, paid fellowship to support new or expanding community-led projects to advance a just regional transition. Host communities are comprised of 2-3 cross-sector partnerships that builds a network with a strong foundation of varied resources, skills, ideas, and relationships to scale up local efforts and support regional shifts that build community health and wealth.
In the first cohort of the fellowship, for example, AppFellow Carol Davey joined the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACENet), Athens City Government, American Electric Power and Rural Action to support locally owned businesses in Athens, Ohio, as they shift behaviors toward zero waste, green energy and energy efficiency practices through an exploratory “Green Your Business” initiative. The fellowship resulted in an organized system providing local businesses access to information, resources, and capital needed to incorporate zero waste and supports businesses in reducing their carbon footprint and increasing profitability by implementing energy efficient procedures and utilizing renewable energy sources.
A federal REAP grant written by Carol awarded $10,000 to Village Bakery to install a solar panel, and is now a finalist in Upgrade Athens!, a $5 million funding opportunity coordinated by Carol to advance sustainable energy in the city. Following the fellowship, Carol said, “I have been able to stay in my host community, Athens Ohio, and am continuing to work on Energy Economy and Efficiency. Currently I serve as the Community Director for Empower Athens, supervising a team of ten and shaping the messaging and programming to supplement our work in residential, commercial, municipal, and rental efficiency. My role with Empower allows me to continue to assist UpGrade Athens County in educating the public about energy usage and the new energy economy emerging in Athens.”
First-cohort App Fellow Eric Dixon worked with Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) to create sustainable opportunities targeting skilled workers, including out-of-work coal miners, in Whitesburg, KY. Through policy research and documentation of projects like stream cleanups and reforestation plantings, the project sought to increase access to funds for environmental restoration projects in central Appalachia, decreasing outmigration, increasing jobs and improving the environment.
Eric also established a partnership with fellow Kendall Bilbrey and their hosts Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Virginia Tech, and Alliance for Appalachia that led to the formation of an Abandoned Mine Land Policies and Priorities working group, including the development of a white paper and a custom-made presentation on AML Funds that can be readily presented to various groups across the region to meet individual needs and interests. Kendall and Eric also embarked on a regional educational tour in April 2015 to spark community dialogue and understanding about the opportunities surrounding AML funds. As a result of that tour, 24 communities across Central Appalachia passed unanimous resolutions seeking federal support for a just economic transition in the region.
Upon completion of the program, Eric joined ACLC’s staff in June 2015, coordinating ACLC’s policy analysis and engagement efforts, particularly around abandoned mine land reclamation, renewable energy, electric utility issues, and the proposed POWER+ Plan. Kendall became the first paid staff coordinator of the Stay Together Appalachian Youth (STAY) program.
An increase in organizational capacity and outreach is strengthened by network opportunities within AppFellows. Host organizations not only have increased capacity for a specific project, but also have an opportunity to increase their connectivity and capacity to collaborate across the region. For example, in the 2014-15 fellowship year, a project with CAMC, The Corey Brothers (distributor), and Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation in Charleston, WV has helped improve distribution routes between WV and VA by making truck routes more efficient in overall costs and mileage. As a result of fellows on the ground in both states, pick-up routes have been rerouted to decrease mileage while including new stops, farmers are making new connections with distributors and aggregators allowing them to share truck space more often, and educational tools for farmers, distributors, aggregators, restaurant entrepreneurs, and community foundations have greatly expanded beyond just one sector.
New relationships are forming, existing organizations are learning from emerging talents, and people from a variety of sectors are educating each other in new ways because of the networks AppFellows has helped strengthen. AppFellows is a dynamic opportunity to impact a collective understanding of complex issues surrounding poverty that will help create a collaborative agenda to advance the economic transition of the region.