As my year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA comes to an end, I was asked to describe this last year in one word. The only word that came to mind was resilience. Resilience can be describe as advancing despite adversity. Over the course of this last year, I have seen just how resilient Appalachia is. The organizations diligently working throughout the region are resilient. The people who call this beautiful, and challenging, region home are resilient. Fahe, Fahe Members, and its Network of Leaders are all resilient.
There are six domains of resilience: vision, collaboration, composure, tenacity, health, and reasoning. I have seen each one of them in action as Fahe, and its Members, work to ensure individuals have access to opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise. A year ago, I walked into this VISTA position naively. I was following my heart and my need to serve, but nothing could have prepared me for what I learned. I had a very surface-level understanding of Appalachia, poverty, and the issues facing the region. I struggled to wrap my head around the idea that a first-world country had millions of people experiencing homelessness, no running water, no healthcare, or lacked access to other basic necessities. On some level, I already knew this was all true, I’ve seen the statistics. However, it’s a very different experience when the statistics become the very people you serve, and now hold a very special place in your heart. You no longer see numbers, you see faces.
As my year of service comes to a close, I am more aware than I have ever been. I’m more aware of the problems facing Appalachia. I see the disproportionate funding Appalachia receives compared to other regions of the nation. However, I also see the fire behind peoples’ eyes and the passion in their work as they bring necessities into the region. I see the resilience of organizations as they fight to provide for others. I see the unbreakable spirit that runs deep through Appalachia. As I move on to the next step in my career, my eyes are open, my heart is understanding, and I’m ready to become a part of the solution.
Leadership in Appalachia
Fahe and our Membership organizations have initiated several programs to attract and retain individuals living in the region, including developing paid internship positions based around sought after skillsets. Fahe has proudly partnered with groups such as Rural LISC, HHCK, and NeighborWorks America to develop internship programs with our Membership Network and to be a host site for individuals serving through national organizations like AmeriCorps. We have also been grateful to attract a number of people from academia from around the country to take part in research and data collection.
We’ve had great success in building capacity for our Members and other organizations through these leadership development programs as well as helping interns transition into full time jobs. Developing our future leaders in Appalachia is an important piece of our journey as we continue to help more Appalachians Build the American Dream.