Mention Hazard, Kentucky to almost anyone and they’ll envision the Duke Boys ramping the General Lee through the air. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, that show was actually based in a fictional town in Georgia, but that hasn’t stopped it from coloring people’s perceptions of Hazard, Kentucky. Thanks to the Dukes of Hazzard, Hazard is probably one of the most famous places in this state (sorry Harlan and Justified fans). Because of the beauty and the popularity of the town, Hazard has attracted a lot of people from outside the region who claim that Hazard “gets under your skin”.
Like many of the towns in Appalachia, Hazard faces many difficulties including a need for quality affordable housing and a need for downtown revitalization. Fortunately, there are several organizations working to make a difference in Hazard, all without the use of high-speed chases and dangerous jumps. The Housing Development Alliance (HDA) is a Fahe member and has been working in Hazard for 20 years. There’s also the Corner Haven Homeless shelter and organizations such as Hazard-Perry County Community Ministries. There are also a number of citizens that are stepping up and making a difference in Hazard. One person who has decided to change Hazard for the better is Bailey Richards.
Bailey is one of the folks who let Hazard get under her skin. Originally from Ohio, she grew up with a sense of service instilled in her by her family and church. While in college she found herself volunteering with Fahe member Appalachia Service Project (ASP). “ASP is really good about fostering the whole volunteer experience,” said Bailey. “You spend time with your fellow workers and your families twenty-four seven. ASP knows how to bring about the whole feel good experience from serving.”
Bailey volunteered with ASP for two summers before working a year on staff. During a service stay in Knott County, the closest place for supplies was Hazard and during that time she got her first experience of her future home.
After graduating college with a photography degree, Bailey looked to the Hazard Herald for a job. Her first week working, she began researching the newspaper’s history for its 100th anniversary and it turned out the history of the paper was also the history of Hazard. “It’s really cool to be thrown into a community you know nothing about and suddenly become immediately ingrained,” she said. “I don’t think I would have cared as much about my town if I wasn’t exposed to this incredibly cool and rich history right from the beginning.”
After a year and half of reporting for the Hazard Herald, Bailey decided it was time to stop reporting and start making a difference in the community she had become a part of. She applied for an opportunity at Housing Development Alliance and was hired into a new career path that meshed well with her values. “I never understood what community was until I moved here,” said Bailey. “I grew up in Cincinnati, and went to school in Louisville, and those are pretty large places. I had my family and friends but neither city was a community that felt like it relied on the individual people. Here you can see the lines of interconnectivity of how you affect each other. If I don’t support the local grocery, they go out of business and I don’t eat. Here everyone has a purpose.”
When she was a reporter, she wanted to get involved with different groups around town, but felt it would be a conflict of interest. After leaving the paper, she joined up with InVision Hazard, a downtown revitalization organization that had been working on a five-year plan for Hazard. One of Bailey’s first major contributions to the group was to head up their plan of combining an art walk with the Christmas parade. It turned out to be a huge success. They were to install art in 30 different windows and earned $1,000 for the group by selling ad space in the art walk map.
Bailey discovered that Facebook is an incredible way to connect with people in Hazard and social media has been used to take pictures of places in need of improvement around town and simply ask people what they thought could be done to change it. This has spurred conversations and action among citizens. One example is the old Brashear’s florist shop and greenhouse. Once the picture of the dilapidated building was posted, people in the community became adamant about changing it. Because of the support, a grant was written within a week and site control was gained from the owners. They are now working to change the spot into a food hub and distribution point for farmers to get food into the hands of schools, restaurants, and hospitals and there are plans for a three acre farm spot to be used to retrain out of work miners so they can earn a living as farmers. The old florist shop has great potential to make an economic impact on Hazard and restore an old building that has been out of use since the 1990’s. Just posting the picture and asking a question has led into giving the people of Hazard control over their town.
Bailey also started another group called Fantastically Hazard that is looking to rebrand the town. They started off by selling batches of t-shirts that show Hazard in a different light. The first run of T-shirts had an outline of Perry County and reads “Seven Square Miles of Awesome”. The second featured the Mother Goose house and the third indicates that the town of Hazard is far cooler than the old TV show ever wanted to be. Each batch of shirts has sold out and been followed by a demand for more.
She also finds herself working on other projects including a greenway, a theatre, and working with local people who make products using local resources.
What Bailey and the groups she work with are accomplishing is a revitalization of their town through a revitalization of the people. They are proving that it doesn’t take an outside force to make a change, that everyday people can make a difference. “People don’t always realize their opinions matter. They forget that what they want IS important. People are learning that change is accessible to anyone.”