Fahe’s first summer CHEF term was a huge success! The Community Housing & Economic Fellowship (CHEF) program provides an opportunity for students to apply their skills to an internship project in Appalachian communities, while also aiming to develop future leaders for the Region. Eight interns were placed at CHEF Service Sites with Fahe Members in 3 states—KY, WV, & TN. The interns completed a specific project during the 12 week term, and benefited from mentoring and networking opportunities provided through their Service Site and CHEF Program activities.
Additionally, the CHEF pilot program was a fantastic learning experience for the Fahe staff who implemented the program. The CHEF program provided opportunities to further develop strengths in collaborating and creatively managing multi-layered projects. Personally, I enjoy working with people and coordinating details, and often function in a role supporting group activity to accomplish a task or project here at Fahe. As we began to realize how important it was for someone to be on point and pull the multiple pieces together, the role of CHEF program coordinator developed. From drafting and developing the program documents and structure to recruiting and ultimately managing communication with all Service Sites and interns, it was crucial for the program to have a coordinator with an understanding of the broader scope of the program, helping the various activities and pieces work together.
The CHEF Service Sites provided nurturing environments for the CHEF interns. The projects were varied, but over the summer term the CHEF interns discovered ways that their work connected under the umbrella of Fahe’s mission—to eliminate persistent poverty in Appalachia. The Site Supervisors provided mentoring opportunities and connections that were important and beneficial to the interns as they continue to develop their professional and peer networks.
Each CHEF intern brought various strengths to their project, as well as additional capacity to each Service Site during the service term. The energy and initiative the interns brought to their work were extremely valuable and appreciated. Since this was a pilot, some details were being refined as we went along. Both the Service Sites and CHEF interns were great to work with as we began our venture into developing leadership through internships in the Fahe Network.
Feedback from the interns themselves speaks to the value and significance of the CHEF program. Nicholas Kubala’s CHEF project was in Fahe’s finance department in Berea, KY. Nick says, “I am still deciding what I want to do after I graduate. I really like Fahe’s mission and this experience has opened my eyes to the possibilities that lie within non-profit work.”
Intern Mariah Triplett’s CHEF Service Site was Fahe Member KHRA (Kingsport Housing & Redevelopment Authority) in Kingsport, TN. “My time as a [CHEF] intern has been one of the most beneficial learning experiences I have had to date. The things I have learned from my experience this summer are valuable and irreplaceable. I had the ability to network with local community leaders, city and state officials, and representatives from THDA (Tennessee Housing Development Authority) and HUD. The experience I gained has given me confidence in my abilities to be an effective leader.”
Sierra Marling’s CHEF internship project was with Fahe’s Communication Team at the Fahe office in Berea, KY. Sierra shared, “This experience wasn’t generic, and everything that I did had a purpose. Our project work went to building stronger communities within Appalachia, often places similar to or near where we grew up. Coming from a place of persistent poverty, it gave me hope and a different mindset for the future. This was definitely the beginning of something great for young professionals and future leaders in Appalachia.”
The feedback from CHEF Site Supervisors was overwhelmingly positive about their experience participating in the first CHEF internship term. Sierra’s Site Supervisor noted, “Sierra really exemplifies the mission of the CHEF internship. As a native of a rural WV town and no stranger to the challenges the region faces, we believe that Sierra is just getting started on her road to making Appalachia a more prosperous place for all.” Mariah’s Site Supervisor shared, “She has been fantastic to work with. She is a quick study, and holds a wonderful attitude. The work she accomplished will pay great dividends for the future.”
Fahe’s President & CEO Jim King participated as a CHEF Site Supervisor this summer. He told the CHEF interns, “You are now part of our team, a team that is touching the lives of over 75,000 people every year. Because of your work, you have helped make a difference and for that we are grateful.”
The interns’ valuable investment this summer has made a difference in these Appalachian communities, but the CHEF program has also made a difference in the perspective of many of the participating interns. MBA student Brandon Weirick is thankful for opportunity he had. “I’ve learned a lot and gained a lot of value moving forward. I wouldn’t have picked a different internship if I went back and did it again.”
The pilot CHEF internship program was made possible with funding from Fahe’s partner Rural LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), a community development support organization that partners with 81 rural community-based organizations, including four financial intermediaries, helping them identify challenges and opportunities, and delivering the most appropriate support to meet local needs. Rural LISC provides support to help rural community developers address the problems rural communities face. Fahe values this relationship and looks forward to future opportunities to build lasting leadership in Appalachia through the Community Housing & Economic Fellowship program.