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by M. B. Miller

Deep in the heart of Appalachia, not far from the banks of Troublesome Creek, there is a place where hope continues to survive. You can feel it in the hollows, in the cool, coal-scented air that flows from the high mountains that surround Pippa Passes, KY: a new day is dawning. Something is happening – a vital, much-needed change is being born. However, this time, the change isn’t coming to us from beyond the hills – it is originating right here in Appalachia, devised and led by its own people.

From its inception, Alice Lloyd College was designed to be a college for Appalachia. It is the only four-year liberal arts college in the nation actively recruiting students exclusively from this region. The College was founded on the belief that “The leaders are here,” and that dictum rings true to this day. We see many problems plaguing Appalachia: the waning coal industry, a high percentage of adults age 25 and older who have not completed high school, poverty-stricken families, the severe lack of jobs and opportunities, and the fact that, in eastern Kentucky alone, the percentage of working-age adults who have jobs is below 30%. These are significant problems, but to this we say: the answers are here. Appalachia’s greatest resource is not coal, despite how much we depend on it to survive; it is our people.

Alice Lloyd is committed to educating tomorrow’s leaders — young people from Appalachia with new ideas, talents, and abilities. Those who will stay in the region, equipped with the skills and credentials necessary to uplift it. The College is embarking on what is one of the most important undertakings in its history: the establishment of a Center for Entrepreneurial Development.

“Appalachia needs jobs, and we think we can help,” said Jim Stepp, Executive Vice President of ALC. “Since we return 83% of our graduates to the region, we want to be more intentional in identifying those students with the potential for entrepreneurship. We want to give them the training and the resources they need so that, when they graduate, they will be prepared to create businesses and jobs.”

It seems like a common-sense solution, but its implementation is ambitious and requires funding that this small, private college simply does not have. Alice Lloyd College does not solicit or receive direct financial support from the local, state, or federal governments. It relies instead on the aid and generosity of foundations, corporations, and individuals across the nation for its existence. The College is committed to meeting the needs of the Appalachian people; and, right now, we have the opportunity to make a difference in our region.

The James Graham Brown Foundation has just offered a 1:1 matching challenge incentive through which they will match $1 up to a maximum of $600,000 for every $1 the College raises toward this program by December 31, 2012.

The James Graham Brown Foundation seeks to improve the local and national perception of Kentucky and to promote the well-being of its people. ALC’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Collaborative Learning has a similar mission with the ultimate goal of building a better Appalachia, which will, over time, produce a higher quality of living in eastern Kentucky. The College is pleased that the James Graham Brown Foundation supports our project with such great enthusiasm and that it understands the significance of the program’s purpose.

The College could actually generate a total of $1.2 million for this endeavor, and we need your help.

In speaking of the project which was to be done in two phases, ALC President Joe Stepp said, “We have completed the first phase. The fact that we have already constructed a building to help us prepare to expand our business curriculum is evidence of our commitment to moving forward. We expect this program will generate great interest among students, citizens, and businesses.”

The second phase involves the actual creation of a Center for Entrepreneurship and Collaborative Learning, the hiring of a director for the Center, and the addition of new concentration classes (e.g., Entrepreneurship, Accounting, etc.) as the College expands its curriculum.

“Economic growth in this region is largely dependent upon its citizens’ ability to create innovative new business ventures,” said Dr. Lenore Pollard, a professor in ALC’s Business Department. “Corporations and existing businesses are now seeking employees who possess the ability to create and implement innovations. This project would allow us to equip our students with the skills necessary to create new business ventures or to become valued employees in organizations seeking to lead innovations in existing ventures.”

If the College succeeds in obtaining the necessary funding, the project could serve as a model for the rest of the country. There are plans to recruit business leaders to teach courses at the College, to bring in various entrepreneurs to speak in the College’s convocation series, and to host workshops, along with an economic summit, which will generate national interest in the program. This will be an incredibly important, viable solution in a region where persistent poverty reigns and where the current economic downturn has hit hardest.

Join us in continuing the miracle. It is no longer just “The Miracle on Caney Creek.” This could be a miracle in the mountains. Thousands of lives and the future of Appalachia can be changed with your help. Throughout history, Appalachian people have had to rise up and fight for themselves, struggling for their very survival. Alice Lloyd College exists to serve this place and these people, to give them a voice and hope, to give them the gift they need most: homegrown answers – educated young people who will create jobs and enable this region to thrive in a better economy.

The miracle began here. It continues with you.

*This story was recently featured on WYMT News.

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