Skip to main content

Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO of The Center for Rural Development, welcomes community leaders from 35 counties in Southern and Eastern Kentucky to an informational workshop session for the newly launched Appalachian Rural Development Philanthropy Initiative (ARDPI).

Representatives from current and potential participating counties in a new philanthropy initiative met this week at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset to discuss how Appalachian counties can start and utilize community foundations and permanent endowments as a means to stop the outmigration of the region’s wealth.

Nearly 130 community leaders from 35 counties in Southern and Eastern Kentucky attended a one-day informational workshop on Nov. 14 to learn more about the newly launched Appalachian Rural Development Philanthropy Initiative (ARDPI).

The initiative supports the development of permanent, accessible community foundations in Eastern Kentucky that will work to secure local assets to provide long-term resources for use in their communities.

Click here to view more photos from Monday’s Appalachian Rural Development Philanthropy Initiative (ARDPI) workshop session.

The workshop session, led by Janet Topolsky and John Molinaro, co-directors of The Aspen Community Strategies Group in Washington, D.C., came one week after U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, and other state and federal leaders announced $1 million in ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) grant funding had been awarded to assist in the development of ARDPI over the next two years.

The ARC is working with a total of seven Kentucky-based partners to move the initiative forward, including: The Center, Brushy Fork Institute, the Community Foundation of Hazard & Perry County, the Foundation for the Tri-State Community, Blue Grass Community Foundation, the Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative, and the Endow Kentucky Commission. Two of the recipients—The Center in Somerset and Brushy Fork Institute in Berea—will provide overall strategic planning, training, education and promotion for the initiative.

“This work will not only help grow the economy of our region but will empower local community leaders to foster a culture of philanthropy that will benefit future generations,” Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO of The Center, said. “The Center is committed to improving the quality of life for all residents within our 42-county primary service area in Southern and Eastern Kentucky, and ARDPI is a perfect fit with that mission.”

The initiative will help expand and organize philanthropic infrastructure in an initial group of eight pilot counties—Elliot, Magoffin, Knott, Letcher, Clay, Knox, Bell and Whitley—and will grow to include additional counties in year two.

Counties participating in the initiative must fit the ARC’s classification as a “distressed” county.

Many community leaders in attendance at Monday’s meeting said they hope their participation in ARDPI will help reverse that status after wealth is reinvested in local programs and initiatives that could improve the quality of life in those areas.

“One of the ways this initiative will help Bell County is with the revitalization of our downtown areas through the possible restoration of historic office buildings and store fronts in hopes of filling those vacant buildings with tenants, shops, and offices,” said Bell County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rob Lincks. “We have partnered with ARC and The Center on multiple occasions through mini-ARC grants and other initiatives.”

ARDPI program work will include regional planning, training for communities, development of an on-the-ground consultant program, and the use of mini-grants to assist communities in planning for securing and leveraging local resources.

“We cannot look outside of our community for the answers to the issues that we face in our communities in Southeastern Kentucky,” said Levi Alley of Clay County, a board member of the Manchester Memorial Hospital Foundation. “This workshop brings together the ideas for fresh leadership in philanthropy and giving.”

“Change is going to occur from the bottom up, not the top down,” added Janice Lee Odom of the Kentucky Entrepreneurs Alliance. “For distressed counties like Powell County, community foundations represent the hope of change that we need. ARDPI is crucial to us.”

For more information about ARDPI, contact Mable Duke, ARDPI consultant, at 606-677-6000 or visit