Representatives of The Center for Rural Development and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes joined business and community leaders to discuss ways to improve civic involvement in Kentucky at a statewide Civic Engagement Forum.
The panel discussion was held Tuesday, March 7, at The Center in Somerset, as part of Grimes’ civic health tour following the release of the latest Kentucky Civic Health Index. The report measures the state of engagement and civic literacy in the Commonwealth.
The forum at The Center—the third stop in six visits planned in each of Kentucky’s Congressional Districts—included an informative discussion with local business and community leaders on formulating new strategies to get more people engaged and informed.
“If we are to build a stronger Kentucky, we have to bring more people to the table. More Kentuckians have to take an interest in how their government is operating, how their schools are performing, and the health of their communities,” Grimes said. “This report proves we must work together to restore trust and faith in the institutions that serve us, so these discussions we’re having across the Commonwealth are critical.”
The index showed the Commonwealth improved in national rankings in social connectedness, community engagement, and voter registration since Grimes released the first report in 2012. But, it also showed that fewer than half of Kentuckians have confidence in the media, a decline of more than 10 percent in three years, and fewer Kentuckians are trusting of their neighbors.
“Volunteerism is something that I am extremely pleased with, not only locally, but across the Commonwealth,” said panelist Lonnie Lawson, President and CEO of The Center. “We see more and more people giving back to their communities, our region, state, and nation. They have learned if you become engaged and let your voice be heard, you can make a difference.”
The cornerstone of The Center’s Rogers Scholars youth leadership program is community service. Each graduate is required to complete a community service project in their home community one year after graduation in order to qualify for exclusive college scholarship opportunities from 17 partner colleges and universities.
“We are seeing Rogers Scholars do some amazing things in Southern and Eastern Kentucky,” said panelist Delaney Stephens, community liaison and youth programs coordinator. “Scholars are raising thousands of dollars to help build community parks. They are helping with downtown beautification projects. My goal, and The Center’s goal, is to see these young people succeed and ultimately return to the region. They are our future business and community leaders.”
2012 Rogers Scholars graduate Scotty Reams, who joined Stephens on the panel, called the program “an experience of a lifetime.”
Panelist Jim Tackett, executive director of Forward in the Fifth, an affiliate of The Center, works with educators, parents, students, and business and community leaders to improve and enhance education in Southern and Eastern Kentucky.
“When the organization was created 30-plus years ago, U.S. Congressman Harold Rogers talked about the importance of engaging key stakeholders in the work to improve education from a grassroots level,” Tackett said. “We have some amazing, talented young people, as well as educators, who give their time each and every day, so our students are prepared and will thrive in their future endeavors.”
Community leader and panelist Brenda Russell of God’s Food Pantry of Somerset encouraged young people, including a group of Somerset Christian School students in the audience, to follow their dreams.
“Find what you’re passionate about,” she said. “Choose what your passion is and then find a way to go use your skills to serve.”
The full Civic Health Index is available at sos.ky.gov.