Givology Staff's Blog

Impact Series Podcast: Appalachian Community Fund

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Check out our latest podcast with Margo Miller from Appalachian Community Fund on []iTunes[/url], [url=]Medium[/url], and [url=]Soundcloud[/url]!

Here's the full transcript:

Welcome to the Givology Impact Series Podcast in which we share the experiences and inspirations of social entrepreneurs and changemakers around the world in education. I'm Vandana. We're delighted to have Margo Miller from Appalachian Community Fund here with us today. The Appalachian Community Fund (A.C.F.) funds and encourages grassroots social change in central Appalachia. As a community-controlled fund, A.C.F. offers leadership to expand and strengthen the movement for social change through its practices and policies. Margo Miller is executive director of Appalachian Community Fund. Miller has served as the development director of ACF for the past three years and raised more than $540,000 to support social justice work in central Appalachia. Miller is a daughter of Appalachia and graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in broadcast communication. Miller remained in Knoxville after graduation working as a community organizer, facilitator, project director, and administrator for a number of key social justice organizations. She has developed a deep commitment to art as a powerful tool for organizing and uniting communities. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us Margo!

Oh thank you--thanks for having me.

Great! To start out, can you share with us the story of Appalachian Community Fund’s founding and mission?

I would love to! A.C.F. was founded back in 1987 bringing new resources for grant funding to groups working on progressive social change in Central Appalachia. And we identified that particular area-- all the Appalachian counties of east Tennesee, Kentucky, southwest Virginia, and the entire state of West Virginia--and we really want to build up--we want to be a sustainable resource base for those groups that are working on social change in the region. And since our founding we’ve granted over 6.5 million dollars to more than 300 grassroots organizations working on social change in the area.

And then...I've not been there all that time, you know. At the time we’ve helped to really provide financial support needed to help--you know--low-income people and people organizing themselves to address all of the systemic systems of poverty and oppression in the region. And it's been a wonderful time here of doing the work.

Vandana: Wow that’s really impressive. So can you tell us a little bit about some of ACS’ accomplishments in the past few years and your highest priority projects today?

Margo: Sure! There's been a lot of success work that we do around creating change. of our grantees won a settlement by the decision of the court for helping more than $500,000 to do work around protecting the water in Kentucky.

We’ve had another grantee crew that successfully advocated for adopting a thirty minute daily activity policy in child care centers. Given that a lot of places have cut funding for recess, we thought that was really successful work to advocate for making sure that those children in those day care centers had active time that they would play.

We have had...we reached 5000 undocumented immigrants in Tennessee with information about their rights, using administrative relief to avoid deportation. And one of the most successful stories recently: we had a grantee approach us for a very small grant that went on to later to organize a group of people under a campaign called Hands off Appalachia. And after three years of grassroots organizing and direct action, U.B.S., which was one of the largest supporters-- bank supporters, backed away from funding mountaintop removal. And that was one of the largest ones that we’ve had.
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And as far as some of the new priorities that we're working on, we have a new program called Out in the South, which is advocating for organizing the queer community in Appalachia, identifying their issues and raising money to address their issues. So that’s something that we've recently started working on is working with with that particular community here in Central Appalachia.
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Yeah, that's some really great work and I know your organization has the motto “change not charity.” How do you measure the change that you deliver to your grantees? Like specifically, what kinds of qualitative and quantitative metrics to you use to assess the success of your grantees?

Well, I can tell you measuring change is not easy because change...change does take a long time. So you know that looking at the whole thing, just going back to the motto “change not charity,” the reason that we look at that is because a lot of organizations, particularly foundations, you know, give things to people. And while that's great, looking at our motto, you know, while it's good to be able to teach someone how to fish, we think it's even better to...It's good to give someone food or give someone a fish, but it's better to teach them to fish and even better that teaching them to fish is making sure that everyone has a boat. You know, making sure everyone has a fishing pole. And even better still, making sure that you can then organize a community to form a local fishing cooperative where people you know have a fish market that is controlled and owned by the community. That’s better.

So that's the long way around saying that when we look at measuring change, it really depends looking at when things change, when systems change in communities, that’s when we know that we've done good work or that we know we've supported good work. And looking at our grantees that are able to change some of these standing policies and communities--that’s success. And as far as how we measure it, one of the things that we have on our final report from our grantees, we ask them to share stories of success. You know, we ask them to share stories of challenge so the people can possibly learn from the challenges. So we don't do a lot of quantitative measurement with our organization because it's more about the quality of the change that happens in the community.

Yeah that's really interesting. So in the communities that you work with, what are the responses that you guys see and how do you address perhaps any community resistance, if there is any at all?
Oh there's plenty of community resistance. When you're talking about changing systems that have been in place for many years, you see a lot of resistance. But there's also people within the community who have been in those communities and they want change. They don't want to deal with the status quo. So most of the people that we work with are those people. They’re the people out there who are most affected day in and day out by the oppressive systems that are in place here in Appalachia.
So their responses are overwhelming. They're very grateful that A.C.F. is there to provide them with support because a lot of times A.C.F. will give grants to people or organizations that are either too small or too new or too progressive to get funding from other organizations. So they're very grateful for the funding that we give them. We have been told that, you know, A.C.F. gave us our first grant. ACS will do your funding. ACS will do general operating support so a lot of people are very grateful for that support. And it it enables people to stand up to the resistance that they have in the community for the work that they’re doing.

That's great. So on the same note, what are some of the challenges you guys are facing as an organization? How have you approached or are you approaching these difficulties?

I think, like a lot of organizations, the biggest challenge that we have faced over the years, at least the few years I’ve been the executive director...A.C.F. is not like many other foundations that have a large endowment--like they start off with a lot of money. So we have to raise all the money that we operate on and we also raise the money that we do for grant making. So that has been the largest thing.
And then also not having a space of our own, you know, very similar to our grantees, not owning our own space. So whenever someone decides they're going to, you know, do something different with the space that we're using, we have to move.

So those have been the largest challenges that we faced over the years. And as far as how we’re approaching our difficulties, you know, we're strong. Small, but mighty. And our thinking in our mindset, you know, we keep pushing on. And I think that that goes back to that whole Appalachian spirit, you know: we are small, but we're mighty. And we're not going to let anything hold us down. We're gonna keep going. So that's kind of the spirit in which we approached it. And also looking at other ways of being creative, ways of raising money and creative space making. I think those are the things that we’ve done to face those difficulties.
We're holding our chin up basically.

Yeah, that's really important. I think that mindset-- the “small, but mighty.” Yeah.
So also in our research we came across some work that discussed some of the cultural aspects of Appalachia that have contributed to intergenerational poverty. From your experience in these communities, what have been the most effective strategies to fight intergenerational poverty.

I think it's when you get when you get people together. For a long time, there is a big trend of doing intergenerational work. It's when you have the elders of the community come together and sit down with the young folks in the community talking about history [and] sharing stories. You know, attempting not to repeat some of the same mistakes over and over again.

There's also a movement led by a group of young folk--like I think between ages of 14 and 30. It’s called the State Project, and it's a group of young organizers who are committed to developing themselves as the future leaders of Appalachia. They want to stay here. They don't want to, like so many folks have, you know, once they become of age, there's not a lot of opportunity for them. So a lot of people leave the area. So this group of young leaders--they're working to develop themselves, develop their skills, and work with others to create job opportunities for people in the area so they can stay and they can be a part of building a more sustainable, transformative Appalachia.
That's one of the specific things. And I think the strategy is right. We've got to have places for people to work. We have to have affordable places for people to live. We have to have environments and places where people feel it's safe to raise a family. So those are some of the things that people have been doing to make sure that this is a place where people can call home for many, many years. Making sure that people can see themselves in Appalachia. You know, as what I call, I'm a proud black mountain woman. I'm an Appalachian woman. And to be able to see myself in this culture and to know and own it as myself--that's important to me.

And there's a lot of other people that are doing the same thing. There's a group called Blacks From Appalachia that was recently watched--sort of highlight and tell the stories of the black folks that are here, you know, some of the people that have felt like they're missing. Apple Shock does a really good job of telling stories of people that are from here, you know, bringing out the things that make people proud of being able to call this place home. And Appalachian Voices is another publication--online publication--that does a really good job of highlighting and celebrating being here in Appalachia.

I think if we continue to celebrate and create opportunity, we're going to be OK. We’ll overcome all those stereotypes.

Yeah, definitely, that's really great to hear--about like the notion of seeing oneself in their culture and pride at home, you know, getting people together.

When you can feel comfortable in a place, you know, it really does help. And you know, that's one of the things a lot of people are doing. You know, young folks working with immigrant populations, like I said, the whole thing of working with, you know, the black folk that are here.
It's all very important to be able to feel oneself and to celebrate our contribution to the area. And it helps us want to invest more for the future of Appalachia.

Definitely, investing in future leaders is really important. And especially in today's fractious political climate, there's a lot misunderstood on the broader Appalachian region. So what are some of the key misconceptions in the communities and the economies that you guys work with in this region?

I guess some of the misconceptions go way back. You know, folks think that people of Appalachia are backward. They think that we all run around barefooted. And that misconception, you know, is extremely harmful because it paints a picture of an uneducated, not healthy community, and quite different. We're very proud, very strong folks.

What might not necessarily be such a misconception--because a lot of the items or the things that folks here were able to make a living at no longer exist. Like once upon a time, this was big coal country where a lot of people, if it wasn’t them, it was someone in their family that worked for a coal company. Well a lot of those jobs have gone away. I know that even in my family, you know, some of the folks who worked in mills, whether it was a hosiery mill, a knitting mill, a bread factory, a lot of those jobs just went away. And like in other parts of the United States, you know, once those jobs go away, you know, people that have worked for many generations doing those jobs--the jobs go away--what are they going to do?

So I think it's not so different than the rest of the world, like you look at Detroit, you know, the car industry went away and their economy tanked.

I think it's very similar to what happens all over the place. It’s just that some of the things that, you know, people once made money here, is just a little bit different. You know, it wasn't cars, it was a coal mine or the mills. And when those things went away, it really left a dent--a big hole for people. But people are looking at developing other economies. There's a big push right now, I know in Kentucky, you know, that was once a big, growing industry. They’re looking at growing hemp as a possibility for you know building up a sustainable economy. There are other places here that are looking at solar power, you know, being a resource for creating, you know, solar panels for, you know, the whole United States. That's another thing that we're doing to try to do to make our economy more robust.

So we have taken a bit of a hit but people are out there trying to find their way of developing the economy. And you see a lot of it in food, a lot of like farm-to-table type of models. People are doing that to rebuild a community or to rebuild the economy. And also looking at technology, given that I mean even this call today, the two of us are having a conversation but we're not even in the same room together, so people are trying to be all the more creative and innovative in building up the economy.

Vandana: Yeah definitely.

Margo: We're not that different from the rest of the world, really.

Yeah, it's clearly a very forward-looking community. I think that really resonates with that “small, but mighty” mindset.

Margo: Yeah

Vandana. Yeah. So and lastly what are your goals for the years to come and what can our listeners do to get involved?

What are our definitely are our goals for the future is one thing is A.C.F. is out there to help support, you know, grassroots organizations-- we ourselves are a grassroots organization--so looking at stabilizing ourself to make ourselves more sustainable. You like the “small, but mighty”-- we are small, but mighty but we also realize that we need to grow a little bit. So one of our goals is to grow the organization in a way where we can be even more sustainable for the future. So we definitely need people that are interested in doing this work to make that happen.

We're also looking at developing giving circles or sort of like donor-driven, individually-driven donor work. So people that we can put in the power in the hands of the community. And instead of having to rely on, you know, seeking money from outside the region we're looking at empowering the communities that we work in and see that they, too, have the power to fund and do the work that's important to them. They don't always have to go out of themselves to do the work.

So that is one of the things that--one of the priorities that we're working on is establishing those giving circles within the communities that we work because if every community had a monthly meeting and everybody put a dollar in the jar, at the end of the year, you’d be amazed at how much money that we have at the end year to do the work that is needed in your community. So that one of the things--one of our priorities is making that sustainable for the growth.

Vandana: Yeah, that's really wonderful. And thank you so much for taking the time to participate in our Impact Series Podcast. We're really excited to continue following Appalachian Community Fund and the many exciting developments to come.

Margo: Thank you.

Learn more about Appalachian Community Fund at their []website[/url] and check out their [url=]video[/url].

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