National Service Agency Announces $1.15 Million Investment in SOAR Initiative

Jun 6, 2016

New funding announced at SOAR Innovation Summit will support 52 AmeriCorps VISTAs; recruiting now for Kentuckians who want to serve

Pikeville, Ky. – The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) today announced it will invest more than $1.15 million to support the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative to improve the economy and quality of life in Eastern Kentucky, bringing the agency’s three-year investment to $3.5 million.

The funding will support third year of 52 full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to serve in the SOAR region.  Members will serve with dozens of local nonprofits to work on SOAR goals of job creation and retention, entrepreneurship and innovation, youth engagement, education success, and health and human services.  The members will recruit and manage volunteers, raise funds, start new programs, and build the capacity of local nonprofit and education organizations that tackle poverty in Kentucky’s Appalachian region.

The investment continues and expands the federal agency’s commitment to SOAR.  The agency’s three-year commitment totals $3.5 million, supporting 160 full-time VISTA members meeting needs of Eastern Kentucky communities.   This total includes more than $890,000 in AmeriCorps scholarships for members to use to pay for college or pay back student loans after their service.  About three-fourths of SOAR AmeriCorps members are from Eastern Kentucky.

“Thanks to the strong leadership of Chairman Hal Rogers and Governor Bevin, SOAR is making a difference in the lives of the people of Eastern Kentucky, and we are proud to be an early and consistent partner in this effort,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.  “We are thrilled to expand our support of SOAR with a third major investment of human capital through AmeriCorps.  We have already seen the impact of passionate, dedicated AmeriCorps members, and this new investment will ensure they will continue to get things done for Eastern Kentucky.”

“Our very first federal partner with this initiative was the Corporation for National and Community Service,” said Jared Arnett, SOAR Executive Director.  “Over the last two years AmeriCorps VISTA members have helped to strengthen the work of SOAR - doing hard work to lift up so many families and communities.  I speak for everyone on this stage when I say, thank you to the SOAR AmeriCorps VISTA members— three-quarters of whom are from right here in Southeastern Kentucky.”

Since 2014, 108 AmeriCorps VISTA members have helped to strengthen the work of SOAR.  These members have served 75,000 people living in Appalachian Kentucky.  Because of their service:

  • 25,736 adults and youth have received job training and/or placement services
  • 700 new job opportunities have been made available
  • 70,365 children and adults have received health education, or have gained access to health care and affordable foods
  • 4,337 Veterans and military families have received assistance and support
  • $4.5 million in grants and in-kind support has been raised for Eastern Kentucky

The SOAR initiative was launched by Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers in late 2013, after a downturn in the coal market exacerbated historic challenges in eastern Kentucky related to unemployment and poverty.  SOAR is intended to help the region develop and put into action new locally-oriented strategies to attack persistent challenges. 

Kentucky Campus Compact, based at Northern Kentucky University, is leading the initiative with guidance from President Wayne Andrews of Morehead State University.  In the second and third years of the project, Berea College also is serving as a sponsor of AmeriCorps VISTA members.  The members will be placed directly with SOAR and its working groups, and in nonprofits, local agencies, and higher education institutions in Eastern Kentucky working towards the goals of SOAR.  The CNCS funding supports the VISTA members and Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards for members who complete their service to use to pay for college or pay back student loans.

Today’s announcement is part of the Administration’s larger focus on Eastern Kentucky including through its Promise Zones, TechHire, POWER, and other initiatives.  The Eastern Kentucky Promise Zone, compromising 8 of the 54 counties that are part of SOAR, is focused on economic development. Five of the AmeriCorps VISTA members serve with the Promise Zone.

The SOAR funding builds on CNCS’ existing investment of $17 million in communities across Kentucky. These federal dollars leverage an additional $9.6 million in local resources. This funding supports 5,480 AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers serving at 1,150 locations in the state. These national service participants tutor and mentor children, support veterans and military families, respond to disasters, promote economic development, recruit and manage volunteers, and more.

Recruitment is now underway for individuals to make the 12-month commitment to serve in the SOAR VISTA project.  Members will receive a living allowance, an end-of-term benefit of either a $5,775 education award or a $1,500 cash award, health benefits, training, and a great opportunity for professional growth and networking.  Focusing on local recruitment, this project demonstrates the impact of Kentuckians helping Kentuckians. 

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