“Everybody’s got hope; you just got to bring it out”
In 2016, The Greater Clark Foundation joined with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation to talk about bringing back life to the Winchester and Clark County, Kentucky. Last week, they released their findings in a report that can be found here. The two groups spent three months talking with residents in 10 different neighborhoods across Winchester and Clark County. They hosted panels with 8-15 people, where they talked about community efforts to strengthen their homes.
The findings in the report provide a glimpse of the unique issues facing many rural Kentucky communities, and a potential pathway for those communities to grow from the ground up.
Here is an outline and expansion on some of the problems the community is dealing with:
Divisions within the community: Divisions over race, religion and culture exist. Antiquated ideas about community structure have forced significant parts of neighborhoods to fall apart.
Drug abuse and broken homes: Drug abuse, single family homes and a breakdown in structure creates wider cost for the community. Single mothers with little hope have children who are struggling in schools. Drug abuse has devastated not just the poor, but the poor and rich, the young and old, and every race and religion.
Low citizen morale and expectations: The report describes the community as having an “ingrained negative narrative” Because of this, morale is low and optimism for the future even lower. Expectations for student success and even family success are stagnant. Kids refer to their home town simply as “Deadchester”.
Ineffective communal organizations: Enthusiasm in Winchester and Clark County is not completely absent, however most efforts fail to get pass the talking point. Many of those interviewed felt that the community meetings are about as effective as anything they could get done.
On a positive note, the community acknowledges there must be a change. They must start thinking as a whole, not merely as individuals, and in some cases they have started doing this. The County Health Department is the best example of a whole community effort to focus on problems. Not only has the department worked to curbed substance abuse and obesity problems, but has reached to the people and sparked interest in a new popular Farmers’ Market. They have sponsored bike and walking paths plans to help increase the health of their people while giving kids more safe activities. This report demonstrates how effective motivated communities can be when they have the right resources. People in these communities do not want to give up on their homes; they do not want to keep this culture of complacence.
The problems that the report outlined are familiar to many Kentucky communities. Unfortunately, many do not know where to start in addressing critical issues. Winchester and Clark counties serve as an example of communities taking control, and working from the ground up to solve problems, instead of depending on state or federal interventions. It works as a model for rural Kentucky and the rest of the state in driving community based solutions.