Exactly what would “Making America Great Again” look like to Kentuckians? I have a pretty good idea it might look a little something like this: investing in entrepreneurial and business development to strengthen Appalachia’s economy; improving the education, knowledge, skills and health of residents; investing in critical infrastructure like broadband, transportation and water/wastewater systems; strengthening community and economic development by leveraging the Appalachian region’s natural and cultural heritage assets; and building the capacity and skills of current and next-generation leaders and organizations to innovate, collaborate and advance community economic development.
If that sounds like an excellent plan to you, you’ll be happy to learn that a move is already underway to accomplish those very things. The Appalachian Regional Commission, whose 2016-2020 strategic plan includes all of the above, is an agency established many years ago which focuses on economic growth in 420 counties throughout the Appalachian region. It encompasses all of West Virginia, parts of Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia among others. It receives the funding to do all this through the federal budget, $119 million.
According to the organization’s website, https://www.arc.gov, each year the commission provides funding for several hundred projects in the Appalachian Region in a wide range of program areas including asset-based development, community infrastructure, education and training, energy, entrepreneurship and business development, health, tourism and development, transportation and highways, telecommunications and more.
One of its programs, Distressed Counties Program, has provided funds for the region’s poorest counties since 1983. Kentucky counties constitute the largest contingency in the program with 37 counties being represented, including my very own county of residence, Powell County. The program began in 1983 by providing badly needed public services like water and wastewater facilities and then in 2000 it expanded to include community workshops and activities to encourage community learning and leadership, as well as a telecommunications and information technology initiative. The technology initiative provides access and infrastructure, education and training, E-commerce, and technology-sector job creation.
An example of how the commission’s health initiative is helping Kentuckians is a program called Bluegrass Child Advocacy Outreach. The program arose out of the high incidence of reported child abuse cases in many counties in Eastern Kentucky. The commission contracted with the Children’s Advocacy Center of the Bluegrass, Inc. to fund the project which is designed to recruit and train physicians so the victims of child sexual abuse receive the medical and psychological treatment they deserve and to provide telemedicine equipment for consultations at remote sites to make more exams and services available to abused children.
A couple of other ways Kentucky is benefiting from the Appalachian Regional Commission is the Kentucky Artisan Heritage Trails program which created a driving tour from I-75 to cultural heritage attractions and artisan businesses that bring in tourists, helping to promote economic growth; and the Kentucky Pride program that was established in 1997 by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and Gen. James Bickford to combat Eastern Kentucky’s pollution problems. It helps alleviate problems such as illegal trash dumps and raw sewage from straight pipes and failing septic systems that contaminate streams, all of which deter from Kentucky’s tourism business.
Does this program help the coal miners, you may ask? Why yes it does. They created what they call an “energy blueprint” for Appalachia to provide the framework for the promotion of energy-related job opportunities through the stimulation of sustainable energy production, efficiency and innovation efforts in the region. Let’s face it, folks, we all know that coal is no longer a sustainable energy source and we must move on. Utilizing that knowledge, the commission created a program to, in part, train and educate on energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean fossil energy production. In other words, helping coal miners learn new trades and skills still within the energy field, but outside the dwindling coal industry.
Given all this information, you just may be under the impression that Trump is indeed keeping his promises to the voters of Kentucky, right? Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but you’d better think again. According to an article in USA Today written by Gregory Korte, Trump’s new budget is eliminating hundreds of programs and agencies throughout the country. Of course, this elimination will be time-consuming and cannot be done right away. However, his first budget proposal will eliminate 62 programs and agencies right off the bat.
Have you guessed it yet? Yes, one of the first to be eliminated/cut from government funding is The Appalachian Regional Commission. So, is Trump keeping his promise to his Kentucky voters? Looks like that’s a big fat NO to me!
And the beat goes on…
I open the door and step inside.
Mommy Mommy! You’re home! I missed you! I love you! I’m so glad you’re home! Let me see you! I’m so happy now! Why did you leave me for so long? I love you, I love you, and I love you! I’m going in the other room now Mommy and play, or maybe nap a bit. But I’m happy because I know you are here, just a room away, and I will come in and check from time to time just to make sure you are still here. I know I’m safe when you are home, Mommy. I know I’ll always be taken care of as long as I have you… and I know that you love me too! Mommy, you’re the best and I will love you forever!!!
This is what I come home to every single day. This is what makes my long day at work worthwhile. How did I ever live without him, I wonder. How in the world did I spend my time before he arrived? I just cannot imagine my life without him in it. My whole world has been such a wonderful place since this sweet boy came along.
“How was your day today?”
“Anything you want to talk about?”
“Well…I…okay, son.” I begin preparing dinner for my 18-year-old son.
“What about you my little Biscuit? Are you hungry? Come here and let Mommy see you again!” I pick up my little ball of fluff and bury my cheek in his hair. He kisses my face over and over again. My sweet baby! My little Yorkie! He’s simply the best!
Yep, there’s nothing like the unconditional love of man’s best friend!
As a lifelong resident of Powell County, I know firsthand what kind of people call Eastern Kentucky their home. Many of them are down-to-earth, friendly, and welcoming. Good-hearted people who would give you their last dime if they thought you needed it more than they did. The kind of people who would gladly take you in and provide you with warmth and a good meal to fill your stomach on a cold winter’s day. It is exactly their charitable and easygoing nature that makes the fact that they overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump all the more gut-wrenching and incomprehensible.
Most of the folks in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky are coal miners or descendants of coal miners, or I should say they were coal miners before the industry came grinding to a virtual halt. Several of them suffer from black lung and fought to no avail for many years to receive benefits from the coal companies to whom they had given so much of themselves. They didn’t ask for a lot, a little help to pay for their medical treatment and a meager income so that they and their families could survive.
Finally, a modicum of relief came in the form of the Affordable Care Act, which mandated a presumption of total disability for any miner who had worked at least 15 years in the mining industry and who suffered from black lung or any other totally disabling respiratory impairment. It also provided automatic entitlement for eligible survivors of miners who had themselves received benefits.
In stepped Kentucky’s Obama-hating politicians who took full advantage of that knowledge and bombarded them with deceitful and continuous propaganda convincing them that ObamaCare was a terrible, horrible thing.
As a result, Eastern Kentuckians were especially fooled by the outright lies propagated by our president-elect during his campaign. Given their situation, it isn’t hard to understand why they would be so gullible. They probably would have voted for Donald Duck if he had promised them the resurrection of the industry that provided them with the only kind of work they know how to do.
Unfortunately, with each passing day that brings to light another outrageous and dangerous move made by Donald Trump, it’s becoming more and more apparent that an animated fictional character actually might have been the better Donald for the job. Some of us have known that all along.
In a recent CNN report in which several Eastern Kentuckians were interviewed regarding their struggles and their decision to vote for Trump, they revealed that they are now worried they may come to regret that decision. Unfortunately, the damage has been done. They will now be forced to live with the consequences of their ill-advised choice. It remains to be seen just what kind of life that will be. If Donald Trump actually keeps his promise to annihilate the Affordable Care Act, I fear the future will be dire indeed for the folks of Eastern Kentucky.
It was the happiest year of my childhood. I wasn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea. I’m still not, for that matter, forty-one years later. That was the year I found my soulmate. Not in the sense you may be thinking. Not the male female spend forever together variety. No, this was the other soulmate. The one true friend, always there for you, got your back, mess with her and I’ll kick your ass, break her heart and I’ll break your face, kind of soulmate.
I loved that girl! Couldn’t wait to get to school each day. Could barely sit still waiting for those clock hands to signal time for recess! What a blast we had! We two divas, pop princesses, future famous girl band, dancing and singing our hearts out. Belting out the songs we heard on the radio in the good old year of 1975. Nevermind I had a terrible voice; I didn’t know it! We performed as if we were center stage. As if all the record companies in the world were watching and thousands of fans were right there in that moment. We twirled and sang for any and all kids curious enough to watch, but mostly for ourselves. That girl got me. She knew my dream! She knew it because she had it as well. She had that same fire that burned hot inside of me inside of her! She was the only person I had ever met who understood the passion, understood me. No one has since.
Naturally, there came a day when the short time we spent together at school just wasn’t enough. A sleepover was in order! Whose house? It didn’t really matter. I don’t remember how, but we ended up choosing hers. She asked and her parents agreed. I could spend the night the coming weekend. I rushed off the bus in a heightened state of excitement! I bolted through the door yelling, “Mom, Mom, can I stay all night with Cynthia Friday night.” She replied that she didn’t see why not, but we’d have to ask my dad. As soon as he got home, I didn’t waste a second. I remember well the strange look that came across his face. He hesitated for a moment and said, “We’ll see”. I didn’t make much of it. I knew my dad. He was a pushover where I was concerned. He would let me.
My excitement continued throughout the week. The plan was to ride Cynthia’s bus home with her the next day. It was all set. Then came the bad news. It was bedtime. I had barely settled in when my door opened and the light came on. There stood Dad, looking at me with that same expression, maybe even more intense. I waited for him to speak. The pause was much longer this time. I used the opportunity to study his face. He looked pained, somber, conflicted, but mostly distressed. This man, an honest and good man, born in 1928, raised in small-town, Kentucky (population ninety-nine percent a whiter shade of pale) at that moment appeared to be wrestling with some truly diabolical inner demons. At last, he spoke. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I’d rather you stay home”. Devastated, I whined, “Why?” “I just do. She can spend the night with us.” Well that’s ok then, no big deal. Either way was fine. As long as we were together, where didn’t matter.
Cynthia never spent the night with me. Things changed after that. Sixth grade rolled around and we entered middle school. Fifth graders from three elementary schools merged into one grade. Students were placed in classes alphabetically and we never shared the same class again. For that reason, we drifted apart, lost to each other forever. At least that’s what I tell myself.
The Wall has weakened again. The one that protects the fragile part of me. The one I continually build and rebuild. Every day I place a brick, strengthening the fortress of protection. A small act of kindness here, a glimmer of humanity there. Hope for the human race sparks and spreads slowly throughout my being. Until that one day arrives. The one I have spoken of before. It comes unbidden, unfailingly, time after time to tear it all down once more. At first, a tiny crack. A bit of evil in the world, an act of cruelty, a glimpse into the dark souls of the humans who possess them. The crack widens. A young, innocent child dies of cancer. A dog is doused in lighter fluid and set ablaze to die a horrible death. A goat is thrown from a bridge, a mother bakes her toddler in the oven, terrorists bomb civilians somewhere, a man feeds a live, sweet little puppy to his pet python, a woman scalds a toddler in a bathtub of boiling water then puts him to bed to die a slow painful death form shock and fluid loss. Horrific headlines, one after another. Waves and waves mount, growing taller and taller. Crashing, smashing, bashing the sanctuary wall. Shattering it into a million tiny pieces. Flooding, destroying, washing away happiness. Engulfing all within its rushing, soul crushing, angry roar.