The STAY Project: empowering young leaders in Kentucky & beyond
It was “not only a wonderful way to come together face-to-face as Kentucky youth, it was a way to come together as youth from across Central Appalachia," KFTC member Elizabeth Sanders described the Summer Institute, hosted by STAY (Stay Together Appalachian Youth). "We shared our own stories and experiences, learned from one another, and brought our individual visions together to create a many-faceted approach for how to stay and thrive in the place we love.”
Last summer around a dozen young folks from communities all over east Kentucky joined their peers from throughout Central Appalachia for a four-day Summer Institute in Harlan County, filled with workshops, identity caucuses and skill shares celebrating the culture and history of community organizing in Appalachia. This spring, STAY held its annual LGTBQ gathering in Berea, bringing together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer youth from throughout the region to discuss what it means to be LGBTQ and living in the mountains. The idea for this gathering came out of an LGBTQ identity caucus at the STAY Summer Institute, and involved an entire weekend of community building and visioning of ways to better solidify the unique support they want and need as a community.
Building on these successes, around 40 young people from throughout the region, including over a dozen from Kentucky, gathered this past weekend for the 2012 STAY Summer Institute in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Dozens of people in attendance had never been to a STAY gathering before, but a family of young movers and shakers emerged over the few days.
"The best part of the STAY Summer Institute each year is the opportunity to meet and spend a few days getting to know other young, energized, interesting people from across Appalachia. During SSI, the entire Institute splits into three groups for half-day field trips to local communities and places of interest. During the last two years, I went on the field trips with the largest group of people. This was such an incredible way to get to know and develop friendships with at least a third (sometimes half!) of the entire camp. There's nothing that brings people together more quickly than spending half a day traveling in a van together, listening to music, joking around, and getting to visit awesome, interesting and beautiful parts of Appalachia that are often unknown to most of us."
from Charleston, WV
living in Letcher County
Jacqualine Benjie, a new KFTC member from Wallins Creek in Harlan County said, “I thought it wasn't possible to build strong relationships with people you have only been around for a few days, but that's not true. While I was at STAY I built relationships instantly, at the moment I said "Hello"! I knew by the feeling I got as soon as I got there this was something special. I connected with people because I knew they truly wanted to make a difference, and that was heart touching to know there were other youth that wanted to make a difference just like me.”
Young KFTC leaders facilitated workshops on the issues surrounding prison expansion in Central Appalachia and organizing to address it, environmental justice movements in the region, community philanthropy, mountain fighting music, and more. This year’s gathering was held at High Rock’s, a mostly off-the-grid campground, featuring solar and fire-heated showers, composting and evaporation toilets, and a village of hammocks. A new steering committee was elected and it's pretty clear that the upcoming year has a lot in store for STAY and this growing network of amazing visionaries.
The ‘Stay Together Appalachian Youth’ Project is a diverse regional network of young people throughout Central Appalachia who are working together to advocate for and actively participate in their home mountain communities of West Virginia, southwest Virginia, eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, and western North Carolina. STAY is currently a consortium supported by Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute in Whitesburg, KY, High Rocks in Hillsboro, WV, and the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, TN.