Non-profit provides lifeboat funding to schools impacted by EKY flooding

·5 min read

Aug. 27—PIKEVILLE — Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR) has distributed more than $60,000 to schools in Breathitt, Knott, and Letcher counties through its Eastern Kentucky Student Relief Fund.

SOAR, a regional and independent non profit organization, is providing long-term advocacy and support to K-12 schools that have been impacted by the devastating floods in eastern Kentucky.

SOAR's Eastern Kentucky Student Relief Fund will provide resources and economic support to 13 counties that FEMA has declared eligible for federal assistance funding.

"We were starting to think about the long term recovery and the secondary and tertiary phases that were going to pop up once we got past the initial cleanup and crisis phases. There's some places that are still in that, unfortunately. So our minds immediately went to K through 12 to our public schools. There were some schools that got completely wiped out — some even got wiped out last year in flooding," Executive Director of SOAR Colby Hall stated.

According to Hall, SOAR's primary funding focus will be to remain responsive to the needs of schools and students affected by flooding.

"While our efforts in this disbursement are focused on schools, the needs of our students in the weeks and months to come will be important as they transition to school and housing arrangements," Hall added. "This is just the tip of the iceberg, and we are committed to supporting students and families during this recovery."

Working closely with local school systems and family resource centers, SOAR is working to support students by purchasing items that are vital to returning to classrooms — including household appliances, bedding, internet access, rental assistance, and gas cards (transportation to and from school).

According to Joshua Ball, Chief Operating Officer of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc., the Eastern Kentucky Student Support Fund has already distributed more than $60,000 to affected schools this past week.

Toyota Tsusho, an East Kentucky Partner of SOAR, made a $50,000 donation to start the relief efforts, a press release noted.

"Kentucky is Toyota Tsusho's home, and many of our employees, call Eastern Kentucky home," Toyota Tsusho Senior Vice President Mike Lavender said. "We are proud to team up with SOAR to help afflicted students/families in Eastern Kentucky get back to school and back to normal."

The initial breakdown and distribution of these funds from the EKY Student Support Fund are:

Hindman Elementary School, located in Knott County, received $35,750 to purchase 90 laptops to replace those destroyed by the flooding.

Letcher County Schools received $14,840 to replace 56 Chromebooks destroyed by the flooding.

Riverside Christian School, located in Breathitt County, received $9.850 to purchase to computers, laptops as well as networking equipment that was destroyed by flooding.

According to SOAR officials, when the organization reached out to eastern Kentucky school officials to discuss specific areas of need, educators said access to technology was a primary concern. Flooding devastated many local school buildings — some which will not even be open for the first part of school year.

"We thought there was going to be a pretty big need, but we reached out and talked to some superintendents, principals and even talked to IT folks that deal with a lot of the technology," Hall said. "We wanted to focus in on specific needs that help kids get back into the classroom... That's the first place that we're going to start."

SOAR focuses on the long term development in eastern Kentucky and advocates for the ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) mandated counties of eastern Kentucky, which covers a 54 county region— including Madison County. The SOAR organization primarily centralizes their focus on the most in-need Kentuckians, which at the moment, include many coal mining communities. This organization provides various community resources within the region to help organizations, businesses, and individuals with education and economic development.

"Most of our work is in the counties that exhibit the highest levels of economic distress... We focus on the the ares of Kentucky that need the most help," Hall said. "... The body of our work resides south of I-64 and east of I-75, and even more east than that."

Within the resources they provide, they help with connecting people who are seeking assistance with grant organizations and funding opportunities that align with the goals, outcomes and overall missions of the projects that need funding.

Mainly federal funding via:

Abandoned Mine Lands Economic Revitalization (AMLER)

Appalachian Region Commission (ARC)

US Economic Development administration (EDA)

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

US Dept of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)

Small Business Administration (SBA)

Congressman Hal Rogers, who serves as SOAR's Founding Co-Principal Officer, said the Eastern Kentucky Student Relief Fund addresses the fundamental needs of schools, students, and families in a unique way.

"SOAR's Student Relief Fund is compassion in action with a dollar-for-dollar impact on our students where they need it the most," Congressman Rogers said in a release. "As we survey the multitude of needs across the region, SOAR is targeting technology losses in schools that were heavily damaged by the flood. This investment will ensure that our students are not lagging behind due to computers and laptops that were destroyed by mud and water. I applaud SOAR for helping students get back to school as soon as possible with these donations."

If a school located in a FEMA disaster-declared county needs help, please email students@soar-ky.org.

If you would like to donate, you can do so online at www.soar-ky.org, by mail at SOAR, c/o Student Relief Fund, 137 Main Street, Suite 300, Pikeville, KY 51501, or by phone at 606-766-1160.