By Annie Zomaya, EKU Class of 2017

Former AmeriCorps VISTA, Devyn Creech, has seen every facet of Eastern Kentucky, from the beautiful Appalachian overlooks and cozy porches to the devastating effects of economic hardship and rampant drug abuse. Through her former VISTA position, Creech has worked to improve the quality of life in her beloved hometown not by ignoring its problems, but by talking about them. Through the power of art and conversation, Creech has helped shape our Appalachian region.

Creech has worked on several projects with Higher Ground, part of the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College. One of the larger projects Creech worked on was a radio show called SHEW BUDDY!

“Some of the harder-to-swallow parts of my community are the drug problems, the declining economic state and the pride that comes with being a hard mountain person,” Creech said. “Shew Buddy! provides an opportunity to talk about these issues.”

SHEW BUDDY! would not be possible without the contributions from Eastern Kentucky’s most valuable asset: its very own people.

“The people [of Eastern Kentucky] are the most caring and genuine people I have ever had the pleasure of associating with,” Creech said. “They trust one another to take care of each other.”

The radio show represents the real people of Appalachia through stories, poetry, monologues, and interviews. Creech acknowledges that there is a kind of “dysmorphia” about the region, particularly among the youth. Through this talk show program, Creech helps take back the stereotypical narrative for the people of Eastern Kentucky by allowing them to tell their own stories.

Programs like Shew Buddy! and other Higher Ground projects have helped give Appalachian youth a sense of pride concerning their culture and hometown. Working alongside Creech on these projects was Alexia Ault, another AmeriCorps VISTA.

In addition to Shew Buddy!, Creech and Ault worked with the Higher Ground staff to plan several conferences in the summer of 2016 to make Harlan County a destination for events that support the local economy. Roughly 200 visitors from Harlan County were predicted to attend these events.

“Harlan County can be a destination for visitors and it can be—and is—a fun and exciting place to live,” Ault said.

As an Appalachian youth herself, Creech said getting involved with Higher Ground made her fall in love with the region and taught her that she doesn’t have to be ashamed of her roots.

“This region has made me proud. It has taught me many lessons like that hard work breaks you down but pays off,” Creech said. “This region and its people have made me who I am, charismatic and full of life and love, and I cannot thank it enough for that.”