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Promise Zone Profiles

Devyn Creech - Harlan County

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.”

Monica and Scott Clouse - Knox County
















By Casey Lance, EKU Class of 2017

Monica and Scott Clouse are a married couple dedicated to showing the beauty of Barbourville, Kentucky. Between the wilderness adventures, Union College, and Appalachian heritage, there is much to offer from this southern small town.

“We love seeing our town flourish. We love seeing our town gather together and show our southern hospitality,” said Monica.

Barbourville has a rich culture in history, Appalachian heritage, crafters and musicians. With Monica and Scott’s help, these artisans can showcase their talents by holding events such as the BBQ Festival, Union College Redbud Festival of Appalachian Culture, and Knox Street Thunder.

When asked about being a college town, Scott said, “It’s a great mix of generations coming together to develop events for any age or any level of excitement.” Outdoor recreation such as hiking, canoeing, and mountain biking has a strong presence with all ages throughout the town.

Monica and Clouse are very active in their community and have regularly attended SOAR and Promise Zone meetings, so naturally, Sandi Curd has recognized them for shaping our region.

“We are committed to seeing our region grow. With both of our jobs, they give us the opportunity to give back to our community, establish programs for growth, and reach out to people like Sandi, to give Barbourville the chance to be seen for what it is,” said Scott Clouse. “It’s one of the friendliest and welcoming communities in Kentucky.”

“We bring a different type of adventure and history, that we want to share with the world,” said Monica.

“From the first house in Kentucky, the first college in the mountains, three of the most historic trails in our nation, to the oldest continuous running festival in the state, Barbourville is where history comes to life,” said Scott.

Geoff Marietta - Harlan County

By Kaitlin Smith, EKU Class of 2018                                  

Most people that grow up in a small-town dream of the day they will be able to leave and make their mark in a big city. Geoff Marietta knew he could make just as large of an impact in a small community. Marietta grew up in small mining town in Minnesota, but he now calls Harlan home.

Marietta is the executive director at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County—a 102-year-old nonprofit organization. Pine Mountain serves as a National Historic Landmark and specializes in environmental education programs for grades K-12, summer camps, those with disabilities, and preschoolers. He is passionate about Pine Mountain and the region. “Pine Mountain represents the future economic development of Eastern Kentucky and the United States,” said Marietta.

Pine Mountain Settlement School offers various courses in environmental education, ranging anywhere from forest ecology to groundwater protection. Environmental education is a topic that is especially important today. With pollutant and energy crises on the rise, many Americans believe environmental education is crucial. A 2005 study by the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation revealed that over 95 percent of American adults believed environmental sciences should be taught in K-12 schools.

Marietta handles all the legal, financial and human capital aspects of the school. He is certain that Pine Mountain Settlement School will continue to expand, because of their expertise in new economics. Not only is Marietta confident in Pine Mountain, he is confident in all Eastern Kentucky. Marietta believes that the people, beautiful scenery, and rich culture are among the main reasons for investing in Eastern Kentucky.

“One thing that sticks out in my mind is that he tries to bring others up…he wants the best for the people and the region” said Preston Jones, Sustainability Program Director at Pine Mountain Settlement School.

Marietta’s contagious spirit and uplifting nature is not only shaping Pine Mountain Settlement School, but the future of our region.

Andy Salmons - Whitley County

By Claudia Gayle Patton, EKU Class of 2016

Corbin’s economic heart beats vigorously, thanks in part to efforts of Andy Salmons.

Andy Salmons received a message from a friend filming a documentary on poverty in Brazil. Needing a helping hand, the friend asked Salmons to devote the next two years to the project. Advocating for the less fortunate was the beginning of what has become a very successful and responsible journey into leadership and social entrepreneurship. After five years in South America, Salmons returned to his family home in Corbin.

Corbin, a medium-sized Southcentral Kentucky town, is known for Cumberland Falls, the Moonbow, and the original Kentucky Fried Chicken.  The inner-city area didn’t thrive like it had before he left for Brazil. Jobs and industries had naturally moved closer to I-75.  Salmons discovered that the businesses in downtown Corbin had only been receiving $15,000 of help and tax breaks – collectively. Building and store fronts were at a 40 percent vacancy. 

“The dedicated downtown commerce was surviving, but needed to thrive.  There was a strong, and real sense of faith in possibilities, and a clear path to help my community. I wanted to jump in” said Salmons.

Though he has yet to finish his degree, Salmons drew on the formal education he did have. He did his research, and “bloomed” ideas with community leaders for new and sustainable businesses and partnerships with local farmers, musicians and craftsman.  He wanted to create jobs, and develop downtown Corbin into a place for social gatherings, not just for locals, but for travelers on I-75.

“I established the You & Me Coffee shop in 2012, where I could use regionally grown produce to make great food and baked goods to enhance the coffee house experience," said Salmons. "It was also an opportunity to provide a platform for resident and regional talent of all kinds.”

You & Me took off, bringing with it a two-thirds growth of city focused business.  This growth has steadily continued after Salmons. With the help from his friends, he launched an inspiring social media campaign.  He encourages others to come to the heart of the town for food and shopping, when you finish, stay for the live music.

Salmons took the position of downtown director, another opportunity to impact Corbin. While in this leadership position, Salmons accomplished a lot. The budget for municipality development and aid grew from $15,000 to $250,000. Store front retail vacancy is now below 9 percent. There are plans to renovate the upper floors of the downtown buildings for residency. In 2013, Salmons teamed with entrepreneur friends to open a farmer’s market. It has been such a draw for commerce and fellowship, there are plans for a year-round venue.

Salmons believes in having a “direction” for community evolution and success. Using his leadership skills and entrepreneurial drive, Salmons continues to work alongside supportive local officials and eager citizens to better his hometown. The next community project… a bike path!  Salmons wants to make Corbin the “coolest place in south Kentucky.”



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