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Promise Zone Profiles

Annie Zomaya - Harlan County


By Kelly Arnold, EKU Class of 2018

Annie Zomaya saw her internship as more than just a resume builder and educational requirement. She had a connection and passion for the region she calls home.

As a former Eastern Kentucky University public relations intern and Appalachian native, Zomaya knows first-hand the conditions and challenges that people in the region face.

Zomaya's responsibilities as the EKU Office of Regional Stewardship intern were, promoting the missions of Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) and the East Kentucky Leadership Foundation. This included, enhancing and maintaining a social media presence, website design, writing feature stories, attending meetings, conferences, managing content, and promoting events.

During the internship, Zomaya had the opportunity to collaborate with professionals from all parts of Kentucky. Although these leaders and innovators are different in their own unique ways, their shared passion for shaping the Appalachian region united them.

While many people credit the region for its beautiful scenery, Zomaya acknowledges a different kind of beauty, the people of the region.

“Eastern Kentucky is not just a beautiful place," Zomaya said. "It contains beautiful people.”

Zomaya says her first internship with It's Good to Be Young in the Mountains primed her for her position at the EKU Office of Regional Stewardship.

Zomaya worked to promote the 29th annual 2017 East Kentucky Leadership Foundation Conference last spring at Eastern Kentucky University. She was also part of the EKU communication team that provided coverage of the conference for the past three years.

Zomaya says she is excited for the changes that are shaping the region. She has witnessed the early stages of a flourishing ecosystem, because of the dedicated efforts of people from across the commonwealth to better the Appalachian region. For the past several years, groups of visionaries like Annie have worked diligently to bring change to the region through innovation, socioeconomic, educational, health, and entrepreneurial avenues. Through these avenues, the SOAR program seeks to create various opportunities for the Appalachian people. Furthermore, creating a thriving ecosystem to these impoverished regions.

Annie says, to have been a part of a group of people who collaborate to bring about such changes was thrilling in and of itself, and was one of the most rewarding aspects of her time with SOAR.

“I like meeting like-minded people,” Zomaya said. "More so than just shaping the region is the people, who are at the heart of what they are coming together to help and to enhance."

 “The reason why I’m so passionate about Appalachian activism is that once I see the beauty of the region and its people, [it gives] me a drive to build a better Appalachia.”

Vanda Rice - Clay County

By Brianna Bell, EKU Class of 2018

Being told her county was going to die was enough for Clay County resident, Vanda Rice, and her three friends to stand up and make a change. The rebirth of Clay County began when community expert, Dr. Vaughn Grisham, founding director of the McLean Institute, attended a city council meeting and toured the county. Not very impressed with what he saw, he stressed to the council something needed to happen or else the county would die. Grisham suggested capitalizing on Clay County’s already-established lures for revitalization of the community.

Clay County is credited as the “Land of Swinging Bridges,” and Manchester is recognized as a state trail town. The county is rich with ATV, hiking, biking, horse and river trails, and is home to more than a dozen swinging bridges

Rice and three others began networking with the Brushy Fork Institute to develop a plan to mend Clay County. A small grant from the institute cheered the formation of the “Stay in Clay” initiative, which encourages locals—to stay local. Stay in Clay is a volunteer-based organization that has made strides to revamp the community. The faith-based group that was first funded by Unite is now a government-supported organization.

Stay in Clay will celebrate its five-year anniversary in September. Since 2013, the group has fashioned a grasp on non-traditional activities for all ages. A folk theatre group called Monkey Dumplings encourages children to express themselves through impromptu performances that are inspired by the county's history. Stay in Clay also touts River Fest, a kayak race on Goose Creek Bridge, also known as "Bridge to Our Future" by the locals, as well as the two-day Salt Works Appalachian Memorial Day Weekend Festival.

Stay in Clay visions a 40-acre campsite that will propose free archery, kayaking, camping, biking and marksmanship for anyone interested in outdoor activities.

According to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, only one in three children are physically active every day. Stay in Clay and other like groups across the region are shaping the future to improve health, community engagement and heritage.

Students' Profiles to Promote Promise Zone

The Office of Regional Stewardship at Eastern Kentucky University is continuing its work within the University’s service region and Promise Zone with a new project called Promise Zone Profiles. Three EKU public relations student interns will work with high school students in eight counties to find untold stories of success and publish them on social media and the Promise Zone website.  

With the help of some grant funding from Brushy Fork Institute, through a larger funding stream from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the interns will spread good news stories about the area and its citizenry. The profiles project, inclusive of a social media and web campaign, will capture regional and personal histories to provide context for the continued growth in the culture, artisan and crafts skills and knowledge that helped create such resilient people and places, with a goal of eroding negative stereotypes.

The interns will work as consultants with high schools within the Promise Zone, editing and revising student profile pieces and overseeing photography that will be used to spread the everyday success stories found throughout the area. The profiles will “engage students to tell their stories and take pride in their heritage,” shaping the image of the people and places of the Promise Zone.

During this summer and heading into the fall semester, Office of Regional Stewardship Director Melissa Newman and Outreach Specialist Maggie Bill, along with student interns, are working with Sandi Curd, Promise Zone coordinator, to spotlight the achievements and successes of people in the Promise Zone, which encompasses eight counties in southeastern Kentucky: Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Perry and Whitley.

Newman, who over the years has placed interns throughout eastern Kentucky through EKU’s Office of Regional Stewardship, is excited that the project fulfills regional needs while helping students become more competitive in the job market.

"Our students are gaining valuable experience while working in EKU's service region," Newman said. "This experience has already proven to be a win, for both the student and the employers. Students get better jobs upon graduation and leave the University with amazing portfolios, and the interns’ employers gain the expertise they need from EKU students."

The Promise Zone profiles will serve four purposes: to inspire others to do good works and further spread a vision of hope rather than defeatism; to show the true face of people who live in The Promise Zone; to market The Promise Zone to the rest of the world through the best advertising possible; and to engage high school administrators and students in the Zone with helping to shape the story of their own communities.

“We are excited to work with these students to tell the often overlooked stories from the promise zone,” Bill said. “This project is unique in that it provides experience that can be used on resumes and as portfolio pieces for both the high school student and the college intern.”

The interns are well versed in all aspects surrounding a successful media campaign and project management, which is why they were chosen to consult and lead this project. Jared Barnard, Kelly Arnold and Kamille Johnson will collaborate, using skills they have developed at EKU, to make each profile a social media and internet success.

Barnard will receive a bachelor’s degree this fall in creative public relations with an emphasis in music industry. Recently, Barnard interned with Epic Proportions Tour in Phoenix, taking unsigned bands on tour, writing press releases and managing social media accounts so the bands could build a fan base and stay connected with the media. He was also involved in many other internships and supporting organizations.

Arnold is a public relations major, graduating in Spring 2018. She has developed important skills from her education at Eastern and past internships, such as writing, research and effective communication. Arnold has held internships in the Small Business Development Center and the Center for Economic Development and gained additional experience at significant conferences at EKU, such as the 2015 Kentucky Education in Economic Engines Conference and the 2016 East Kentucky Leadership Foundation Conference.

In May 2015, Johnson received an EKU Work Seals certificate, and went on to earn Dean’s List honors in Fall 2016. She plans to use her strong social media presence to help boost the awareness and effectiveness of the Promise Zone project. Her personal Instagram account totals nearly 3,500 followers.

Regional Stewardship staff and Curd are also excited to work with Dr. Jim Gleason, associate professor in EKU’s Department of Communication. Gleason, who teaches public relations, will serve as a consultant on the project, assisting students on various campaign plans for the project.

“The Promise Zone Profiles project is a great opportunity for our public relations students, both for the experiences they’ll gain and for the valuable contacts they’ll make across EKU’s service area,” said Gleason. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”



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