Forty-seven civic and community leaders from 28 counties in the Appalachian region have graduated from the first-ever BRIGHT Leadership Kentucky Program, including Tyler Johnson, Richmond's communication and community development coordinator.
BRIGHT Kentucky is designed to build the capacity of next-generation leaders, ages 20-40, in the Appalachian region of the state to innovate, collaborate and advance community and economic development in the region, the release states.
"In the program, we are learning about what everyone is doing and finding a way to connect to support our region to ultimately see how we can improve eastern Kentucky. … It's good to see others in the area and how we can all improve the region," Johnson said.
He said in order to participate in the program, an applicant must live in an Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) county, fill out an application and provide two recommendations.
Upon their selection, participants went through five sessions, which began in July, traveling all across the commonwealth. Once a month, the group would go to different parts of the region including Pikeville, Corbin, Somerset, Richmond, Berea, Morehead and Frankfort.
"They were pretty long days, but they were great," Johnson said. "There was a lot of neat stuff we got to see and do, and there were great people we heard about leadership."
Johnson's main takeaway from participating in BRIGHT was the networking opportunity he and the 46 other members were given during the program.
"The BRIGHT program is a call to action," said Elmer Whitaker, former Leadership Kentucky Board chair and BRIGHT program visionary and donor. "Effective leadership requires action and is best measured by results. The participants have been challenged to identify various projects to improve their region and exercise ethical leadership and regional collaboration to render success. Given the quality leaders in the program and the growth obtained through BRIGHT, we are certain their actions will have positive results."
For Johnson, there were two aspects among his favorites of his time spent in the program. The first was the trip the group spent in Richmond, during which they were able to visit the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts to hear from EKU representative David McFaddin and Mayor Robert Blythe.
"It was great to experience Richmond along with 48 other people in the program," he said.
His second favorite part of his participation was touring the Toyota Plant in Georgetown, which he encourages anyone to go see if they get the opportunity.
"It was truly inspiring to see what they can do together under one roof," he said.
BRIGHT Kentucky is made possible by a $500,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant and private funding from the Whitaker Foundation, Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) and others. The ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments, including Kentucky, focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian region.