Chuck Caudill Jr.: SOAR needs more citizen engagement

May 1, 2014 

Chuck Caudill Jr. is a community activist and entrepreneur in Lee County.

By Chuck Caudill Jr.

I recently attended the 27th Annual East Kentucky Leadership Conference in Somerset. The theme this year was "From Crisis to Opportunity — SOAR takes off."

And take off it did. All 10 working groups of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative met for the first time and the wheels lifted off the runway.

I would love to tell you a diverse and region-wide examination of issues was the result, but I would be stretching the truth.

With the exception of a few utility and Internet business representatives, the same people who routinely attend this conference were present, perhaps in greater numbers because of the SOAR initiative, but few others.

This was not at all what I envisioned when the clarion call was sounded to SOAR last December. I know that sounds insulting. It's not supposed to. The attendees are good, talented and capable people who care about Eastern Kentucky.

They have used their impressive skills and energy to make heroic improvements in our region for more than a generation, led by the governor and congressman who represent the will of the people. The former is in his last term and the latter on his third decade in office with no end in sight.

By any measure, these are the best people to address the blight of Appalachian poverty. They are trapped, however, by their own history of success. Many have made careers out of fixing things or have excelled in the business climate of the past, and aren't ready to relinquish control over the process even though they acknowledge, despite their best efforts, there are issues that haven't been resolved.

There is still hope to salvage this initiative. The plan agreed on by the power brokers and elected leadership has a redeeming element if every person who cares about this region gets involved.

The working groups are an access point for everyone — the working men and women who don't routinely go to Area Development District meetings, Brushy Fork Institute meetings or even the East Kentucky Leadership Conference.

Go to the working group meetings, because your voice will be heard and recorded. At best you'll make a significant contribution. At worst, you'll see the whole SOAR initiative is a waste of time and take action at the next election.

Elected officials and organizations paid to fix the issues have proven they can't change the habits that made them successful. To make our region better and increase opportunities for you and future generations, can you?

Find out where and when the working group meetings are and go with an open mind, ready to learn and share with the group. Know the people on the committees want the problems to be fixed just as much as you do.

If you don't go, SOAR will fail and an opportunity to attack longstanding problems of the region will be lost.

Look for the SOAR website when it goes online to learn more. You can make the difference.

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