The cloud of poverty has dripped depression and hopelessness on Kentucky for decades.
But new research shows each of Kentucky's 120 counties has a degree of wealth that, when used wisely and collectively, could brighten this state's future considerably.
The Transfer of Wealth Kentucky research determined that if those Kentuckians who have some discretionary money would earmark just 5 percent of their resources to the communities in which they live or work or were born, local non-profits in those communities could see a $3.6 billion surge over 10 years.
With that kind of money, we wouldn't have to look to local, state or federal programs for solutions to our problems. In fact, that money could even be directed at issues we determine to be pertinent, not at issues others think are important.
"What we are saying is that right now, there is an enormous opportunity in the works for Kentucky to have private philanthropy," said Judy Clabes, founder and president of Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative Inc.
Clabes and her organization commissioned the Rural Policy Research Institute Center for Rural Entrepreneurship in Nebraska to take a thorough look at Kentuckians and our money to determine just what intergenerational transfer of wealth would mean.
It's about being proactive instead of reactive, and it is about us helping ourselves, Clabes said.
"We are not about telling people what they should do with their money," she said. "It's about creating an awareness and opportunity.
"People will take care of their family first, and they should," she said. "People will give to their church, and they should, and to their favorite charity, and they should.
"But we believe that most people want to do something for the place where they grew up and made their money," Clabes said. "They want to improve their communities."
Representatives from several groups will be discussing innovative ways for Kentucky to take advantage of the research at the Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative's 2010 Summit on Philanthropy on Thursday at the Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa on Newtown Pike.
One of those ways is to establish a community foundation for every Kentucky region. Some regions already have one or are housed under the umbrella of a larger community foundation nearby.
We have one here in Lexington called Blue Grass Community Foundation, and six other counties work within it.
With some of the money filtered through the BGCF, the foundation has been instrumental in creating the Legacy Trail, a paved walking and biking trail stretching from the Kentucky Horse Park on Iron Works Pike to the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at East Third Street and Midland Avenue. That trail is scheduled to open Sept. 12.
Some monies have helped revitalize the historic East End neighborhood in Lexington.
Lisa Adkins, president and CEO of the Blue Grass Community Foundation, said individuals can open a charitable fund with as little as $100.
"We are really about growing charitable giving," she said. "The more we grow charitable giving, the more it directly relates to a healthy vibrant community."
The foundation has individual philanthropic funds in the thousands of dollars, in the millions of dollars and everything in between, she said. The money can be designated for a particular purpose or not.
The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, which also serves some Kentucky counties, created the "Weathering the Storm" program that used unrestricted funds to help people who were hungry or unemployed because of the tanking economy, Clabes said.
And she hopes this research will do the same for Kentucky.
"Each region will be empowered to address its own issues and challenges and find its own solutions to its own problems," Clabes said. "And the power of people coming together to address those issues is just as important as having the funds to address those problems. Having conversations about those problems is very important."
It is becoming clear that we have to start helping ourselves. To do that, we all must take part in the success of our communities.
And familiarizing ourselves with the research, which can be found at Kyphilanthropy.org and at Energizingentrepreneurs.org, is a good starting point.