September 20, 2018

Coalfield Development Corporation CEO Brandon Dennison welcomes everyone to an event in 2017 at the West Edge Factory in Huntington. Coalfield Development and Unlimited Future Inc. in Huntington are co-applicant finalists in the Communities Thrive Challenge, a $10 million national funding opportunity.

WAYNE — National leaders are starting to take notice of the work rising up from the grassroots in southern West Virginia, according to Brandon Dennison, executive director of the Coalfield Development Corporation in Wayne.

This week it was announced that Coalfield Development and Unlimited Future Inc. in Huntington are co-applicant finalists in the Communities Thrive Challenge, a $10 million national funding opportunity by The Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The organizations’ application, called “Rebuilding Appalachia From the Ground Up,” was named one of 20 finalists that could receive $1 million in grants and tailored technical assistance.

“This has been a scary time for many West Virginians feeling deep pain from the collapse of the coal industry, but this is also a time of incredible hope because new growth is emerging,” Dennison said. “Our application to Communities Thrive is all about accelerating this new growth and making sure the modern West Virginia economy is more fair and more just than the old one.”

Officials with the foundations said applications were evaluated based on four main criteria:

• Impact : Does the approach improve the lives of the communities where it works?

• The potential for scale: Could this approach be effective at a larger scale or become a model for others?

• Community based/informed: How deeply the organization is embedded with the community it serves.

• Leadership: The organizations are led by individuals with a strong history in and commitment to their field and who represent the communities served.

“Our two organizations can’t create every new business and every new job need, but we can pioneer new ways of thinking, better ways of doing business and more creative approaches to economic development,” Dennison said.

Gail Patton, executive director of Unlimited Future Inc., says if the application is selected as one of the final award winners, the funding will be used to strengthen both organizations’ programs and to help 10 other communities around the Tri-State region replicate the 33-3-6 model that Coalfield has developed.

“Together we will support those communities’ efforts to create social enterprises that will put out-of-work or under-employed people to work 33 hours a week,” Patton explained. “Crew members will also go to community college six hours per week and take part in life-skills training three hours per week.”

Patton says the model has proven successful as 100 percent of Coalfield crew members have found jobs upon graduation.

“Unlimited Future and Coalfield Development will work closely with the leaders in each community as we endeavor to spread this creative model throughout our region,” she said.

The Communities Thrive Challenge hopes to lift up and scale successful community-driven approaches to expanding economic opportunity for low-income and financially insecure people and communities across the country, foundation officials said.

“We believe in an America where all people can earn enough to support their families, achieve financial security and provide their children with better opportunities for the future, and we believe that community organizations often hold the key to making that dream possible,” Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, said in a news release announcing the finalists. “The Communities Thrive Challenge demonstrated tremendous excitement and energy from local organizations across the U.S. who want to share lessons and strategies with a broader audience. We are enthusiastic to connect with these organizations and help them reach as many people as possible with their ideas.”

“I’m inspired by the energy, optimism and impact of these community-driven approaches from all across the country. We are thrilled to be learning from the creativity and experience of local leaders who are working tirelessly to improve the lives of working people and their families,” Priscilla Chan, co-founder of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, said in the release.

Over the course of two months, the Communities Thrive Challenge received 1,826 applications that spanned all 50 states, D.C., and four of five U.S. territories, according to the release. Grantees are expected to be announced by the end of the year.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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