The Stay Together Appalachian Youth (STAY) Project has created a full time position for Appalachian youth, to be stationed in the Central Appalachian region. This decision comes eight years after the formation of STAY, and just eight months after the part-time STAY Coordinator position was created. This change will shift current STAY coordinator Kendall Bilbrey into the full-time salaried post with benefits. This position will expand STAY’s capacity to coordinate trainings, leadership development opportunities, and resources to build community for Appalachian youth.
Jobs that are fulfilling, stable, come with a benefits package, and that are specifically aimed at youth are hard to come by in Central Appalachia. This is why the full-time STAY coordinator position is so important. Its creation demonstrates what is possible for youth in the region when opportunities are made available to them.
“Though creating replacements for coal mining jobs is important, we want to recognize that these aren’t the only kinds of jobs that need to be created,” Kendall said. “We need all kinds of things for people to stay here and work here.”
STAY members conducted the majority of fundraising for this new position, which includes generous support from individual donors and foundations who believe in STAY’s work and in a bright future for Appalachian youth. STAY hosted their first ever fundraising week in February, and raised almost $300 from its members alone.
Kendall said STAY members wanted to invest this money into a full time position because they saw the need for increased capacity through the position that wasn’t available when it was part time.
“STAY wanted someone to be on the ground full time so there is someone there who can address immediate needs and concerns, and to help coordinate youth leaders working together to build a youth movement in the region slowly over time,” Kendall said.
The full time position is specifically designed to invest in Appalachian youth because STAY wants to build a future in the region in which this is a top priority. It’s also the kind of investment STAY wants others to make to build youth capacities and opportunities in the region.
“We didn’t bring in a call center, but we’re creating work that is in turn investing in and empowering others to do the same,” Kendall said.
The STAY Project is an exciting and diverse regional network of young people working together to create, advocate for, and participate in safe, sustainable, engaging and inclusive communities throughout Appalachia and beyond. Since 2008, the STAY Project has brought more than 200 different young Appalachians together at five regional gatherings to help build a brighter future for Appalachian youth. STAY’s geographic reach extends to all regions of the five Central Appalachian states: Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
“The STAY Project is entirely comprised of brilliant, hard working young people who not only want to stay in their communities, but are literally creating opportunities for one another,” said Kendall. “We realize that the systems we exist in don’t work, and it’s up to young people to work collectively for the renewed and inclusive Appalachia we need.”