One Step at a Time: Winchester and Clark County, Ky., seize the moment

At a time when American communities are splintering and struggling to move forward, a rural Appalachian town is showing change can be made. That’s the assessment made in One Step at a Time: Winchester and Clark County Seizing the Moment. The report, commissioned by The Greater Clark Foundation (GCF), executed by The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, and unveiled at Monday’s AMBITIONFest!, highlights the many stories of action now taking root, as well as the spreading of new productive ways of working together in the community.

“Winchester and Clark County are an example for other small towns to know that individuals and small groups can begin to turn the tide in their own community,” said Jen Algire, GCF president and CEO. “And, although there is still work to be done, this serves as a roadmap for how to grow this progress over time.”

The community took action after research presented in 2017 showed Winchester and Clark County, Ky., faced deep challenges and divisions, including between races, faiths, old and new to the community, among others.  Standing at the crossroads of who the community is and what it wants to be, neighbors trained to become public innovators and learned how to spark change. Now they are seeing ripples from the changes they’ve helped put in motion.

“There’s something everyone can do, starting today, to change the course of their community,” said Rich Harwood, president and founder of The Harwood Institute. “Leaders can commit to changing the conversation and changing the role their organizations play in creating authentic hope. They can shift from turning inward toward their organizations, programs, and internal priorities, to turning outward, toward marshaling shared resources for shared concerns and fostering a sense of shared responsibility. They can create a can-do narrative, rooted in making visible real progress on the things that really matter.”

Speaking to the crowd at AMBITIONFest!, Algire said strong citizens build strong communities. “But it doesn’t just happen overnight. The right conditions – capacity, collaboration, communication and cohesion – must be healthy and vibrant to stimulate a community identity that is forward-leaning, self-sustaining, engaged and resilient.”

Several efforts were celebrated at AMBITIONFest! Topics include substance abuse recovery, mindfulness, student empowerment, lifting up the voices of the marginalized, and bridging racial divides. Community members continue working on addressing underlying community issues from multiple angles, including pushing for transparency and diversity of leadership, informal networks and links, and changing deep-rooted community norms. Their goal is for Clark County to be a more inclusive and equitable place to live.

To read the full report, click here.