- Associated Press - Monday, July 7, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A national community service organization is investing $1 million in eastern Kentucky to help the region recover from the downturn in the coal industry.

The money from the Corporation for National and Community Service will hire 52 full-time workers to recruit volunteers for 16 nonprofit groups on issues including education and poverty.

It is one of the first initiatives of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region - or SOAR - a program established by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers to help eastern Kentucky. Beshear and Rogers also announced Monday $312,000 in technical assistance from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Eastern Kentucky has lost more than 7,000 coal mining jobs since Jan. 1, 2012. The 54-county region has an average household income of less than $30,000 and an average unemployment rate of nearly 11 percent, according to a report from the Rural Policy Research Institute.

The $1 million grant will pay 52 full-time workers a “living stipend” of $12,000. After one year, they will be eligible for a college scholarship of $5,600. The workers will be based in 11 counties, but they will provide services for all of the 54 counties identified as eastern Kentucky by SOAR.

Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said they plan to hire the 52 workers within 60 days. Some will be recent graduates of area colleges. Others will come from outside eastern Kentucky. She said they will write grant proposals and recruit volunteers - even teach people how to build home gardens for “food security.”

“This is a real wonderful opportunity for eastern Kentucky to shine,” she said.

This isn’t the first time the Corporation for National and Community Service has spent money in Kentucky. It has partnered with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky on a $3 million grant - matched with an additional $3 million from the foundation - to pay for community health workers in Kentucky’s Appalachian communities.

“This is good news for all Kentuckians,” Susan Zepeda, the foundation’s CEO, said in a news release.

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