- Associated Press - Thursday, June 29, 2017

HOPTOWN, Ky. (AP) - It’s all about real people generating fresh ideas and putting them into practice, and that’s a concept that’s clicked with Shannon Worden, 38, a resident of Springmont Drive and a 14-year employee of the local Walmart Distribution Center.

“They just want to get your brains going and interacting with other people and seeing how you can make things happen positive in the state,” noted Worden, who was selected to take part in the 2017 Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange and just returned on Sunday from his first weekend of sessions.

Known familiarly as RUX, the exchange is a program that brings together people from the state’s rural and urban areas to strengthen relationships and spark regional innovation, according to information on the program’s website at kyrux.org.

The program first met in the summer of 2014 and hosts three sessions each summer for 70-plus people who come from throughout the state to take part in its offerings.

Reading about its achievements in the first three years, Worden said he was excited to get an opportunity to be a part of something with that caliber of success.

“I think it’s a real positive experience so far,” he said.

In his first three days with the program, he’s spent time networking with other exchange participants, hiked nature trails in Lexington’s McConnell Springs Park and drawn inspiration from the city’s Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center.

Once an entertainment venue for African-American families, the old theater has been revitalized and is once again serving its local community, Worden said.

He also toured a Lexington neighborhood that has been revitalized and now offers affordable housing to its low-income residents, and he learned about the renovation of a hotel in southeastern Kentucky that grew out of participation in the exchange.

“The idea is it’s going to help bring a little more tourism to that community than has ever existed,” Worden said of the impact to Whitesburg in Kentucky’s Letcher County.

He said he’d like to put some of these ideas into practice in Hopkinsville; it would be awesome, he said, to rejuvenate a torn-down neighborhood or perhaps to somehow harness that energy and bring more activity to downtown Hopkinsville.

“I’m not bored with my community,” Worden said. “But I hear (people say) there’s nothing here to do, and I would like to give a reason for them not to say there’s nothing to do. I’m hoping that somehow I can piece (some ideas) together and make something happen here.”

He said he’d also like to bring the rural-urban exchange to Hopkinsville.

Three cities host the event each year, and in 2017, those cities are Lexington, where Worden visited this past weekend, Bowling Green and Harlan in eastern Kentucky.

In July, Worden’s group will learn about folk studies at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, tour a farm where organic produce is grown and visit Horse Cave.

The last session in Harlan is slated for Sept. 29 through Oct. 1.

Worden said he stumbled across the exchange on Facebook, thought it sounded interesting and applied to be a part of it. He is likely the second participant from the local community; Hopkinsville Community College professor Brett Ralph took part in last year’s exchange, according to information at artoftherural.org.

Worden said the program’s participants include a lot of distinguished folks, i.e., mayors and city officials, attorneys, grant writers and digital media artists.

Most have four-year college degrees and some have master’s degrees.

“I’m probably the only one that said I’m a blue collar worker,” observed Worden, a replenishment lift driver at the local Walmart Distribution Center.

He said he knew the program was seeking more participants from western Kentucky and thought he would sign up.

“Maybe I’ll have a chance,” he said, sharing his thoughts at the time.

He described RUX as a blind marriage that brings together citizens from across Kentucky, encouraging them to “find commonalities amongst ourselves” and work toward a goal to try to do something positive for the state.

Ideas are fresh, and they come from people - not some commercial industry, according to Worden.

“It’s just like trying to work with each other some way,” he noted. “I just want to maybe spread the word and maybe get this program to spread and one day have Hopkinsville be a host city and impact Hopkinsville with it.”

Worden is married to Angie Worden, an accounting manager with Fortera Credit Union in Clarksville; the couple has a son, Bryce Worden, 6, and a rising first-grader.

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