Kody Witham ’22 — Working with Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR) has been a blessing this summer. I have met many great, selfless, people that are dedicated to their communities. I have never worked for a non-profit organization before, so this is a unique experience for me. SOAR is dedicated to connecting the Appalachian region and working as a community. One of the first things I have learned from this internship is the value of teamwork. In the Appalachian region, especially around Pikeville, I have seen extremely successful counties and counties that were not as successful. In Kentucky, there is a sense of pride for the county in which you are from and a sense of rivalry towards neighboring counties. It has been an amazing experience watching how SOAR has attempted to overcome these obstacles and provide a network connecting all regions in the Appalachian area. They are attempting to work as a team and unite the whole Eastern Kentucky region so that everyone can prosper together. 

Our mission as interns this summer has been to assist in the construction of a mentorship program to help high school-aged kids from underserved communities connect with a role model to guide them in the process of pursuing higher education. Specifically in this region, there has been a shortage of nurses at local hospitals, and our mentorship has had an emphasis on getting these students interested in the nursing field. Through this process, I have learned most about being selfless and committed to your community. A lot of the members of SOAR are native to this region and are committed to improving the lives of the kids of the community. This internship has also shown me the importance of having a role model in your life. Many students come from a background where higher education is a foreign subject to their families because of the prominent coal industry that was a staple in their region many years prior. Through this mentorship, we hope to provide these kids with an outlet to pursue their dreams and give them the confidence to pursue a degree of their choosing so that they too can be contributing members of their community.