Lead For America, Land O'Lakes Place Five American Connection Corps Fellows in Kentucky
Supported by Partners for Education, 5 Fellows will undertake transformational projects related to broadband connectivity and digital inclusion in Kentucky
Frankfort, KY (July 26, 2021) – Lead for America and Land O’Lakes today announced the placement of five American Connection Corps (ACC) Fellows in Kentucky. Supported by Berea College’s Partners for Education at Berea College, these fellows will work to increase broadband access and digital literacy and contribute to critical community development initiatives in Clay, Madison and Perry counties. Over the course of the application window, the program received hundreds of applications from emerging leaders across the country. After an extensive interview process, the Fellows program has selected a total of 50 Fellows to serve as community leaders across the country.
The American Connection Corps is a new, innovative fellowship program focused on bridging the digital divide, led by Land O’Lakes, Inc. and Lead for America (LFA). As part of the national network, ACC Fellows will have access to premiere national training on community organizing, broadband and digital inclusion, and a network of LFA leaders nationwide.
“Lead For America is on a mission to build a generation of civic leaders dedicated to tackling the
toughest challenges facing the communities they call home—and we are excited to bring our Hometown Fellowship model to communities across central and southeast Kentucky with this first class of Fellows” said Joe Nail, CEO and co-founder of Lead For America. “The coronavirus pandemic underscored the importance of both leadership, and of closing the digital divide in rural and urban communities across America. We are honored to partner with Land O’Lakes, Partners for Education, and the other American Connection Corps partners in placing 50 dynamic, and locally rooted leaders in the communities and places that helped raise them. We are committed to ensuring this initiative becomes a pathway home for outstanding Kentuckians for many years to come.”
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, whose Better Kentucky Plan includes $300 million for the Kentucky Broadband Deployment Fund, said the American Connection Corps program strongly aligns with two of his goals: expanding high-speed internet access to more families and encouraging young leaders to choose Team Kentucky.
“The COVID-19 pandemic made it more clear than ever that all of our people need and deserve access to high-speed, reliable internet access to stay informed and connected to school, work, family, church, health care and other critical services,” said Governor Beshear. “I’m thrilled to welcome these ACC Fellows to the commonwealth and thank Lead For America and Land O’Lakes for helping five extraordinary young Kentuckians come home and serve their communities.”
Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman, who also serves as Kentucky’s Secretary of Education and Workforce Development, added, “As an educator and as a rural Kentuckian, I’ve seen firsthand how digital literacy and broadband access can open up a world of opportunities for learners of all ages. That’s why I was excited to lead the Kentucky Broadband Initiative and Internet Speed Test, and it’s why I can’t wait to see what these Fellows accomplish.”
“Our partnership with the Lead For America will strengthen our cradle to career work by expanding broadband accessibility and affordability, which means greater educational and economic opportunity for all” said Dreama Gentry, Executive Director for Partners for Education. “But the power of the American Connection Corps Fellowship will reach beyond this because it engages young people from the region in critical roles. By empowering the fellows to build community support and develop solutions, we are growing the next generation of leaders.”
“I firmly believe there is a role for leaders at every level to be actively engaged in bridging the access gap to critical digital infrastructure and leveraging economic opportunities for the very communities they grew up in,” said Tina May, Land O’Lakes, Inc. vice president for Rural Services. “And, this is just the beginning – it is our intention that this program will both grow to make an immediate and significant impact and also prove to legislators at the state and federal level that there is a scalable, successful model for community development, which can ensure all Americans have access to this fundamental infrastructure.”
ACC Fellows will serve their home communities in locations nationwide through high-impact, high-urgency two-year placements focused on closing the digital divide and building the next generation of leaders. They will tackle tough challenges facing Kentucky, strengthen its civic infrastructure and join a new generation of transformational community leaders. Fellows will also participate in LFA's national Changemaker Summit, attend quarterly retreats, receive 1:1 expert mentorship, and join a growing community of local leaders.
The inaugural ACC fellows and their hosts in Kentucky are:
Partners for Education at Berea College
Conner Thomas: Conner Thomas is originally from Morehead, Kentucky. He recently graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Economics and previously interned for Legal Aid of the Bluegrass and Valvoline, Inc. As a Research and Data Support Liaison, Conner will play a critical role in creating economic mobility within education and workforce efforts through Kentucky’s Broadband Initiative by demonstrating urgency and awareness around Internet Speed Testing in the eight Promise Zone counties.
Partners for Education at Berea College
Rhea Carter: Originally from southeastern Kentucky, Rhea is the first person in her family to graduate from college after she earned her undergraduate degree in Communications from Berea College in 2020. As the Broadband Community Connectivity & Partnership Communication Liaison, Rhea will play a critical role by gathering information to create communication materials that support broadband availability, adoption, and usage.
Eastern Kentucky C.E.P., Inc. (EKCEP), Hazard
Zakary Bray: Zakary Bray, originally from Jamestown, KY, graduated from the University of Pikeville with a bachelors in communication and is now pursuing a masters degree at Northern Kentucky University with a research focus on student equity and inclusion within institutions. While attending the University of Pikeville, Zakary served in various leadership roles, such as Student Body President. Working with the EKCEP, Zakary will work to identify, communicate, and expand opportunities for youth 16-24 to prepare for and participate in the digital economy.
Red Bird Mission, Clay County
Sierra Marling: Sierra Marling hails from the coalfields of West Virginia. She arrived at Berea College as a first-generation college student and a single mom. She later earned a graduate degree from Syracuse University and co-founded Room in the Inn-Berea, a nonprofit meant to alleviate the hardships of the chronically homeless. Her talents as a communications professional and an educator have previously been used to teach audiences about the importance of digital literacy and ethics. In Clay County, Sierra will develop processes to collect on-the-ground data on broadband availability, accessibility, and usage.
Thompson Scholars Foundation, Manchester
Amari Cotton: Amari grew up in Manchester, Kentucky and recently graduated from the University of the Cumberlands. She has served as a volunteer with Mountain Outreach, a non-profit service organization that is operated by University of the Cumberlands.Volunteers. Amari supported the community by helping build homes and be a service to the elderly, children, and financially struggling families. Amari will form a project around bridging the digital divide and utilizing increased digital access as the avenue for engaging partners, mobilizing community capacity, and empowering local leadership in the neighborhood.
“We are excited to welcome Zak to the EKCEP team as the Lead for America Digital Divide Liaison positioned under our emergent Prosper Appalachia program,” said Michael Cornett, EKCEP Deputy Director for Employer Engagement and Program Operations. “We believe Zak’s skillset and ambition to learn and serve our rural communities will have a significant impact in our mission to promote our current and future digital economy training and job opportunities for youth to thrive in Appalachia.”
"Red Bird Mission and Red Bird Clinic are located in a beautiful, yet remote area of the Appalachian mountains. With the growing expectation that individuals move towards online communication and virtual experiences in their everyday lives, our neighbors are often left behind,” said Kari Collins, Executive Director of Red Bird Mission. The lack of affordable broadband significantly diminishes access for our neighbors who need to be aware of resources, gain assistance when needed, compete in the evolving job market, and engage in learning job readiness skills and higher education opportunities. We are so excited to have LFA Fellow, Sierra Marling, working with us as we invite our area's youth and families to actively participate in projects to improve their future and strengthen their community."
“We are thrilled to have Amari join our team,” states Thompson Scholars Executive Director Rhonda Phillips. “Through the training and direction in her role with the national partnerships of American Connection Corps and Lead For America, Amari will bring much-needed capacity to our region in promoting digital literacy, broadband access and digital inclusion.”
The American Connection Corps is led in conjunction with Lead for America (LFA) and funded through the support of 20 additional partner organizations, including: Land O’Lakes, Heartland Forward, CoBank, Tractor Supply Company, Microsoft, Mayo Clinic, Ariel Investments, Scoular, CHS, Zoetis, Tillamook, Accenture, University of Minnesota, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Midwest Dairy, Purdue University, Partners for Education, CentraCare, Common Sense Media and University of Illinois Extension.
For general information on the ACC, please visit: https://www.lead4america.org/american-connection-corps
Partners for Education: Melissa Newman
Lead for America: Matthew Miller
Land O’Lakes, Inc.: Abbey Shilling
About Lead for America
Lead For America (LFA) is a national nonprofit that helps outstanding young people become civic leaders. LFA seeks to direct homegrown talent where it’s needed most — in towns and counties where challenges outpace resources available — often in rural and under-resourced communities. Through their flagship two-year paid Fellows program, LFA has funded and placed over 100 Fellows in over 80 communities and 30 states in newly created positions in their home communities since 2019, and plan to have 100 additional Fellows starting in 2021. Combined, LFA Fellows have leveraged more than $17 million for their communities and impacted the lives of more than 13.5 million people. Lead For America's national headquarters is located in Dodge City, Kansas.
About Partners for Education at Berea College
Partners for Education at Berea College uses a place-based, student focused approach to improve educational outcomes in rural communities. By braiding services and aligning federal, state and private funding streams, Partners for Education ensures all students have equitable educational opportunities. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
About Land O'Lakes, Inc.
Land O'Lakes, Inc., one of America's premier agribusiness and food companies, is a member-owned cooperative with industry-leading operations that span the spectrum from agricultural production to consumer foods. With 2020 annual sales of $14 billion, Land O'Lakes is one of the nation's largest cooperatives, ranking 219 on the Fortune 500. Building on a legacy of more than 99 years of operation, Land O'Lakes today operates some of the most respected brands in agribusiness and food production including Land O’Lakes Dairy Foods, Purina Animal Nutrition, WinField United and Truterra. The company does business in all 50 states and more than 60 countries. Land O'Lakes, Inc. corporate headquarters are located in Arden Hills, Minnesota.