OFN surrounding ROOTS sign in KY

OFN Joins Members and Partners in Rural Kentucky to See CDFI Impact

Ashley Austin

On June 7, OFN joined partners and local member CDFIs in Eastern Kentucky to see CDFI impact on the ground. Not only did we visit OFN member CDFIs, small businesses, affordable housing developments, community facilities, and other CDFI-funded projects, but we also met and heard directly from people positively impacted by the transformative work of CDFIs.

The morning started with a tour of Berea, KY, where we learned about the history of the city from Peter Hille, president of OFN member Mountain Association. We also passed by several businesses the Mountain Association has financed and helped to develop.

We then traveled to Rockcastle Regional Hospital and Respiratory Care Center in Mount Vernon, KY, where we met with Stephen Estes, the facility’s president and CEO. We learned about the 143-bed, long-term care ventilator program and heard stories from employees about patients they’ve cared for. Rockcastle Regional Hospital received financing from OFN member Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, utilizing New Markets Tax Credits and the Uplift America USDA Community Facilities Re-Lending Program.

Next we visited the nearby Recycling Our Outdated Trailer Sites (ROOTS) Initiative. We learned about redevelopment plans to de-commission five old single-wide units and construct new energy efficient homes to meet local codes. This housing project is funded by Kentucky Highlands, fellow OFN member Fahe, USDA 502 Direct Loan, and JPMorgan Chase Pro Neighborhoods.

Following our stop at ROOTS, we traveled to Hazard, KY, to enjoy lunch served at ArtStation, home to the Appalachian Art Alliance, and catered by Shenanigans, a local restaurant funded by the Mountain Association. Shenanigans owner Michelle Combs shared how she helped other restaurants in the area build and grow until she was ready to start her own venture.

Scott McReynolds, CEO of the Housing Development Alliance, also spoke to our group about the Hope Building Program and the launch of Redbud Financial Alternatives, an emerging CDFI providing access to consumer credit in Kentucky. After eating well and perking up from coffee provided by CDFI-funded business Hazard Coffee Company and owner Stephen Prosser, we passed through downtown Hazard’s Main Street to view two projects funded by the Mountain Association: First Federal Savings & Loan building and the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky.

Later we heard from Jim King, president and CEO of Fahe, about why he’s dedicated to creating more affordable housing in Appalachia. We then stopped at Gurney’s Bend, a housing development created in partnership with Housing Development Alliance and the City of Hazard to construct 15 Energy Star-certified homes. We toured the development, including the interior of a house under construction, and met homeowner Alfred, who now lives in one of the new homes.

Alfred shared a touching story about how he slept on a couch for ten years to make sure his grandkids had a bed to sleep in. When we asked him his favorite part about having his own home, he said having his own bed again — a simple luxury he wasn’t afforded until the construction of Gurney’s Bend.

Our tour concluded after stopping by LKLP Community Action Council, a nonprofit providing poverty programs to the four-county area. The project was financed by Kentucky Highlands through the Uplift America USDA Community Facilities Re-Lending Program.

Special thank you to all those who helped make this CDFI impact tour a success! We look forward to joining more OFN members and partners around the country this year as we continue our work to finance justice and change.

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