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Melissa Newman, director of regional stewardship at Eastern Kentucky University, has been studying hope in communities and how increasing community hope can impact the local economy.

In 2015, the community came together to identify issues and areas for improvement to make Crossville and Cumberland County a better place to live, work and play.

That effort, dubbed The Horizon Initiative, continues today through a network of organizations, agencies and volunteers. 

“The Horizon Initiative is still alive and well and working in our community,” said Nancy Burns, chairwoman of the Horizon Steering Committee during the Jan. 28 community meeting held at the Palace Theatre. “The word is spreading. What we need you to do is continue to spread that word to our community.”

Matters range from social issues and identity to economic development, leadership and infrastructure. Priorities, action plans and strategies all came from the input of citizens at 19 community meetings held over the course of several months. 

“It was regular citizens saying ‘This is what we want,’” Burns said. 

Local governments, businesses, organizations and agencies created a steering committee while groups worked on different priorities. 

Some of the successes include:

•Cumberland County Rising Anti-Drug Coalition formed and working on education, prevention and training to combat drug abuse in Cumberland County.

•More than 200 new jobs at CoLinx since 2016 and 160 new jobs over the next five years at StonePeak Ceramics

•New building construction pad at Interchange Business Park, thanks to $500,000 grant and matching funds from the city of Crossville and Cumberland County. The building pad has been chosen as one of 57 Select Tennessee sites and will be marketed to industries looking to create at least 100 new jobs for the community.

•New Work Ethic Diploma option for high school graduates. Students earn points toward the diploma for good attendance and behavior, completion of career readiness training and certification, and participation in Career and Technical Education programs and clubs. Local industries agree to grant students an interview for an open position for which they are qualified.

•Work Ready Community designation offered by ACT Inc. to certify worker skill in applied math, reading for information and locating information. Cumberland County is the first Middle Tennessee county to seek the designation. 

•Development of Garrison Park with an inclusive playground and splash pad. This effort grew from hearing children living near downtown often didn’t have transportation to the city’s Centennial Park recreation opportunities. 

•Cooperation among government and business. Crossville Mayor James Mayberry and County Mayor Allen Foster meeting weekly with Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber President Brad Allamong. 

“This is a foundation for our future. It’s all of us coming together to be successful in our community,” Burns said. “We want to be a shining light in this world, to show that we have a shared vision and we can accomplish great things in the future.”

Raising Hope in the Community

Melissa Newman, director of regional stewardship at Eastern Kentucky University, has been studying hope in communities and how increasing community hope can impact the local economy.

“If we can’t hope for something, there’s no enjoyment. There’s no pleasure,” Newman said. 

She called on those present to use their position within the community to help raise hope by changing the conversation.

“Realize you can make things happen,” Newman said.

She asked the community to share positive attributes of the community: golf, arts, tourism, friendliness, inclusion were among the answers. 

Then she asked the audience to share negative comments about the community. Drugs, lack of workforce and crime were the words that filled the screen. 

“It’s the truth,” she said. “But it’s not our only truth.”

In Kentucky, national news coverage focused on the poverty of the region but often ignored successes. A project worked with college-level communications students and high school students sharing positive stories through social media channels over a period of weeks. The stories looked at unsung heroes within the community. 

Before the project began, a survey measured hope. Ten weeks later, the survey was retaken.

“After 60 years of erosion, we were able to raise hope ever so slightly in 10 weeks,” Newman said. 

An organized effort among schools, clubs, organizations and volunteers would provide a never-ending stream of good-news stories. 

“Tell more of those good truths,” she encouraged the audience. “You have the power over your own story.”

Changing Opinions

Allamong said when Horizon first began, the community was focused on changing opinions of leaders in Nashville, with hopes of increasing economic and community development opportunities. 

“The message went out. ‘Something is happening in Crossville. What is going on?’” Allamong said. “They were starting to take note of what was happening in this community.”

That led to the opportunity to conduct studies on industrial development and infrastructure, workforce development and targeted industries. It also led to the opportunity to apply for a grant to develop an industrial site development grant.

Foster said partnerships were essential to continued community success. 

“I love Cumberland County. This is where my wife and I chose to live, and it’s because Cumberland County is special,” Foster said. 

“I believe Cumberland County is poised for a lot of growth and we have a lot of potential.”

Mayberry said many overlapping concerns are included in the Horizon plan. 

“We have generated more hope,” he said. “We’ve still got problems. And we’re not unique. We’re not the only ones with a lot of the same problems … Don’t get discouraged. Everyone is working toward the same goal.”

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

Editor of the Crossville Chronicle.