Here is a brochure from the program:
Appalachian Community Learning Project
the Citizen-Sparkplug Approach to
Building Strong Communities and New Leaders
Developed by the Appalachian Regional Commission, The Rensselaerville Institute,
and many, many small towns in Appalachia
A Proven Approach
Since its inception in 1997, the Appalachian Community Learning Project (ACLP) has made it possible
for more than 250 Appalachian communities to help themselves chart their own course, fix their own
problems and develop their own assets - including their leaders. 75% of these communities achieved the
community betterment targets they set out in their projects and more than 70% of them continued with
additional and larger projects. This extremely cost-effective approach goes beyond investing in
community improvement to investing in community capacity and leadership. The compressed six month
time frame of the projects helps build energy and drive action while the $3,000 mini-investments attract
additional needed resources.
Sparkplug Community Members Make all the Difference
Sparkplugs are community members with a passion to make things better. They are moms, dads, students,
retirees, farmers, teachers, store clerks, and entrepreneurs. Despite their differences, they have one
thing in common they would rather do something about a problem than complain about it. Sparkplugs exist
in all communities. With the right set of circumstances and support, they step up to leadership roles and
make a difference for their communities. The ACLP program is just that set of circumstances and support.
Some Recent Results:
The Steps to Success within 8 months:
- Clarington, Ohio took stock of their greatest asset Ohio River access and revitalized their community by
capitalizing on it. Starting with an ACLP investment, the community worked together to create a small public boat
launch and parking area. This success led to a major clean up of eyesores, new sidewalks, and the refurbishment of
their Opera House. Additional grants were then obtained to build a river front park with concessions, canoe rentals
and Bait and Tackle shop. Our project sparkplug is now the Mayor!
- Chesterhill, Ohio razed the neglected The Marion School and created Marion Park. In doing so, this community
of just over 300 people generated more than $65,000 in local materials and labor, collected over $20,000 in park memberships
and reunited a village that was divided and upset over the loss of the towns school. 50 people use the park daily and major
events are being planned.
- Shade, Ohio residents contributed over 1,400 volunteer hours to create a new version of the Community Center with a new
baseball field, walking path, and a number of other improvements. More impressive was the community response to this ambitious
project. The Shade team more than doubled association membership to 128 families, got more than 50 people out walking every month,
found 50 new volunteers, generated a total of $38,000 in in-kind resources and raised over $21,000 cash all in 6 months.
- Beaver, Ohio faced declining school enrollment and a failing downtown district. Building on an existing asset, a successful youth
soccer program, the Beaver Sparkplug and team decided to build a home field for the league. In doing so they hoped to reverse the decline
in enrollment and bring more people into Beaver to visit and shop. The Field of Goals project delivered big, drawing over 800 people
each weekend for games (downtown sales up over 30%) and helping to reverse the enrollment decline. The group recently received a $25,000
donation to support their efforts and just completed a Community Wellness Center.
- Set the Investor Agenda. Focus for communities starts with clarity by investor. Just what are they trying to see happenboth
as direct results and in any broader context they specify? Investor givens and assumptions are articulated and brought into full alignment
with the distinctive shape of this approach.
- Select Community Teams. Based on a clear understanding of the time-compressed and result-focused approach, community teams
apply for workshop participation, typically enticed by the availability of small grants made in short order to support their work.
Our focus is on direct engagement by residents, not participation by professional helpers. We look for Sparkplugs!
- Prepare For Workshop. As homework for the workshop, we ask residents attending to define their current and preferred location.
We suggest, for example, that they bring pictures of the five sights in town they find most discouraging for the community as a whole and
five equally depressing things they have heard fellow residents say about their town.
- Hold the Mapping Workshop. Up to 10 teams attend the intensive 1 -day workshop. Teams work in plenary sessions and individually
to complete their map. The workshop begins with a thorough grounding in the outcome framework and ends with each team applying directly to
an investor: "We seek an investment from you of $3,000. Here are the results we pledge to achieve as your return on investment. The investor
responds with an "on the spot" decisionunless there is a compelling need to delay the response.
- Provide investment support. We provide support as needed to each participating team over the five or six months of working toward
their target. While generally offered by phone, this can include on-site work to help neighborhoods get back on track, overcome obstacles or
make stronger progress. This support is underwritten by the investors, who make it clear that they have no interest in documenting failures.
As their agents, we help each community get to their designated finish line.
- Reconvene ACLP community teams and investors. The six month stopping point is a reckoning and a refueling. The conversation with
each team begins with one word: yes, we've hit our target or no we did not. Key project learnings are shared among ACLP communities to assist
them in future projects as they are usually ready to continue mapping new achievement points en route to their preferred futures.