Related Rural Blog Posts

  • Faith-Based Group Rebuilds Alabama Church Following 2011 Tornadoes

    Tornadoes and fires hold more in common than being disasters: they can also make good neighbors.

    This is uniquely true in Boligee, AL, a small rural town near the Mississippi border, and Hartville, OH, near Akron. It's a great story of faith communities helping each other -- and it has a beautiful twist at the end.

    The story begins in and around Boligee in 1996, when four African American churches burned to the ground. Though it has never been proven, many suspect the fires were related to racial tension. Volunteers from around the world rebuilt the four churches -- including Little Zion Baptist Church -- with the assistance of Quakers and Mennonites.

    Fast forward to April 27, 2011, when tornadoes tore through central Alabama, killing 139 people and destroying billions of dollars of property, including the Christian Valley Baptist Church in Boligee, home of a small African American congregation.

    Boligee Church, Destroyed

    The Christian Valley Baptist Church in Boligee, AL, a small African American congregation, was destroyed by a tornado in April 2011. (Photo courtesy of David L. Myers)


    The Rev. Tracy Giles, Christian Valley’s pastor, didn’t know what to do. Insurance would cover $165,000, but estimates to rebuild the church exceeded $500,000. Pastor Giles heard about Mennonite Disaster Service and sat down over coffee with one of its coordinators, Jerry Klassen. Pastor Giles told Klassen, “I need a thread of hope.”

    Klassen responded, “I can throw you a rope of hope.”

    Klassen contacted Maple Grove Mennonite Church in Hartville, and soon skilled volunteers from several Hartville churches were making regular treks to Boligee. On Sunday, June 3, 2012, six months after the start of the rebuilding, Christian Valley Baptist Church commemorated its new opening; total cost was $160,000.

    “It was God reaching across the borderline,” said Deacon Willie Cain.

    The Rev. David L. Myers, a Mennonite minister and director of the DHS/FEMA Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships, who participated in the dedication ceremony, said it was a mutual opportunity for service. “Christian Valley Baptist cannot be itself without a church to worship in, and Mennonite churches cannot be themselves without a service project.”

    Boligee Church, Rebuilt

    Christian Valley Baptist Church, rebuilt. (Photo courtesy of David Myers)

    And here's the beautiful twist: one of the biggest challenges faced every year by thousands of disaster volunteers is finding housing during their time of service. That wasn't the case for the volunteers rebuilding Happy Valley Baptist Church.

    Remember Little Zion Baptist Church, which was burned and rebuilt in 1996? That same church provided housing for more than 80 volunteers who traveled more than 800 miles from Hartville to Boligee.

    Disasters of all kinds can indeed make good neighbors.

    The Rev. David L. Myers is the Director of the Department of Homeland Security Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships.


  • White House Rural Council’s Health IT Initiative Helps Community Colleges Tailor Programs to Workforce Needs

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education Blog

    With a major workforce transition underway in many rural hospitals and health clinics, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted a conference call with staff from nearly 80 rural community colleges recently to discuss federal resources available to expand training for health information technology workers.

    Developing an adequately trained health IT workforce in rural areas is imperative, and new programs are available to provide incentives for eligible health care providers and hospitals to adopt and meaningfully use electronic health records.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the health IT workforce will increase by 20 percent by the year 2016.  A significant part of that growth will come in rural areas, which are served by approximately 2,000 rural hospitals, 3,700 Rural Health Clinics and approximately 3,000 Community and Migrant Health Centers that are either located in or serve rural communities.

  • Interior Department Helps Indian Country Go Green

    Cross-posted from the Department of the Interior blog

    Yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed a Record of Decision approving the lease and associated right of way for a 350-megawatt utility-scale solar energy project on the Moapa River Indian Reservation. This is the first-ever, utility-scale solar project in Indian Country, and joins the 50-megawatt wind farm on the Campo Reservation as the only utility-scale developments on tribal lands.

    The solar project builds on President Obama’s strong record of supporting rural economies through the White House Rural Council. Established one year ago, the Rural Council has focused on maximizing the impact of Federal investment to promote economic prosperity and improve the quality of life in rural communities, including on tribal lands.

    The project is also a part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above approach to energy and builds on the Administration’s broader efforts to advance renewable energy on America’s public lands. Since 2009, the Department of the Interior has approved 31 onshore renewable energy projects, including: 17 solar projects, 6 wind farms, and 8 geothermal plants. These projects include the first solar projects ever permitted on public lands. When built, these projects together can power nearly 2.5 million homes.

    This landmark project is one of the many ways the Administration has sought to strengthen tribal economies through the development of renewable energy resources. The Interior Department has promoted this commitment by establishing a priority project list comprised of renewable energy projects on public lands. The Moapa project is a great beginning, and it is our hope that as Interior prioritizes renewable energy projects for 2013 and beyond, Tribes’ interests and developers interests in building renewable energy projects on tribal lands continues to grow.

    In early 2011 the Moapa Band of Paiutes came to the Interior Department with their development partner, K Road Power, to discuss their plans and after initial discussions, BIA recommended that the project be included on the Department’s Priority Project list. Since that initial meeting the project has exemplified what can be achieved when the Federal government, Indian tribes, and private partners work together in pursuit of a common goal. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), through its Western Regional Office, served as the lead agency on the project. Due to its status as the first major solar energy development in Indian Country, the project quickly caught the attention of Secretary Salazar, who often inquired about its progress. Officials within Secretary Salazar’s office and the office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs participated in weekly calls discussing the project and attended a number of site visits and meetings with the Tribe and K Road. This heightened coordination between the BIA and its federal partners allowed the Department to complete its review within 14 months.

    Construction is set to begin in the early fall, and the Moapa Band of Paiutes is already progressing on to their next solar project. The Administration is excited about further renewable energy development in Indian Country and is taking action to help duplicate the success of the K Road Moapa Project by providing tribes the tools they need to address the challenges directly. We have been working on new regulations to streamline the process of leasing tribal lands, which will return greater control over land use decisions to tribes and individual landowners, and promote housing and economic development throughout Indian Country. Within the DOI, the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development (IEED) awards Energy and Mineral Development Program (EMDP) funding to tribes to help evaluate their energy resource potential.

    Collaborating with the Department of Energy's Office of Indian Energy on this project and other projects, interagency efforts are underway to compliment and coordinate tribal energy development. The Department of Energy has been also providing technical assistance to the Moapa Band related to distributed hybrid and renewable energy options for their community and facilities.

    This same week, the Department of Energy announced Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) program selections for lower 48 Tribes. The START program is providing tribal communities and Alaska native villages with technical assistance to accelerate clean energy project development, advance energy self-sufficiency, and create jobs. START teams are comprised of experts from DOE and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory. START just recently selected 11 Tribes—five in Alaska and six in the contiguous United States—to receive on-the-ground technical support for community-based energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

    The Energy Department also recently launched a tribal energy development resources library providing links to more than 85 vetted publications, websites, and other helpful resources on energy project development and financing in Indian Country. This library can be accessed online at here.

    Finally, Energy Department this week announced the appointment of 3 additional tribal members for the DOE Indian Country Energy and Infrastructure Working Group. Established in 2011, this Working Group is comprised of appointed tribal energy leaders from across the Nation to discuss the most pressing issues facing tribal energy development. Working Group members have led the way in strategic interactions with key energy sector players to share best practices and discuss emerging markets and opportunities for innovative public-private partnerships." President Obama is committed to strengthening tribal communities. This Administration will continue to provide tribes with the tools and resources they need to foster energy self-sufficiency, create jobs, and build a sustainable, prosperous future.

    For more information on the K Road Moapa Project, click here

    Jodi Gillette is Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs, White House Domestic Policy Council
    Del Laverdure is Acting Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs
    Tracey A. LeBeau is Director for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs


  • Strengthening the Rural Economy

    Ed. Note: This piece has been cross-posted from the blog of the USDA

    This has been an important week for the White House Rural Council – a partnership between multiple Federal agencies, created by President Obama last year to focus and coordinate our efforts to create jobs in rural America and support American agriculture.

    We marked the one-year anniversary of the Council on June 11; and on the same day, the Rural Council released a report alongside the White House Council of Economic Advisors and USDA that notes significant progress in our efforts to grow the rural economy.  But President Obama and I also know that there’s more to be done.

    Over the past three years, the rural economy has strengthened. Last year, U.S. farm sector income reached a nominal record of $98.1 billion and record agricultural exports supported nearly a $43 billion trade surplus and 1.15 million American jobs.

    But this week’s report also reflected a strong belief I share with President Obama – that while progress has been made, we still have a great deal of work to do. It’s not time to let up.

  • Supporting Appalachian Communities

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Earl F. Gohl, Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

    Throughout the Appalachian Region there is an incredible group of folks who get up each day and work to make their communities better places for their kids and grandkids. These folks have a variety of hopes and dreams, skills and talents; they are teachers, entrepreneurs, health care workers and myriad of other occupations and avocations. Meeting them, getting to know them, and seeing their energy, dedication and creativity is incredibly inspiring.

    The challenge for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is to figure out ways to partner with these “spark plugs” to support their work and help them achieve their dreams.

    The White House Rural Council provided ARC with a forum to do just this. Through the Rural Council ARC has developed the Livable Communities Initiative, a partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA RD) that provides technical assistance to small rural towns to help them develop and implement strategies for making their communities more livable and competitive. ARC has learned that early technical support and advice like this is often the critical piece of the development puzzle that provides the necessary boost to help a community succeed. Seven Appalachian communities will be receiving this Livable Communities technical assistance support.

    Recently I had the opportunity to visit with the leaders of three Appalachian communities who requested and were selected to receive this technical assistance. The towns of Uhrichsville in Ohio, and Connellsville and Brownsville in Pennsylvania have all devised ways to take what they already have, whether unused buildings or parking lots, and turn them into community assets.


    Earl Gohl meets with a group of local high school student leaders in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Herald-Standard)

    I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Brownsville, Pennsylvania, where the proposal was initiated by a group of local high school students who were also recognized by the Jefferson Awards competition in April. It was their creative and entrepreneurial idea to transform a vacant lot into a traditional town square to revitalize and galvanize their downtown. One of the students told the local newspaper, “Brownsville is not what it once was. Our project hopes to bring back community spirit, to be a shot in the arm of adrenaline.” The above photo shows me with the students, and their teacher Kelli Dellarose. 

    Similar enthusiasm marked the work I saw in Uhrichsville and Connellsville, where a strong network of local partners, public and private, is committed to achieving the community’s vision. In each community, I was met by a large contingent of active and engaged project supporters. As Michael Edwards, executive director of the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority, said during my visit, the technical assistance provided by the ARC-EPA-USDA partnership was advancing a revitalization project on which “many organizations, community volunteers, and city officials have worked diligently.”

    Because of the work of the White House Rural Council, those student “sparkplugs” in Brownsville and enthusiastic community partners in Connellsville and Uhrichsville, as well as in communities across Appalachia, have a better opportunity to use local assets to achieve their dreams and create more vibrant local economies. I am looking forward to spending the next few months visiting with these Livable Communities winners and seeing how their visions come to life.

    Earl F. Gohl is the Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission

  • One Year Later: What We’re Doing on the White House Rural Council

    As someone who was born and raised on a ranch in Colorado, I know firsthand that rural communities are home to some of the most hard-working and self-reliant Americans.  I also know that the struggles facing these families are not unlike those confronting Americans across the country: we want our children to receive a world-class education; we want access to quality and affordable health care; we want job opportunities and vibrant local economies; and we want to leave a stronger America for our children and grandchildren to inherit.