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Youth-Service Effort 'Opens Eyes' To Appalachian Region's Prospects

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By Millicent Lawton

This fall, 10 teenagers from the tiny Appalachian town of Ivanhoe, Va., have a bit of after-school paperwork to attend to--an application to the Federal Communications Commission to operate their own radio station.

In rural Lawrence County, Ala., meanwhile, eight Cherokee Indian youths are forming a corporation and continuing negotiations in an effort to buy a local movie theater they hope to renovate.

The two projects--part of a first-of-its-kind effort by the Appalachian Regional Commission--were among 16 youth-leadership programs to receive funding from the arc last summer.

Some of the projects, including those in Virginia and Alabama, will continue through the spring using after-school time.

While some of the projects may have to seek other money to implement their plans, additional funding from the arc is available.

Ella Ennis, the arc coordinator for the projects, said she expects that all of the summer pilot projects will apply for implementation grants. She said as much as $50,000 is available to each state.

Officials of the quasi-governmental agency, which is based in Washington, said they launched the effort to develop skills among Appalachian teenagers who can help make the region more competitive in the next century.

The community-service projects, which each received a planning grant of from $15,000 to $20,000, touched about 500 students in the 13 Appalachian states--from New York to Mississippi, Ms. Ennis said.

The student-run ventures varied widely--from the inner-city Pittsburgh teenagers who planned the reopening of a local convenience store to the Western Maryland youths who trained as peer counselors.

The program was tied to the 25th anniversary of the state- and federally-funded commission's creation by the Congress. Over the years, the arc has paid for the construction of 3,000 miles of Appalachian highway as well as educational, economic, and employment initiatives.

'Opening Their Eyes'

Ms. Ennis said the commission decided to create the youth project because many young people end up leaving Appalachia when they realize that they are powerless to bring about change in the region or even to make a decent living.

The program was designed to help youths who might otherwise depart "open their eyes to existing opportunities," she said.

Judging from the views of local project advisers, the arc program fulfilled its mission.

"It was more than a success," said Maxine Waller of the Ivanhoe Civic League, who coordinated the Virginia project. "It was freedom for the young people to know they can do something ... and they don't have to lie down in a ditch and stay there."

Higher education had no place in their lives before they started their project, she said; "now every kid is thinking about college."

Darla Graves, who coordinated the efforts of the eight 16- and 17-year-olds in the Lawrence County, Ala., project, agreed: "They now have confidence in their leadership abilities."

When they started last summer, the Ivanhoe students knew they wanted a local outlet for their favorite music, such as that by the late rocker Jimi Hendrix.

When a community survey revealed support for the idea of a non-commercial FM radio station, they began a search for a building and a hilltop on which to put an antenna. They found both and started hunting for station equipment.

But now, out of money and facing the uncertainty of fcc approval, Ms. Waller said, "It's going to be a long, uphill battle."

Like Ivanhoe, the Alabama project also faces a financial challenge; the renovation of the theater and the equipment needed to outfit it could run as much as $1.5 million, Ms. Graves said.

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