On Sept. 25, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced 40 Fellows who will be participating in the inaugural class of the Appalachian Leadership Institute. Of those select individuals, Hazard High School teacher Luke Glaser will be representing Perry County.

The Appalachian Leadership Institute, ARC officials said, is an extensive nine-month program that was developed by ARC in partnership with the University of Tennessee, the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy, Tuskegee University and Collective Impact. It will focus on skill-building seminars, best practice reviews, field visits, mentoring and networking, and will draw on each one of Appalachia’s 13 states. The fellows, ARC officials said, will discuss and learn about a variety of sectors including public policy, community development, education, investment and more.

The Appalachian Leadership Institute Fellows, ARC officials said, are chosen through a very competitive application process, explaining that ARC received 180 applications for the

inaugural class, resulting in an acceptance rate of 22 percent.

“I congratulate the participants in this inaugural class of the Appalachian Leadership Institute for being selected through a very competitive process,” said ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas “Leadership is the essential foundation on which all of our collective efforts to enhance the region rest. I am excited by the future opportunities our region will create, and am confident that these individuals will discover and capitalize on them.”

Glaser said that the application process was “grueling” and that he does have his worries about the program, but overall, he said he is far more excited about all of the possibilities. “The idea is that they’re going to take leaders from all of the Appalachia states from New York to Mississippi and we’re going to different spots in Appalachia to learn about different sectors of creating civic sustainability,” said Glaser. “I am mostly excited, because this is going to be a really good opportunity for both me and the community,” he said.

“I think that part of the reason I was chosen was because of my background,” said Glaser. “I believe I am the only current educator, at least K-12 educator, that is part of the group, so that is a unique aspect of it. That partnered with the city council work I’ve done so far is probably what got me in,” he said.

As part of the Appalachian Leadership Institute, Glaser, along with other participating fellows, will learn how to: design effective economic development project proposals; integrate community assets into long-lasting economic development strategies; identify resources available to spur economic development; locate and access investment capital from a variety of public and private sources; prepare competitive applications for public grant opportunities; and use expanded leadership skills to create strong coalitions.

Glaser said that his nearly daily interaction with a school setting will help him provide a different viewpoint to those program goals.

“I envision how a community helps its kids as more than occasional donations and things like that,” said Glaser. “For a community to truly function, kids have to know the problems in the community, they have to be allowed to tackle those problems and they have to be given a seat at the table and given an opportunity to be a part of that.”

Glaser said he feels that many of his biggest actions and accomplishments he has made with city government so far has involved students, and that he hopes to increase that in the future. “The hope right now is to continue that trend armed with this new knowledge and these new experiences,” said Glaser.

“My role, I see it as a challenge to encourage people to think about how are we actually helping kids and getting kids involved, and I think they will challenge me in similar ways from their sectors,” said Glaser, stating that he is looking forward to hearing other views and ideas as well.

“I am excited to hear about the Appalachian perspective from other states. I think that the unique aspect of Appalachia comes down to separate communities,” said Glaser. “I can imagine 40 people coming from 40 different communities in 13 different states, I mean there are going to be very different things about us all but there are also going to be commonalities between all 40 of us and what we struggle with in our day-to-days of the communities so it’s going to be interesting to hear all those different perspectives.”

“I am excited to work more closely with people who have been at this a lot longer than I have who offer perspective which is something that I lack,” Glaser said.

The curriculum, ARC representatives said, will be anchored by six multi-day seminars around the region, followed by a capstone graduation in Washington, DC. The first session will take place in Morehead, Kentucky, from October 21–24. Upon completion of the program, Appalachian Leadership Institute Fellows will automatically become part of the Appalachian Leadership Institute Network, a peer-to-peer working group committed to Appalachia’s future, said ARC officials.

“Our hope is that this program will help them further develop their abilities in the areas of leadership and problem solving, allowing them to help bring advancement, growth, and greater prosperity to their communities,” said Thomas.

Glaser said that he expects to gain a lot of knowledge and other perspectives from this experience, and said he is looking forward to coming back to Hazard with a lot of energy around how to tackle big problems and how to bring more people to the discussion of how to tackle those problems. “I am excited to learn what kind of big projects I want to take on and work on how to bring more people to the table,” said Glaser. “I plan to use next summer to apply some of the stuff to tackle some of the big problems we are facing here.”

This program, Glaser said, will just be one step in the process of bettering the county though. For anything to actually change, he said, it will take more community involvement in the future. “I think that if you took all the people that are involved in Hazard and you were to triple the number of people who came to all these events and did all these things, the impact would be I can’t imagine how beneficial,” said Glaser.

Glaser said that though he is not from the area originally, he now feels like an adopted son of the area and wants to make the city proud.

“I’m honored,” he said.

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