BRIGHT today for a brighter tomorrow.

Five of Pulaski County's best and brightest were selected to take part in the BRIGHT Kentucky program which is designed to build the capacity of young leaders -- average ages 20 to 40 -- in the Appalachian area of Kentucky.

The program offers non-partisan, ethical leadership training as well as expanded networks and mentoring tailored to the 54 Kentucky counties represented by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The program is made possible by a $500,000 ARC grant in addition to funding from sources such as the Whitaker Foundation and non-profit organization SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region).

"It's a collection of what I would call community leaders from eastern Kentucky," said Bobby Clue, Executive Director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce. "It's really impressive collection (of people)."

The inaugural BRIGHT Kentucky class was announced by Leadership Kentucky, a non-profit educational organization for 35 years now in the Commonwealth, and consists of 50 participants from 29 different ARC counties representing a variety of public and private sectors.

Five of them are from Pulaski County -- Clue, Kelli Chaney of United Cumberland Bank, JaKaye Garthe of Hampton Inn, Cody Gibson of Wright Medical Technologies, and Emily Conley, of the Barnes & Noble campus bookstore at Somerset Community College.

Clue said the group gets to know each other so that they can collaborate to improve the communities they live in. He called being selected a "tremendous honor."

"I have beem asked to participate in Leadership Kentucky for many years and I always brushed it off because of the the time commitment," he said, noting his own family and kids as a factor in that. "When I saw this program, I felt it was a good expenditure of my time. I believe in eastern Kentucky and I believe that we need to start sharing information and looking at things on a regional level and collaborating with each other, all the way from here to Pikeville.

"If we pick up a factory in Somerset, or in Hazard, or Inez, that's good for a whole lot of people right here," he added. "But if that factory goes somewhere else out of this state, that doesn't benefit us. We have to look at things in a more regional way and I believe this program makes connections to help us more effectively do that."

Conley said she applied for the program to develop her knowledge of Appalachian communities and struggles within the region, as well as learning about ways she can make an impact.

"I am looking forward to learning more this fall and bring back some innovative and exciting ways our communities can grow!" she said. "There are lots of great things happening in Somerset and I hope the vision of 'regionalism' can help us all grow within our Appalachian area."

The group last week finished a retreat in the Red Rievr Gorge area, their first get-together. Going forward, the group will meet for four more three-day sessions, and will take participants across the eastern part of the state and places like the Big Sandy Region, Cumberland Region, the Daniel Boone Region in October, and the Gateway Region.

"We spent two-and-a-half days getting to know each other and learning about each other, and started digging into eastern Kentucky and how to collaborate on different ideas to start the process," said Clue. He noted that a future class would spend part of the day in Somerset, and he's "excited to show off our community to all these other people from eastern Kentucky."

Garth said she applied for the program to improve her leadership skills and expand her network.

"My goal is to be a better leader in my workplace as well as being able to help young women break the cycle of generational poverty like I have done for myself," she said. "To be accepted into a program like this means the world to me,. Just after our first session I have gained the confidence and tools to continue my leadership roles and effect positive change in my workforce and in my community.

I have already learned so much, met so many other leaders and am excited to participate in the next four sessions," she added.

Gibson has been appointed by Somerset Mayor Alan Keck to SPEDA, or Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority. Gibson believes that the experience with BRIGHT Kentucky will help him in his role with SPEDA as well.

"I think this is a great opportunity to network for that cause and hopefully learn from a lot of other person," he said. "Upon going to our first session, I was blown away by how many different talented people and organizations were represented, including the other people from Somerset. How fortunate I feel to be elected with the magnitude of people from Somerset!"

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