In 2018 in Whitley County, Kentucky, a group of passionate citizens held a dinner to discuss ways to change the narrative surrounding the community. There were so many things to be proud of within the county, but it seemed like news coverage consistently revolved around the same, tired stereotype of Southeastern Kentucky. These volunteers wanted to identify ways to spark community pride, encourage community engagement, and spur community and economic development. The group agreed to form a non-proﬁt entity called Why Whitley, to highlight reasons why Whitley County is special, signiﬁcant, and valued to residents and visitors alike.
In the same timeframe, Why Whitley volunteers learned about Community Economic Development Initiative for Kentucky (CEDIK) and ARC’s Downtown Revitalization in the Promise Zone project and coordinated with CEDIK to learn about opportunities for community development, funding, and revitalization. Through Why Whitley’s relationship with CEDIK staff, Why Whitley was able to formalize their structure, focus their efforts on speciﬁc areas of downtown, and secure funding to create meaningful change in the community.
Over the past 3 years, Why Whitley has used CEDIK services to conduct several studies and community design plans for their downtown and successfully rescued an abandoned lot at the entrance of Downtown Williamsburg. Through grant funding made available through the Downtown Revitalization in the Promise Zone sub-grants, Why Whitley transformed the abandoned lot into an active, vibrant greenspace and hosted the River Fog Festival—the ﬁrst festival in downtown Williamsburg, KY focused on community pride, vibrant space, and local food, drink, and music. The festival had over 1,000 attendees and generated over $6,000 in sales from participating vendors. This festival was an integral part of generating momentum and excitement for residents around socializing in downtown Williamsburg.
Why Whitley also created an online video highlighting the efforts of former Williamsburg mayor, Marcella Mountjoy, and her emphasis on community design, community pride, and vibrancy. The video received over 10,000 views within the ﬁrst 3 days and is still shared widely within the community as a way to spark the passion and love for the community that Mrs. Mountjoy held.
Why Whitley would not have been able to grow, develop, and navigate topics such as community economic development, community design, and grant writing if they did not have the support of CEDIK staff through the ARC Downtown Revitalization in the Promise Zone grant. Through this partnership, Why Whitley members believe that downtown Williamsburg has grown and developed in a sustainable, professional, and monumental way and has become a place that residents and visitors alike can celebrate.