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mom and dad holding young toddler son in front of moonville tunnel in vinton county ohio

Why I Chose Appalachian Ohio as Home and Why You Should Too

The Foundation for Appalachian Ohio launches the Growing Home Fellowship, a five-year leadership development program supporting emerging K-12 leaders, ages 18-35, with $32,000 stipends.

Moonville Rail Trail in Vinton County

Why I Chose Appalachian Ohio as Home and Why You Should Too

By Emily Bentley

Posted On: Sep 9, 2022

In 2011, when my now husband and I were living in London, we faced the same decision many young couples face: where do we want to call home? Originally from Ohio's Hocking Hills, I had attended Earlham College in Indiana and worked in North Carolina as a Teach for America Corps Member before moving abroad. My husband, originally from the UK, had just finished a year teaching abroad in Amman, Jordan. As self-proclaimed lovers of adventure, new experiences, and travel, we were ready for the next big adventure. Finding "home." 

Deciding where to call home is no small feat. There are the usual logistical questions to consider: employment opportunities and expanding job markets, cost of living, and availability of housing.

For us, there were deeper questions to ponder. Where did we want to establish roots? Where would we feel connected to family and friends? What type of community did we want to grow into? Where would we have access to the outdoors, art, and experiences that would enrich our lives in a meaningful way? And of particular importance to us, where and how could we find purpose and make a difference?

As we traveled across the U.S. and abroad, we asked ourselves if any of our destinations felt like home. But while so many cities and regions were rich in experiences, they didn't provide the "home" feel we were after.

dad holding baby looking up at ash cave in hocking hills state park in logan ohio
Ash Cave at Hocking Hills State Park in Logan

In the winter of 2011, as I spent time with parents in my hometown, I decided to substitute teach at my former high school in Logan. During that time, I was asked if I'd be interested in applying for a full-time job for the following school year. And that's when it clicked. "Home" meant returning to Appalachian Ohio.

Coming home to Appalachian Ohio, I found my purpose as I served kids in my community through teaching. My husband has thrived as well, first launching his writing/illustrating career remotely and later securing a teaching position.

mom and dad with toddler son in front of bike and cherry blossom trees in athens county ohio
Biking through cherry blossoms in Athens County

We've connected again to the outdoors. But rather than taking destination trips, we spend our weeknights and weekends in the scenic paradise of our backyard: hiking, biking, kayaking, and camping. We're close to family, have made deep friendships, and have grown into a tight knit community that not only supports us, but our young son now as well.

The cost of living in Appalachian Ohio is night-and-day different from London. Everything is more affordable – groceries, clothing, gas, concert tickets, dinners out, travel expenses, and more. We were able to save and put a hefty down payment on a gorgeous home, and our mortgage is a fraction of what we used to pay in rent.

Appalachian Ohio supports young people with a range of opportunities. Our friends and neighbors have successful and impactful careers both locally and remotely – working in public, private, and nonprofit spheres. I've been able to continue my professional journey, pivoting away from the classroom in search of new ways to impact my community.

During the last year, I received my master's degree in public administration from Ohio University and joined the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio (FAO), where I now have the best job - launching our Growing Home Fellowship.

The Growing Home Fellowship aims to identify emerging leaders, ages 18-35, committed to working with the K-12 population in Appalachian Ohio who are ready to make a difference in their communities. Each fellow will receive a $32,000 financial stipend, leadership development, and peer support while living, working, and volunteering in Appalachian Ohio for five years.

In its pilot year, the program will support 120 passionate young leaders: 60 individuals who already live and work in the region and 60 who will move/return to the region.

The Growing Home Fellowship is also open to college/university students graduating by June 2023 who intend to secure work with K-12 students upon completion of their degree. As many young people are looking for the place they'll call home when they're graduating from college and starting their careers, I'm excited to work with a program that encourages young leaders to "grow home" to Appalachian Ohio.

The Growing Home Fellowship offers emerging leaders flexibility in how they volunteer and give back to their communities through the option of three leadership cohorts. We will work with fellows to define outcomes for the scope of these roles, seeking to ignite change and inspire possibility in our communities.

At FAO, we recognize the abundance of possibility in Appalachian Ohio and are eager to support the region's future and emerging leaders. If you feel that you or someone you know would be a great fit for this program, we'd love to hear from you. Questions and comments can be sent to: fellowships@ffao.org.  

Applications are currently available online. For more information and to apply, visit https://appalachianohio.org/growinghome/.

Learn more about living and working in Ohio at LiveinOhio.org

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