By: Matthew Parsons
Director, Carter County Public Library
Working for the Carter County Public Library feels a lot like caring for an elder. While others achieve new heights of success, you’re left with what could best be described as maintenance. Of course you don’t see it that way while you’re doing it. You know you’re doing the right thing for your loved one. You feel the fulfillment of doing a job that needs doing, but you feel something else, too. I often feel hopeless; like there is nothing that can be done to keep this body alive. I think, at times, that all I can do is try to make the journey from here to the other side as painless as possible. But every so often, something happens to you to change your perspective. As you set about sorting pills and changing bed sheets, your charge looks to you and thanks you so genuinely it makes your remember what you’re doing all of this for. And somehow, despite the darkness, you see a path forward.
Three weeks ago, Max Hammond invited me to a Zoom meeting with several other community leaders. He sent me research materials to read up on and invited experts to host a conversation on the top of a drug and alcohol abuse prevention model. Max is our programming and outreach coordinator, and one of the community’s most active players. Max is owed an immense amount of credit for his work in bringing The Warrior’s Path to Olive Hill, creating connections with the National Park Service, Eastern Kentucky University, KET, and more. When Max invites me to be a part of a project, I accept the invitation quite readily.
The program is called The Pathfinder Initiative. The initiative is aimed at young people in Carter County in ages ranging from middle school to high school. The concept is simple: create a coalition with local agencies, businesses, and government offices; collect data from young people in the form of surveys – survey interests, lifestyle, habits, and perceived challenges; create programming that addresses those young folks and engages with them directly on the level they have expressed the most interest in. Parents are invited to participate as well, as the program encourages a high level of family interaction in its guidelines. By engaging with students based on their interests and encouraging family togethernesss, the initiative hopes to reduce the risk of addictions and substance abuse in our young people. Not only do I think the initiative is necessary, I think it’s downright patriotic.
As I listened to Max introduce the program and describe its methods and goals, I realized that what we were discussing was much more than a program to reduce substance abuse among young people, but a program aimed at restoring the Appalachian family unit. Yes, of course, the program has other aspirations: a community permaculture installation at the arts center; a program to teach young people outdoor recreation, land stewardship, and trail maintenance with Olive Hill Trail Town; outreach events working with schools, and bringing much-needed funding to already existing initiative. But these lofty goals are dwarfed by the sheer audacity of the program’s larger goal: to restore a community’s power and pride of self.
Since being hired as the Carter County Public Library’s director, I have been asked this question more times than any other: what do we need a library for? It’s a hard question to answer simply. But in a word? This. The Pathfinder Initiative aligns perfectly with the library’s programming standards and shows local officials what we are willing to do with or without support. If this initiative succeeds, it will be because the people came together and made it happen. If it does not succeed, it will not be for lack of effort by our community nonprofits, businesses, and community leaders. This program is bringing people together and, somehow, I don’t feel like my job is just maintenance anymore. Now is the time to progress. This is the path forward.
Matthew Parsons can be reached at email@example.com.