Carlie McCoy joins SOAR team as part of University of Kentucky Scholar Intern program

PIKEVILLE, Ky. – Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR) is pleased to announce the addition of Carlie McCoy to its team through a collaboration with the University of Kentucky’s Scholar Intern program. 

Carlie McCoy

Carlie McCoy

McCoy, a native of Belfry, Ky., is a second-year student pursuing a degree in Integrated Strategic Communication with a minor in Digital Media and Design at the University of Kentucky.  She will spend 14 weeks this summer as a member of SOAR team.

“We are excited to have Carlie join our team this summer as a part of the University of Kentucky Scholar Intern program,” said Joshua Ball, associate executive director of SOAR. “Carlie represents a segment of our population that is critically important in our work to create a future in Appalachia Kentucky. She’ll bring new and fresh ideas that will help us better communicate our work and the work of our partners.”

McCoy is a 2018 graduate of Belfry High School and was a recipient of the Governor’s Scholars Program. 

“Attending the University of Kentucky was a dream of mine,” said McCoy. “Coming home to the mountains after I obtain my degree is another dream. Being able to be a part of the team at SOAR is a perfect fit for me.  They are working day in and day out to bring new opportunities to the region.”

For more information on SOAR, visit  To learn more about SOAR’s partnerships and impact across the region, visit  To contact McCoy, call (606) 766-1160 or email  


High School Dropout Turned Star EKU Graduate Finds Inspiration in Reba McEntire Song

Kelli Jo Blair.jpg

Reprinted from EKU Stories

Ten years after she dropped out of high school, Kelli Jo Blair was standing at her kitchen sink, washing dishes from the breakfast she had made for her family. Her three children were playing and fighting in the living room. Country music played in the background.

And then a single song forever changed her life.

“Is there life out there?” Reba McEntire asked in her hit song of that title.

Like the character McEntire portrayed in song, Blair loved her family and motherhood. “But was there more for me? Was I always just going to be ‘someone’s mother’ or ‘someone’s wife?”

Then and there, she determined her answer.

“I knew in my heart and soul that I was made for more,” Blair said. “This was not all that I am. I wanted my own identity and to achieve my own goals as well.”

Her first step on her most improbable journey was obtaining a GED, because she was a high school dropout. One of her most recent steps was to the podium at an Eastern Kentucky University commencement ceremony, where the summa cum laude graduate shared her amazing life story as student speaker for EKU’s College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences.

Rewind to Sheldon Clark High School in Inez, where as a teenager, Blair “got lost, really lost. On any given day, my teachers could not find me. I had a 1.5 GPA, was truant, and had better things to do than attend school. Or so my arrogant teenage mind thought.”

So, it’s no surprise that her journey through college as an E-Campus psychology major was one of overcoming self-doubt and fear – “fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of not being good enough (or) too old, even fear of public speaking.”

Her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in autism and developmental disabilities testifies that she overcame those fears the only way she knew how – by facing them head-on.

“You cannot grow without fear,” Blair declared to her fellow graduates. “If it isn’t scary for you, it isn’t growth. If growth was a sunflower, then fear would be the fertilizer and sunlight the determination.”

It was also a journey of self-discovery. Blair “flourished by facing these fears (and) discovered I am a writer, a leader, an advocate and a motivator. And, now, a college graduate. All things I never thought of myself before this journey.”

She began to submit her writing, and several of her articles have been published. She started a local autism support group. She even leads a women’s group focused on mental health, goal-setting, motivating and inspiring each other.

“That one decision to attempt my GED changed my life completely,” Blair said. “It sparked a fire inside of me that has not been put out yet. It broke me out of my shell and gave me the tenacity and drive to reach for more. It was a defining moment in my life.”

Recalling her own experiences, Blair told her classmates: “Today is not an ending. It is a beginning. There is so much more you can do now that you armed with knowledge. You can change the world. You have the ability; you just need to harness it.

“Never give up and never underestimate yourself,” she continued. “Your dream is achievable. Believe in yourself, even if no one else does. All it takes is one person to believe in you, and that one person is you.”

Blair plans now to pursue a graduate degree in clinical mental health counseling and eventually become certified in applied behavior analysis.

McEntire asked, and Blair answered. Yes, indeed, there is life out there.

EKU is a East Kentucky Partner of SOAR.

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to host free webinar on drug overdose and prevention programs

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is offering a free webinar on Kentucky drug overdose and prevention programs. The webinar is scheduled for Thursday, May 23, from 1-2 p.m. (ET).

Presenters are:

  • Dr. Terry Bunn, director of the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC), who will discuss, which provides links to substance use disorder treatment facilities with available openings; and 

  • Dr. Ty Borders, University of Kentucky, Director of the Rural and Underserved Health Research Center, as well as the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky endowed chair in rural health policy; Dr. Borders will share recent research findings on opioid use disorder treatment policies and access in both Kentucky and the nation.

Registration is required here.

Creating Healthy Communities is one of the seven goals outlined in SOAR’s Regional Blueprint for a 21st Century Appalachia.