To fulfill its purpose of “...encouraging Appalachians and non-Appalachians to value and appreciate the cultural heritage of Appalachia...” the Appalachian Community Development Association works in two different directions. One is to stage the annual Appalachian Festival and other events to directly show case those cultural activities that bring pride to our people. We bring to Greater Cincinnati the music, crafts, history, literature and most importantly the people which best represent us. It is our goal to produce events at a cost that is as affordable as possible so that families can come and discover the richness of Appalachian culture.

Secondly, in order to share this rich heritage and enable others to develop pride in their culture, the ACDA annually awards financial grants to organizations that work with the Appalachian community and the population at large to teach them about our cultural heritage. This year, we are again awarding six organizations a total of $10,000. In the 50 year history of the ACDA, we have given $155,000 to the community through the grant program.

  • Appalachian Connection
  • Russ Childers 
  • Urban Appalachian Community Coalition
  • Babies Milk Fund
  • YWCA Butler County
  • Will Henry Hartsock
  • Corryville Suzuki Project
  • O'Tucks Scholarships
  • EduDoc Foundation

If you are part of an organization that shares our purpose, then you are encouraged to develop a program that helps instill pride in Appalachian heritage and apply for a grant. Applications for grants must be submitted by March 1st of the year if they are to be granted. You may write or call the Appalachian Community Development Association, or simply print the online application.

Grants program keeps festival spirit alive

By Elissa Sonnenberg

Long after the last crumb of cornbread is swept from the grounds of the annual Appalachian Festival at Coney Island, the echoes of its mountain music, dance and culture reverberate in schools, community centers and artists' studios throughout Greater Cincinnati.

That's because the Appalachian Community Development Association (ACDA), which has organized the Festival for 44 of its 50 years, also administers a unique grant program that turns event proceeds into seed money. Success for the Festival means success for ACDA's grant recipients - organizations and individuals striving to affirm and enhance the lives of Appalachians and promote pride in Appalachian culture. ACDA has sown nearly $150,000 into worthy local projects since 1990.

Since its formation in 1974, the ACDA, an outgrowth of the Junior League, has had one goal - improve the communities and the social and cultural development of our area's Urban Appalachians. Translating that goal into action requires the efforts of lots of people who've never stepped foot in the mountains.

One grant helped teach inner-city girls about mountain life by putting them to work on a farm. Another is helping bring the dream of a neighborhood cultural heritage center to life. One built community through oral history and artistic performance. Another brought the sounds of the banjo to an East End church for a multi-cultural gospel workshop. The common thread that binds these projects is their spirit - strong, determined and resilient. It is an echo of the past that resonates in the present. A reminder of the Appalachian mountaineers and their migrant ancestors who to this day continue their quest for positive identity. In a society where harsh stereotypes drown out the sweet strains of the dulcimer, their spirit speaks of hope and inspiration.

Appalachian Camps Teach City Kids Mountain Ways

In 1996, Newport's Brighton Center led a project in conjunction with the Licking River Girl Scouts and the Covington Community Center that offered two weeks of day camps for inner-city girls, aged six to 12. Many of the girls from Newport, Dayton and Covington, had never been outside the city. Some girls who had roots in the Appalachian region didn't know it, and even if they did, they weren't necessarily proud of their "hillbilly" heritage.

The one-week camps took more than 100 girls out of the city to Sunrock Farm and the Girl Scouts' facilities in Erlanger. Together, the girls made candles, baked bread, gathered eggs and milked goats. They breathed country air, learned Appalachian dances and saw the stars light up the dark sky.

Teens from youth leadership programs became advisors and teachers. The girls grew closer to each other while learning and sharing experiences of Appalachian culture. "ACDA allowed us to have the camp," says Barb Horsley, Brighton Center's Youth Leadership Specialist. "Our goals were to build an awareness of Appalachian culture, to get the girls out of the city, to strengthen friendships, to give the older girls a chance to use their leadership skills and to have fun. We met our goals."

The day camps were so successful that many of the girls want to return for another chance to live the mountain life, even if it is only for one week.

Pendleton Heritage Center Workers Build Sweat Equity

It's only a shell of a building on Eastern Avenue. Once passed unnoticed by hundreds of commuters each day. But the former railway depot turned recreation center houses the hopes and dreams of a committed group of East End residents intent on preserving their heritage, celebrating their diversity and promoting their future, especially as gentrification brings new residents into their midst.

In a neighborhood in great need of office and meeting space for residents and agencies serving residents, the Pendleton Heritage Center offers a great opportunity to coordinate services and improve offerings to citizens, while preserving and celebrating the East End's history and heritage.

"The Center is an effort to try to explain the cultural heritage to newcomers, and also symbolic of the long-time residents' ability to stay there," says Ariel Miller, Pendleton Heritage Center Treasurer.

A grant from ACDA provides an integral piece of the residents' dream - money to hire a professional foreman to oversee the work of volunteers as they tuck-point, hang storm windows and cabinets, landscape and more. Without the volunteers' "sweat equity," Pendleton Heritage Center could not be completed, as it is scheduled to be, this year. The volunteer effort is one way the Pendleton Heritage Center proves it practices what it preaches - reconciliation and respect. While some volunteers are from middle to upper-class churches, others come from the neighborhood community school and social service agencies.

"The idea is to get people from lots of different backgrounds together by having them work side by side, to show them that cultural and economic differences can be transcended," says Miller.

Jack and Molly Tales Bring Community Back to Roots

Covington Community Center's year-long "Jack in the City" project in 1997 combined the Appalachian traditions of oral history, Jack (and Molly) tales, music, food and fun. "The goal was to raise the awareness and appreciation of Appalachian culture in our community and beyond," explains Jean St. John, Covington Community Center's Community Arts Coordinator.

The large-scale project began as cultural conservationist Lynn David identified mountain traditions that had taken hold in the inner-city - families living in clusters, recipes handed down for generations and the like. Humanities scholar Gurney Norman then worked with the Covington group to define the scope of the project's culminating performance by exploring the mythological meanings behind stories of the questing folk heroes, Jack and Molly. With help from ACDA, the project included local story gatherer Brenda Saylor, who worked with Covington women to help them tell their stories first on paper, then on stage.

"It was a way to give people back their traditions," says St. John. "We wanted to give our community something to be proud of, the tradition of telling stories." The performance of "Jack in the City" at Covington's Carnegie Theater included community members, oral histories and professional actors and musicians. Covington community members, along with hundreds of those in the audience, concluded that Jack and Molly, who long ago migrated with families from the British Isles to the Appalachian Mountains, have followed the migrants to the city, bringing with them a rich and joyful cultural heritage.

Appalachians, African-Americans share music, history

We Shall Overcome. We Shall Not Be Moved. The words call to mind Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but they also inspired Appalachian coal miners seeking to unionize in earlier decades.

The Urban Appalachian Council's Go Tell It On The Mountains gospel music workshop and concert last year, which was funded in part by ACDA, celebrated the many similarities between African-American and Appalachian spiritual and gospel music in an effort to build bridges of cultural understanding.

Covington's Northern Kentucky Brotherhood and the Mullins Family from Kentucky and Virginia filled Cincinnati's Mt. Carmel Baptist Church with songs of praise and pain, persecution and triumph, crossing generational and racial divides with sweet harmony. Go Tell It On The Mountains included an afternoon workshop for church choir directors, singers and anyone interested in the history of Southern gospel music, as well as an evening concert, in which the groups entertained and inspired their diverse audience. "Go Tell It On The Mountains contributed to UAC's efforts to build community and understanding in Urban Appalachian neighborhoods," says Pauletta Hansel, UAC's Assistant Director of Community Development. "Telling the stories of African-American and Appalachian gospel music, and explaining their common roots was an important way for us to show how cultures can be enhanced by each other's influences."

In each of these projects, building bridges to the past serves as an important step toward a brighter future.

"If we don't know where we come from, then how can we know where we're going?" asks ACDA Board Member. "ACDA grants provide an important link for our people and our communities. They help keep the mountain spirit alive."

Elissa Sonnenberg is a second-generation Urban Appalachian and a Cincinnati-based freelance writer.

Dear Friend of the Appalachian Festival:

As you may know, The Appalachian Community Development Association (The A.C.D.A.) produces the annual Appalachian Festival held at Coney Island each May. Celebrating its 51st Anniversary this year, the Appalachian Festival continues to be the only major event in Cincinnati celebrating Appalachian Heritage and Culture. In 2019, the Appalachian Festival attracted over 25,000 patrons who took part in our various hands-on educational activities, music programs, and folklore demonstrations. This year's attendance should be even larger!

As our audience grows, we continue to develop new cultural, musical and educational programs, causing our Festival expenses to increase. During our 50 years of operation, the Appalachian Festival existed entirely from gate income, donations from individuals (printers, artists, designers and photographers), and the efforts of the Festival's all volunteer committee. 

A weekend of inclement weather impacts even the best organized and promoted event. Regardless of attendance, Festival expenses must still be paid. More importantly, a festival's financial loss severely effects an organization's financial base, especially the Appalachian Festival which donates a large portion of profits to area Appalachian-oriented projects through A.C.D.A.'s Small Grants Program.

We are writing to request your financial support for the 2020 Appalachian Festival. Your contribution will help ensure that the festival continues each year, come rain or shine. Appalachian Festival friends have been the catalyst for growth, diversity and extended programming over the last 50 years. Without your long-term support, the Appalachian Festival would not be planning to celebrate its 51st Anniversary this year. Please join the A.C.D.A. and the Appalachian Festival in continuing our successful history of celebrating Appalachian Culture.

$150,000 in Grants have been awarded from proceeds of the Festival

The Festival helps raise grant money for schools, community centers and artist studios throughout Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The Appalachian Community Development Association (ACDA), which organizes the Festival, provides grants to organizations and individuals striving to enhance the lives of Appalachians and promote pride in Appalachian culture. The ACA has awarded over $150,000 to 501(c)3 organizations in our Appalachian region involved in education and food distribution to those in need.