Collaboration and Building Trust Gets Stuff Done

In their commitment to improving literacy in the communities where they work, Save the Children has placed Community Literacy Managers in two of the poorest counties in eastern Kentucky – Owsley and Clay.   The Community Literacy Managers were initially tasked with developing an asset map for each of their counties to ensure they understood the people and organizations that could help them further literacy.   The importance of developing trust and collaboration was very evident to me in watching the Community Literacy Managers do their job.  Many of the counties they support are isolated in mountainous areas and they engage leaders in those communities to break down barriers to literacy.

I have learned a lot about eastern Kentucky that surprised me.   Kentucky is one of the poorest states in the United States, with approximately 20% of the population living below the federal poverty levels. Lower levels of education attainment often accompany poverty, and Kentucky has the third lowest percentage of people who have completed high school.  Eight of the 25 poorest counties in the United States are located in eastern Kentucky, according to 2014 census statistics.

The economy in eastern Kentucky grew throughout the 19th and early 20th century because of coal mining, but coal production in the region has been declining since 1990.  Unemployment is on the rise and the population in the rural counties has been declining.  There many health issues in the Appalachian region of Kentucky which has the second highest percentage of drug overdose in the US and increasing numbers of people infected with HIV and hepatitis C.

Kentucky also has rates of cancer and death related to cancers which are higher than the national average as well as high rates of chronic respiratory disorders and heart disease. Smoking is a contributing factor to the high rates of cancer and poverty and low educational attainment contribute to higher rates of smoking.   In addition recent studies have shown a correlation between mountain top removal mining  – where they blow the tops off of the mountain to get to the coal) and higher rates of cancer, respiratory and heart disease.

An important asset for Community Literacy Manager, Travis Estridge is a group of 15 people called the Owsley County Action Team. The group was started in the early 90s and is focused on economic development.  Travis grew up in eastern Kentucky and benefited from a community center funded by Save the Children.  He realizes that people in the region are distrustful of outsiders.  Travis tries to attend monthly Owsley County Action Team meetings because people in the county will not work with you unless you are supported by this group of people.

Lee Ann Gabbard another Community Literacy Manager, has engaged a local McDonald’s franchise owner in Hazard Kentucky to support a little free library at the town McDonalds. McDonald’s has picked up on the story at a national level and is trying to encourage similar initiatives in other communities.  LeeAnn has also partnered with a local judge and police officers to help promote literacy activities such as story walks where pages of a childrens’ picture book are posted around a community park for families to read as they walk.


The objective of my Pulse assignment is to increase awareness at Save the Children of best practices in change management and to draft a change management plan for a revised literacy programming strategy that builds on the community engagement work that the Community Literacy Managers have started. I am very fortunate that Save the Children has been collaborating with GSK to rollout ADP, although they are calling it ADI – Accelerating Development and Improvement.  To achieve the objective of my assignment, I am leveraging this work and collaborating with the folks in the central office of Save the Children who have recently been certified in ADP to facilitate a workshop in early August.


  1. Ann, it’s great to hear from you. I have been thinking of you … as I was recently at the Save DC office helping with the rollout of their 1st ADI workshop. So glad to hear that you are connected to this piece of work too! P.s. I love the storywalks too 🙂 Best wishes, Manu.

  2. Those are sobering statistics, Ann. Education is so important and really opens up so many opportunities. So many issues at work here and it looks as though STC is on the case! Looking forward to hearing more about what you are doing and learning. PS I will be facilitating the Sept ADI session in CT 🙂

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