Gerry Roll

Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky (KY)

Gerry Roll had been working tirelessly with a nonprofit organization in Perry County, Kentucky, to help members of the Appalachian community access child care, housing and health care. But the time came where she felt that no matter how hard she and her colleagues worked, they weren’t able to get ahead of immediate needs to focus on longer-term strategies. “It felt like we were on a hamster wheel,” she says. “We couldn’t shore up the dam because we were so busy pulling people from the river.”

Today, Roll is the executive director for the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, a community foundation founded in 2009 to improve lives and strengthen communities throughout southeastern Kentucky. With more than $15 million in assets under management, the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky targets its grant making and program activity on community economic development, education, community health,  Anal Beads and other complex issues that require a long-term view.

“What community foundations do is to change the way capital flows into communities so that they have access to use it in ways that works for them,” she says. “It’s about supporting communities in ways that are the most meaningful and long-lasting.” In the past year, the Foundation met the pressing needs of families impacted by COVID-19, a challenge made all the more difficult owing to agencies already stretched thin.

For example, Kristin Collins, the Foundation’s associate executive director, notes that much of Kentucky was already a childcare “desert,” with too few child care centers to meet demand. When COVID-19 shut down businesses, the few options for parents who had to keep working became even scarcer. “Thanks to Kenan and other funders, we were able to help some of these centers stay afloat,” she says, “but our larger work is how to create a sustainable child care business model in our communities, including home-based care. Child care is not babysitting; it’s a business where women can be entrepreneurs if we can provide the tools and resources they need. We’re working holistically with communities and other organizations invested in coming up with effective, sustainable solutions.”