Grant Spotlight: Help for Poor Families in Appalachia, Rolling in on a "Readiness Bus"

The healthcare equity crowd has long understood the power of services that are mobile. Instead of getting people in need to come to a clinic, you pack the offerings of a clinic into an RV and park around communities. It's a pretty simple idea, and various funders have bankrolled all sorts of mobile healthcare services. (Certainly the foodies have mastered the same concept in recent years, with food trucks now everywhere.)

But we haven't seen much in the way of mobile education services, or more general mobile anti-poverty services. Which is why our attention was recently perked by news that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation had given its largest gift yet to Berea College in Kentucky for improving the well-being of young children and their families living in very remote areas by delivering early education and family economic mobility coaching through a "readiness bus."

The investment follows in line with the ongoing partnership between Kellogg and Berea that stretches back to 2005 and focuses on supporting low-income families in Appalachia through a variety of educational and support programs. To date, Kellogg had given just over $300,000 in gifts to Berea College, and this investment takes them over the $1 million mark in funding meant to serve one of the most persistently poor regions in the United States.

I'll say more about the bus in a moment, but first let me note that Berea is an intriguing grantee for a major foundation focused on poverty. The college sits in the middle of a swath of rural despair, with nearly half of all kids in some parts of the region growing up in poor families. The college has long been involved in trying to improve educational opportunity for these kids, linking service learning among its students to a local anti-poverty push. While we don't often see small colleges pulling in grants from national foundations to tackle social problems, you can see why Kellogg has viewed Berea as a valuable partner. As we've reported, quite a few funders these days are keen to find new ways to attack entrenched poverty in Appalachia an issue now getting new attention thanks to the bestseller Hillbilly Elegy and the ongoing collapse of the coal industry. 


Now, back to the bus.

Mobile services aren't just valuable because they can meet people's needs in their own familiar neighborhoods; they're valuable when the physical infrastructure doesn't exist for services or the distances to services are great. 

In terms of substituting for new infrastructure, a good recent example of that is the School Bus Project, which has filled a critical void for refugee children in Europe by providing them with mobile schools on buses that provide education and other support services in and around refugee camps.

In Appalachia, a persistent problem in fighting poverty is just how isolated people are, spread out in a large rural area where the roads can be pretty bad. Mobile healthcare services have long been in use in use in the region  in fact, 60 Minutes covered this phenomenon earlier this year, looking at the Health Wagon. In this sense, Berea College isn't doing anything all that groundbreaking with its Readiness Bus. 

As for Kellogg, it's no stranger to mobile services. The foundation has provided backing at times for mobile health services aimed at reaching poor children.