by Jason Wright www.northfulton.com
May 14, 2008 MILTON -- Bill Schellhorn has a vision for Milton and a small, Appalachian Kentucky town named Rattlesnake Ridge.He and a group of committed volunteers -- including Eva Buckingham and Lisa Beharelle, who have been collecting clothing and furniture for its citizens since 2001 -- hope Milton's City Council will agree to adopt Rattlesnake Ridge as a sister city.It needs the help, said Barbara Duncan, the founder of Integrated Community Ministries (ICM) who has established a learning center and thrift store in the area with her husband, Hilton.Duncan said 80 percent of children in Rattlesnake Ridge live in poverty. More than half live with their grandparents because their parents aren't able to care for them.
The designation as a sister city could mean donations to and from Rattlesnake Ridge, an exchange program, and much more. And while no one is exactly sure what the partnership will entail, Schellhorn has big plans."It could be as much or as little as we want it to be," he said. A few of his ideas include a technology exchange to improve schools in Rattlesnake Ridge, a business initiative to bring jobs to the area or a scholarship fund for a student looking to further his education. That's not to mention the more concrete donations of used public safety apparatus and equipment or office furniture from City Hall.
"We could make an incentive that there's a light at the end of that tunnel," Schellhorn said of the potential scholarship. "Kids experience new things that they never would have -- all of a sudden it's a completely different life."
In their efforts to have Milton partner with Rattlesnake Ridge, the volunteers held a luncheon at City Hall May 2. There Schellhorn, Buckingham and Beharelle introduced Milton's council to the people trying to make the Appalachian town a better place to live.Two of the people in attendance were McCreary County Sheriff Gus Skinner and his wife, Tracey. She said Rattlesnake Ridge's people are "hard headed, hard nosed and artistically talented." The problem, she said, is that the town is cut off from progress and provides very limited economic opportunities."You have a factory that may or may not be there, working for the government or making a living in timber," she said. "It's a hard way of life."
Every day the Skinners combat the factors that contribute to Rattlesnake Ridge's crushing poverty. Gus takes on the area's "extreme" prescription drug problem while Tracey, a fellow in a University of Kentucky entrepreneurial coaches program, counsels youth and helps find new ways of making money.So far they've established a teen coalition to provide young people leadership in a drug free environment and worked with small entrepreneurs to find success in local ventures like hunting- and fishing-guide businesses.
"Starting with the youth, that's where the change comes," said Tracey.The most important steps are creating an increased importance in education and more economic activities, she said."The people of Milton see that," she said. "There are a lot of entrepreneurs here."
The Duncans agree. Since starting the mission in Rattlesnake Ridge they've brought food, clothing and books into an area where the closest store is 20 to 30 minutes away. The ICM learning center is a "safe haven" against the cycle of drug and abuse that pervades life in the depressed area."It's a place to be cared about and encouraged," said Hilton. "We teach them they can do better, help find jobs for life."And any supplies brought in help people know they aren't in the struggle alone."People tell me 'You don't realize how much it helps,'" said Barbara.
"It helps everyone in that community."That opportunity to help out another community is what excites Mayor Joe Lockwood the most. A native of West Virginia, Lockwood said he spent his summers working on the farms of people in situations similar to the one faced in Rattlesnake Ridge."I foresee it as more of a partnership," he said. "I think it will benefit us just as much as Rattlesnake Ridge."