SOAR1FinPIKEVILLE, KY—Three AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTAs, from Berea College were thanked by members of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR, at their Executive Committee meeting Monday. David Bellnier, Jeffrey Helton, and Marcus Plumlee of Berea College were thanked individually by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and U.S. Representative Hal Rogers for their commitment to serve eastern Kentucky for one year. The VISTAs were invited to attend the meeting to help the Corporation for National and Community Service to celebrate their announcement of a more than $1 million investment to engage 52 full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to support the SOAR initiative to improve the economy and quality of life in Eastern Kentucky.

Gov. Beshear, co-chair of SOAR along with Rep. Rogers, said that he looked forward to the arrival of the VISTAs. “As Governor, I have seen first-hand the impact of AmeriCorps in meeting a variety of needs across our state,” he said. “We are grateful to the Corporation for National and Community Service for being one of the first agencies to come forward to support the SOAR initiative by providing a surge of human capital to strengthen Kentucky’s Appalachia region.”

SOAR2FinBellnier, who began his VISTA work in Eastern Kentucky in May, said service was important to him and his fellow VISTAs. “As a Berea graduate, I feel that service is a challenging way to find out what I’m capable of—to test my strengths and limits,” he said. “I hope that the work that I do as a VISTA, and the culture of service that entails, will shape the person I become professionally and personally.”

The VISTA program was founded in 1965 as a national service designed to fight poverty in America. Members serve for one year and receive a stipend and education award. To find out more, visit

SAOR6FinSOAR’s mission is to expand job creation, enhance regional opportunity, innovation, and identity, improve the quality of life, and support all those working to achieve these goals in Appalachian Kentucky. To learn more, visit

Partners for Education at Berea College uses a place-based, student-focused approach to improve educational outcomes in Appalachian Kentucky. Through a suite of programs, including GEAR UP, i3 and the first rural Promise Neighborhood, Partners for Education leverages $18 million annually to serve 15,000 young people and their families. To find out more, visit