Two women in their mid-20s, Irma Gall and Peggy Kemner, first arrived on Stinking Creek with a car, a horse, a dog, and a dream. In 1958 they decided to start a service organization with a mission “to lend a hand.” In the years since the Lend-A-Hand Center has become an essential part of the community and proven its commitment to its mission and the people of Knox County.
The Lend-A-Hand Center is a nonprofit community service organization that has served the Stinking Creek area of Knox County, Kentucky, since 1958. Founded by farmer and schoolteacher Irma Gall and nurse midwife Peggy Kemner, the Center has a rich history of community outreach programs including home healthcare, nurse midwifery services, 4H, tutoring, children’s camps, agricultural programs, and religious activities. Over the years the organization has provided opportunities for hundreds of volunteers to work at the Center and in the community.
Lend-A-Hand sits on roughly 500 acres of land in the northeastern part of the county near the Walker community. Over the past 55 years, the campus has grown to include a large Center building, chapel, relocated log cabin, barns, and numerous other buildings. Surrounded by bottomlands, creeks, and mountains, the Lend-A-Hand Center is a truly beautiful place, centrally located on the Creek, connected to the main road by the locally famous wooden bridge, also known as “The Bridge.” The Center continues to operate as a working farm as it has since its inception, providing space for cows, goats, pigs, chickens, and vegetable and fruit gardens. Gardening, self-sufficiency, and sustainability have always been central tenets of the Center. Lend-A-Hand now has the opportunity to expand upon past programs through partnering with Grow Appalachia.
My name is Kathryn Engle and I will be the Grow Appalachia Site Coordinator for the Lend-A-Hand Center this growing season. I am a first year doctoral student in sociology at the University of Kentucky. Much of my family is from Knox County and I was born in Corbin and raised in Richmond. I went to EKU as an undergraduate and earned an MA in Appalachian Studies from Appalachian State University. I am interested in all things Appalachian and in learning more about eastern Kentucky and envisioning new alternatives for the future of the region. Some other interests of mine include participatory development, local food systems, bluegrass music, local history, genealogy, gender studies, the coal industry, and Chevrolet trucks.
I began volunteering part time at the Lend-A-Hand Center in the summer of 2011 and they haven’t gotten rid of me since! I wrote my master’s thesis on the history of the Center, conducting oral history interviews with Peggy and Irma while incorporating my experiences on the farm. Peggy and Irma have put up with my incessant questions while teaching me about what it means to work, what it means to be a servant, and how to do a myriad of tasks I had never dreamed of doing.
I have truly developed a passion for the Center and love for the place and I hope to do my best in running this program and meeting the desires of the community. I want this program to be as participatory as possible with residents, partners, and stakeholders contributing to its success.
I do not pretend to be an expert gardener or farmer as Irma has surely proven to be. I was not raised on a farm and I come from a long line of school teachers and coal miners, with a few gardeners here and there. I have plenty of learning to do and I will be asking plenty of questions along the way, but I hope to use my skills and energy to build upon the Center’s past agricultural work. I have been intrigued by the work of Grow Appalachia for several years now and I think that the program is a perfect fit for Lend-A-Hand. I am so excited for the opportunity to work with all the great people throughout the region participating in this project.
I have been busy over the last month establishing partnerships and planning for the year. We will be working with the Knox County Agricultural Extension Office, Knox Central High School, the University of Kentucky, and Union College in Barbourville on the program in the county. We are currently looking for more for interns, volunteers, collaborators, and partners. The goal this year is to work with at least 20 families on planting home gardens in addition to at least one community garden. We are currently in the participant recruitment stage and will be building on existing ties in the community that have been generated over the last 55 years.
The Grow Appalachia program at Lend-A-Hand hopes to focus on building community, strengthening relationships, improving health, promoting sustainability, and providing economic opportunities on Stinking Creek. We are all very excited about this program and the possibilities it presents. I’ll elaborate more on the fascinating history of the Center throughout these blog updates as well as the progress of the program. Updates will also be posted on the Lend-A-Hand Center Facebook page: www.facebook.com/lendahandcenter as we look towards the next stage of the 55-year-old dream on Stinking Creek and for any opportunity to “lend a hand.”