Reclaim Appalachia Wins 2015 J.M.K. Innovation Prize

November 12, 2015


Appalachia, West Virginia, Nov. 12, 2015 – Reclaim Appalachia, a social enterprise program of Coalfield Development Corporation working with low-income families in Wayne, Lincoln, and Mingo Counties of southeastern West Virginia, has been named by the J.M. Kaplan Fund one of ten inaugural winners of the J.M.K. Innovation Prize, a new initiative to support and raise the visibility of U.S.-based teams or individuals addressing our country’s most pressing needs through social-sector innovation.
The Innovation Prize provides up to three years of support at $50,000 per year, as well as a $25,000 “bank” of funds available for technical assistance or targeted project expenses, making a total award of up to $175,000.  Specifically, the Prize seeks to support inter-disciplinary innovation in the fields of cultural heritage, human rights, the built environment, and the natural environment.  The Prize is particularly designed for early-stage ideas piloted or prototyped by dynamic visionaries.

With help from the Innovation Prize and other donors, Reclaim Appalachia provides paid on-the-job training for unemployed young adults and laid-off coal miners in the creative trades, in mine-land reclamation, and in adaptive re-use construction of historic buildings. On-the-job trainees earn an Associate’s Degree and increase their self-confidence and soft skills through our customized, place-based, life-skills mentorship.
Brandon Denison, Exec. Director of Reclaim Appalachia and Coalfield Development Corporation, says “West Virginia has huge challenges, but we hope that with work, education, and better life skills generational cycles of poverty can reverse, and one by one  people of Appalachia can reclaim their true identity and discover their full potential, find their personal power, and achieve their chosen purpose.”  
“Reclaim Appalachia is striking out in new and creative ways to address long-term and profound economic challenges in southern West Virginia,” said the J.M. Kaplan Fund’s Executive Director Amy Freitag. “We are excited by the vision of this early-stage project in this economically hard hit, but culturally rich region."

Winners were chosen from an original pool of 1,138 applicants, representing many regions across the U.S., as well as many areas of interest, including: criminal justice, food systems, cultural heritage, technology, public health, economic empowerment, and the arts.

Viewing those applications as a valuable pool of information about the state of the U.S. social innovation sector, the Kaplan Fund also commissioned a study that distilled from the submissions seven insights about that sector. That report is available for download at

“Because many new social sector innovations don't fit neatly within philanthropic funding buckets or have a track record to attract widespread support, they frequently struggle to get funding that can sustain them through their early years,” said Peter Davidson, Chairman of the J.M. Kaplan Fund Board of Trustees. “Through The J.M.K. Innovation Prize, we are shining a light on the burgeoning ideas and future leaders who will create a more ideal society.”

The ten 2015 J.M.K. Innovation Prize winners, by organization and leader name, social sector and home state, are:

Advancing Real Change, Inc., Dr. Elizabeth Vartkessian, Justice System, Maryland – A new organization that defines a new approach to ending severe criminal penalties by narrating the life stories of poor defendants, so that courts can see more than just the crime and decide on humane outcomes for those accused. See:

Bay2Tray, Mr. Alan Lovewell, Food Systems, California – Simultaneously supports local fisherman, protects Bay Area fisheries, and provides fresh local fish to high need schoolchildren. See:

Behold! New Lebanon, Ms. Ruth Abram, Cultural Heritage, New York – Challenging conventional notions of museums while bringing much-needed economic support to rural America by creating the first living museum wherein a small town markets its unique assets to attract urban tourists. See:, Ms. Michelle Miller and Ms. Jess Kutch, Technology, Washington, D.C. – Empowering the American workers of the “gig economy” to collectively advocate on behalf of themselves for changes to corporate policies. See:

Essie Justice Group, Ms. Gina Clayton, Justice System, California  – Builds a network of women with incarcerated loved ones through which to give and receive support, as well as to collectively advocate for changes to the criminal justice system. See:

Enabling the Future, 3D Printed, Crowdsourced Prosthetics and Beyond, Dr. Jon Schull, Public Health, New York – Galvanizing a community of over 6,000 volunteers to crowdsource the design and 3D printing of prosthetic hands and arms for disadvantaged youth. See:

Growing Veterans, Mr. Christopher Brown, Economic Empowerment, Washington – Empowers military veterans to grow sustainable food, communities, and each other, ending the isolation that leads to suicide amongst this population. See:

Land Art Generator Initiative, Ms. Elizabeth Monoian and Mr. Robert Ferry, Arts, Pennsylvania –  Demonstrates that renewable energy can result in beautiful urban spaces by combining art installations with clean energy generation. See:

Reclaim Appalachia, Mr. Brandon Dennison, Economic Empowerment, West Virginia – A community development initiative that supports hard hit communities with job training, as well as historic and environmental restoration. See:  

ScholarCHIPS for Children of Incarcerated Parents, Ms. Yasmine Arrington, Justice System, Washington, D.C. – Provides much needed college aid and mentoring to children of incarcerated parents, kids who otherwise face tough odds against stigmatization, poverty and the cycle of intergenerational incarceration. See:

Follow the Innovation Prize on Twitter: @TheJMKaplanFund

About the J.M. Kaplan Fund:
The J.M. Kaplan Fund, a 70-year old New York City-based family foundation, champions inventive giving that supports transformative social, environmental, and cultural causes. In 2015 the Fund launched the J.M.K. Innovation Prize, seeking visionary, early-stage innovations in the fields of cultural heritage, human rights, and the natural and built environments. For more information, go to:
For interviews or additional information about the JMK Innovation Prize, please contact: Jeff Weintraub, 202-403-7695,; or Jenny Lawhorn, 202-821-8898,

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