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Appalachian Interns

Inez is nestled deep in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.
It’s a tiny Martin County town, but it reaches up toward taller expectations.
A central gleam of this diamond in the highlands is a committed sense of place.

It’s a dream come true for a regional son like Mike
Duncan, another of those community leaders deeply proud of his Appalachian heritage.
They’ve not surrendered to Hollywood’s stereotype that in order for Kentuckians
to be marketable entertainment, they must be sinking in homegrown depravity.

Twenty years ago, Mr. Duncan, a native of Oneida in
Clay County, graduate of Cumberland College in Whitley County, banker in Lawrence
and Martin counties, was living proof of one of our main Plum Lick beliefs: "You
can go home again, and probably should!"

Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, CEO and chairman
of the board of Inez Deposit Bank and First National Bank of Louisa, in adjoining
Lawrence County, is the founder of the "Summer Internship Program,"
nationally recognized as far away as New York and California.

Los Angeles Times journalist Judy Pasternak
has written of Mike Duncan’s internship program: "The banker offers challenging
work, individual counseling, career contacts, seminars, and outings-for as many
years as each student needs, through high school, college, and beyond. In return,
he asks "the pledge," summed up in the notes he scribbles for his yearly
welcome speech: "Give something back. Return the favor. Get involved.

Help find your way back home."

Each spring, Mike Duncan invites the top 10 percent
of the junior class at Lawrence County High School and the top 25 percent of the
junior class from Sheldon Clark High School, in Martin County, to apply for the
Summer Intern Program at his bank in Inez. This year, there were 11 energized
eastern Kentucky youths seated around the conference table in a room lined with
books. Subjects included government, history, and literature.

Each intern had a large notebook filled with ideas
about democracy, majority rule and minority rights, informed citizenry, decision
making, and individual liberties.

Each of Mike Duncan’s interns is expected to be familiar
with Kentucky’s Appalachian Development Plan of which native Lawrence Countian
Gov. Paul Patton has written in the foreword: "Because Appalachian Kentucky
is not a region alone in the Commonwealth, our Appalachian development strategy
has been re-engineered to mesh with the development strategy for the entire state.
Kentucky cannot advance if any region lags behind; Appalachian Kentucky cannot
move ahead without a program that complements goals for the state as a whole."

The interns assembled each year by Mike Duncan will
move far beyond what most can imagine. They’ll come to a better understanding
of declining coal and tobacco production, all the more crucial when population
growth percentages are factored in.

These are bipartisan realities (Gov. Patton is a Democrat,
Mike Duncan is a Republican) and resolution lies somewhere in the middle-it arises
from determined individual endeavors with the good of the community as a higher
goal:

  • Quality education
  • Strong work ethic
  • Improved moral character
  • Pride in sense of place
  • Unselfish paybacks

As an invited speaker at this year’s internship program in Inez, I was encouraged
by what I saw and heard, and it made the view from Plum Lick seem more promising
without cause for hand wringing. It was high time for applause.

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