The following interview was done with the National Rural Assembly’s Whitney Kimball Coe in advance of her being a guest on the upcoming November 14 Heart & Soul Talk: Going Big in Small Places: Millennials Make Their Mark in America’s Towns.
Orton Family Foundation: Where did you grow up?
Whitney Kimball Coe: I am a daughter of Athens, Tennessee, which is a town of about 14,000 in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee.
Orton: When did you leave and when did you return to your hometown?
I left for undergrad at Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2002 and attended Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, for my masters. I made my way back to Athens in 2013.
Orton: Why did you decide to return?
WC: I decided I wanted to return to Athens in the midst of my first year at college back in 2002, and every step I made afterward was in service to returning home. I value my small town existence. Our family precept is, “These are precious times.” I see my parents and my brother’s family everyday. I act in community theater, serve on multiple boards, participate in school programs and teach fitness classes at the YMCA. It is a rich life, full of intricate, precious connection and relationship.
Orton: What can your town do to draw more Millennials like you?
WC: I’m an ambassador for “homecoming.” I think my contemporaries are looking for purpose and meaning, and there is room in rural America for you to have that/create that if you choose it.
Register now for the upcoming Heart & Soul Talk: Going Big in Small Places: Millennials Make Their Mark in America’s Towns, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 1-2 p.m. Eastern. Free!