Appalfolks Of America Completes 36 Years Of Community Service - West Virginia Daily News
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Appalfolks Of America Completes 36 Years Of Community Service

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Appalfolks of America Association (AAA), founded by M. Ray Allen on Dec. 6, 1985 in Clifton Forge to promote the literary and performing arts in Southern Appalachia, has completed 36 years of community service.

Allen, AAA’s president, remarked, “After the Historic Stonewall Theatre was donated to Appalfolks on Dec. 20, 1991, an architect who was visiting the theatre wanted to know which was most important to AAA’s mission, commercial revenue from the theatre or creating outreach programs to serve the community.”

Without hesitation, Allen answered that helping people by creating outreach programs outweighed any commercial gain.

After 36 years of helping others in the community, two of AAA’s oldest programs continue to give back to the community. The Virginia Opry that made its debut in the Historic Stonewall Theatre on Oct. 17, 1992 was designated as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s official Opry on March 31, 2020, when Governor Ralph S. Northam signed “Senate Bill 283.”

Special Theatrical Artists Revue and Showcase (STARS), a troupe of performers who have physical disabilities and/or intellectual challenges, made its debut in the Historic Stonewall Theatre in 1996, and the troupe has grown from 10 to 30 members.

AAA and Media Storm Productions, Inc. of Virginia Beach combined to produce “STARS,” an eight-minute documentary film shot in Clifton Forge and inside The Historic Masonic Theatre in 2006. The film won a Bronze Telly, and the film can be viewed in the Clifton Forge Public Library.

Currently, The Virginia Opry has 43 members who comprise nine bands, and 20 of its members are from the Alleghany Highlands, Bath County and Rockbridge County. Ray Tucker and Friends is one of the local bands, and Crimson River, the country-Christian band that will open for Keith Bryant at The Virginia Opry’s “Country Christmas Show” at The Historic Masonic Theatre on Sat., Dec. 11, at 7:00 p.m., is the other local band.

Allen noted, “After owning and operating the Historic Stonewall Theatre for 12 years during which our nonprofit made more than $200,000 worth of restoration improvements to the theatre and held far more than 100 concerts, benefits, and plays, Appalfolks donated the theatre to the Town of Clifton Forge in 2003.”

Other AAA programs serving the community are The Alleghany Highlands Writers’ Workshop, a free program that AAA operates in conjunction with the Clifton Forge Public Library. The workshop is held bi-monthly at the CFPL, and Mountain Empire Publications, a publishing company that was donated to AAA by the late Kendrick B. Taylor of Clifton Forge, has a new editor, Judy Light Ayyildiz, an award-winning poet and novelist who resides in Roanoke.

The Alleghany Highlands Writers’ Workshop was organized in 2006, and more than 40 participants have attended the workshop held at the CFPL. Also, guest authors who have participated are Ayyildiz, PhD. Rene Parks Lanier, Jr., professor emeritus at Radford University who is a well-known Appalachian scholar and poet; and the late Bob Campbell, one of six songwriters and vocalists who toured as one of the Statler Brothers.

“Appalfolks has made positive contributions to many people, both young and old, in the states of Va., W.Va., and Ky. during the past 36 years, and along the way, our nonprofit has raised thousands of dollars via benefits we held for other nonprofits and people who were fighting cancer or other life-threatening diseases,” Allen noted.

Nonprofits in the Alleghany Highlands that have benefited from Appalfolks’ benefit concerts are the CFPL, the Alleghany Highlands Free Clinic, Total Action Against Poverty (TAP) and the Clifton Forge Little League.

Others that have received help from Appalfolks’ benefits and charitable donations are the Christmas Mother, Fishing with Angels, The Salvation Army, Wounded Warrior Project, Crohn’s Foundation and The 9/11 Fund.

Allen recalled, “Shortly after the terrorist attack on 9/11, Appalfolks organized a benefit concert at Robert E. Lee High School in Staunton, and our musicians and vocalists performed for free and raised $1,200 that helped the victims of 9/11.”

He continues, “Also, I attended Morehead State University with John Hall, a musician and vocalist who became an agent for the FBI, and his group, The Free Agents, performed two benefit concerts at the Historic Stonewall Theatre that raised more than $2,000 to support the Alleghany Highlands Free Clinic.”

The reach of Appalfolks has crossed state lines with Appalfolks’ musical programs having been conducted in W.Va. and Ky. Also, students from 11 high schools in Eastern Ky. and students at Cumberland College were provided with scholarships to attend the Kentucky Highlands Writers’ Workshop held by Appalfolks at Jenny Wiley State Park as part of the Kentucky Highlands Folk Festival.

“Opry of the Virginias, our troupe of musicians and vocalists from W.Va. and Va., performed at the Mountain Art Center (Home of the Kentucky Opry) in Prestonsburg, Ky. and at the Dandelion Festival in White Sulphur Springs,” Allen reminisced.

During the current year, Appalfolks has conducted two fund drives other than the two held in conjunction with Mighty Cause. Since its founding, AAA has received donations from donors who reside in the following states: Hawaii, Calif., Ore., Nev., Ariz., Texas, Colo., Wis., S.D., Mich. Ohio, Ind., Tenn., Ky., N.C., S.C., Ga., Fla., N.Y., W.Va. and Va. Also, a donor in Australia donated to AAA via the June 12th fund drive held in conjunction with Mighty Cause and The Alleghany Foundation.

Allen observed, “Our nonprofit organization has received donations from donors in 40 percent of the states because donors across the country are aware of the good work that Appalfolks continues to do, thanks to our many volunteers who continue to make our programs successful.”

For the first time in its 36-year-history, AAA has organized more than two Christmas shows in Dec.

The Virginia Opry will perform at The Historic Masonic Theatre on Sat., Dec. 11 at 7:00 p.m., STARS will perform at the Good News Church in Covington at 3:00 p.m. on Sun., Dec. 12 and The Virginia Opry’s first Christmas show to be held outside of the Alleghany Highlands will be performed at Natural Bridge Historic Hotel and Conference Center on Tues., Dec. 21, at 7:00 p.m.

Internationally known recording artist, Charles Billingsley, is the headliner at the hotel, and Keith Bryant, nationally known Nashville recording artist, is the headliner for The Virginia Opry at The Historic Masonic Theatre. Ten members of STARS will perform “STARS Are Brightly Shining.”

Allen concluded, “In July of this year, the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel and Conference Center designated the hotel as the Resort Performance Home of The Virginia Opry, and in Oct., the Clifton Forge Town Council voted 5-0 to designate the Town of Clifton Forge as the official “Home of The Virginia Opry.”

Since May 2, 2019, WKEY Radio Station’s 103.5 Big Country has been designated as the Radio Home of The Virginia Opry where bookings can be arranged by calling the station in Covington at (540) 962-1133.

The University of Tennessee Press published “Encyclopedia of Appalachia,” in 2006, and it featured Allen as a post-World War II poet and as an Appalachian activist whose Appalfolks’ programs at the Historic Stonewall Theatre benefit Appalachian youth.”

Currently, Appalfolks is conducting its “Giving Tree Fund Drive,” and contributions can be made by making checks payable to Appalfolks of America and mailing the tax-deductible donations to P.O. Box 613, Clifton Forge, VA. Online donations can be made by visiting Mighty Cause and typing in the name: Appalfolks of America Association.

West Virginia Daily News has been serving Greenbrier and Monroe Counties since 1866.

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