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  • Hands Across the Hills

Hands Across the Hills to Conclude in 2023

Hands Across the Hills, the dialogue and exchange project founded in 2017 by residents of east Kentucky and western Massachusetts, will conclude in 2023. Originally conceived after the 2016 election, Hands Across the Hills has garnered national and international attention for its work fostering understanding and collaboration between regions of the country that differ significantly on many political and cultural issues.

“We’ve accomplished a huge amount in the past six years,” said Hands Across the Hills board chair Ben Fink. “And the work will continue, in many different ways and through many different projects.”

During its more than six-year existence Hands Across the Hills sponsored several three-day gatherings in Leverett, Massachusetts and Letcher County, Kentucky. These visits consisted of small-group dialogue and story-sharing sessions and public forums attended by hundreds of residents in both communities, as well as homestays, potluck meals, jam sessions, hikes, and visits to centers of local culture.

During the COVID pandemic Hands Across the Hills went virtual, hosting ongoing Zoom dialogues, musical exchanges, and public discussions of challenging topics like guns, coal, and vaccination. Hands Across the Hills has also offered two multi-day trainings in facilitating and organizing dialogue across divides, which included participants from 15 states. When east Kentucky was ravaged by floods in summer 2022, Hands Across the Hills participants in Massachusetts worked with neighbors to raise more than $10,000 for Kentucky community organizations, through the benefit concert Bands Across the Hills.

Many projects begun through Hands Across the Hills will continue on. These include the Black Sheep Brick Oven Bakery in Hemphill, Kentucky, inspired by the Black Sheep Deli in Amherst; the multiracial dialogue project Bridge 4 Unity, including residents of Massachusetts, Kentucky, and South Carolina; and several agricultural and agroforestry projects begun in collaboration between growers in Kentucky and Massachusetts. Hands Across the Hills participants are also among the leaders of the Southern Arts and Culture Coalition, to be launched this fall.

Concluding events for Hands Across the Hills are currently being planned for the coming months in east Kentucky and Western Massachusetts. These events will be open to all who are interested in continuing the work of finding common ground and collaborating across cultural and political divides. The Hands Across the Hills website ( will also remain active as an archive and resource. Anyone interested in more information is welcome to contact

Hands Across the Hills members on a beautiful mountain overlook in east Kentucky, 2018. Some of us are holding the Montague (MA) Reporter newspaper that covered our bridging the divide project. Left to right: Tyler Ward, Nell Fields, Kip Fonsh, Gwen Johnson, Valerie Horn, Ben Fink, Judi Fonsh, Jim Perkins, Debbie Roth-Howe, Pat Fiero, Paula Green, Jay Frost, Sharon Dunn, Tom Wolff, Stacey Lennard, Barbara Tiner, Sarah Pirtle, Letha Dollarhyde, Velda Fraley, Danielle Barshak, Barbara D'Arthenay, Carol Ison, Kendall Ison, Herbie Smith


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