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The Yonder Report: News from rural America - March 28, 2024

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News from rural America.

Audio file

Historic wildfires could create housing and health issues for rural Texans, a Kentucky program helps prison parolees start a new life, and descendants of Nicodemus, Kansas celebrate the Black settlers who journeyed across the 1870s plains seeking self-governance.


(upbeat music) - For the Daily Yonder and Public News Service, this is the news from rural America.

West Texans recovering from historic wildfires will need help with housing and health, according to a new study.

Urban Institute senior researcher, Anne Ginod, expects the low density of rural housing stock, especially for renters, to be a challenge. - Places are just more spread out, and that can really lead to challenges for administering aid and recovery resources over long distances. - More than a million acres of the Texas Panhandle burned, and Ginod says few rural towns have the necessary resources for such a disaster. - Civic leaders, elected and appointed officials, they're wearing 10 different hats. - She says translation services will be key where English is a second language.

Rural health service gaps, where folks tend to be older, could also be significant.

Life doesn't always get easier when incarcerated people leave prison, but Olivia Weeks says an Eastern Kentucky program is working to ease that transition. - In seven rural Kentucky counties, First Day Forward provides people who leave jail or prison resources to be ready for life on the outside, everything from getting a driver's license to finding affordable housing.

Brittany Harrington, a program project manager, was once one of those folks. - But every time I left incarceration, I was faced with same people, same places, same habits, same routines, no new skill, and it got worse really, really quick.

We don't want that for our people. - The program aims for returning citizens to make and follow a plan.

That can include peer support and help staying sober and in recovery.

As a result, their recidivism rates are about 30 percent lower than they might be otherwise.

I'm Olivia Weeks. - The free black people and former slaves who founded Nicodemus Kansas had high hopes in the late 1880s.

Many never materialized, but that doesn't diminish its importance for their descendants.

Angela Bates and the town's historical society have filmed a new documentary reenacting the original journey. - That is my personal family story, and it is a nation story. - After the Civil War, many black Southerners headed west seeking a new life.

Nicodemus thrived initially until the town was bypassed by the railroad, undermining its economy.

Today, fewer than 25 people live there, but John Ella Holmes with the Kansas Black Farmers Association says hundreds come for the homecoming emancipation celebration held every summer since 1878. - Those African-American pioneers and homesteaders, they carved a new way of life.

That resilience is a sense of pride, not just for African-Americans, but for all of us that are in the rural communities. - In 1996, Kansas made Nicodemus a National Historic Site.

For the Daily Yonder and Public News Service, I'm Roz Brown.

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