Joe Brehm, Alison McCoy, and Sarah Fisher

Alison McCoy is sitting in Athens County Public Libraries’ Glouster branch on a scorching day, wincing at the memory of cross-country practice that morning. It was so hot, they ran only 1 mile. But while the weather cut practice short, it didn’t stop Alison from rallying her teammates to pick up trash for a while afterward.

This is one of the traits that earned Alison Rural Action’s 2021 Youth In Action Sustainability Award. To say this rising senior at Trimble High School is a youth in action is an understatement. She’s busy, though it might not be immediately apparent from her calm, thoughtful demeanor. Alison lets her actions do the talking.

Alison worked to organize the Youth Climate Action Team at Trimble, and they attended camps to collaborate with students from other schools to “figure out what we could do better as individual schools and communities.” She interned with Community Food Initiatives’ Veggie Van, where she helped make connections within her local community while distributing fresh, healthy vegetables in an area that’s been characterized as a food desert.

This summer, Alison’s taking virtual college classes through Hocking College. She’s running track. And she’s planning a possible return to Italy at the behest of the host family she stayed with in 2020. They want her to return to see more of the country since her sight-seeing was limited by the pandemic during her earlier trip.

Even her “down” time is productive, often involving walks with mentors like Rural Action’s Joe Brehm and his partner, Glouster Librarian Sarah Fisher. “We call them ‘Finer Things’ walks, and we have recently been discussing the things we can do to help keep the area clean,” Alison says. “We’ve talked about organizing a group of people to do monthly Glouster trash pick ups. We’ve also talked about different books and poetry that can bring stronger emotions to people about the problems being faced in our area.”

“Alison is inspired by talking to people who shake up her brain a bit so she can learn more,” Sarah says.

Alison’s favorite quote says a lot about her: “Those who think they deserve the least need it the most.” It infuses her actions. She befriended the special needs students during gym class at school, and when she noticed one student arriving at school under-dressed on a cold day, she asked why and realized he didn’t have a hoodie. She went to Mrs. K’s Variety store in Glouster, bought several hoodies and gave them to him.

“Alison has always been like that,” says Joe, who has known her since she attended Rural Action summer camps as a child. “When you see kids at summer camp, you see their personalities. Every kid has their moments of being selfish or whiny. I don’t ever remember Alison being like that at all. She’s always nice to people. That’s a tremendous gift.”

(This is part of a series of stories highlighting the winners of Rural Action’s 2021 Sustainability Awards. Learn how your neighbors are making our little corner of Appalachia an even better place.)

Meet the Award Recipients