Letter from Board Chair, Hilary Miles

Dear Friends and Supporters, 

I am writing today to introduce you to our new staff members at Headwaters and to make you aware of some exciting updates about our work. Since 2005, Headwaters has worked to improve the watersheds in Letcher County through community education, access to timely and accurate water-quality information, and stewardship of local waterways. 

This summer, we began our work on a five-year National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Research-to-Action study run by the University of Kentucky. This project will research the levels of disinfection byproducts (DBPs) in Letcher County and Martin County water systems and work to train community members as citizen scientists to reduce exposure to DBPs. Along with several scientists at the University of Kentucky, we will work closely with the Martin County Concerned Citizens, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, and LiKEN.

On behalf of the Headwaters Board, I would like to introduce Debi Sexton as our NIEHS Research Coordinator. Debi will guide the NIEHS project in Letcher County. After retiring from her career as a middle school teacher at Whitesburg Middle School, Debi worked on the University of Kentucky’s GoH20 project that put water bottle filling stations in local schools. Debi is community-minded, well-qualified, and committed to improving education about water quality in Letcher County. We are thrilled to have Debi on staff at Headwaters!

As some of you may know, Headwaters would not be where it is today without our hardworking Americorps VISTAs. Our ability to hire a VISTA is made possible by our partnership with the University of Kentucky Center for Appalachian Research in Environmental Sciences (UK-CARES), which provides critical capacity for environmental health work in Eastern Kentucky. We are very grateful for the support and guidance provided by the UK-CARES team. 

This year, our Americorps VISTA member is Walter Robles. This is Walter’s second year as a VISTA, as he spent his first year water testing on Indigenous land in Ketchikan, Alaska. Walter has a degree in environmental engineering and an interest in environmental health, making him well-suited for this work. Though he is originally from Iowa City, Walter moved to Whitesburg earlier this summer. Welcome, Walter!

Walter will be working with various partners to further Headwaters’ mission in Letcher County. In particular, we are excited to announce a new partnership with Lilley Cornett Woods (LCW), an old-growth forest and ecological research station in Letcher County that is managed by Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to conducting regular water-testing at LCW, Walter will be trained as a naturalist guide. His work there will help Headwaters increase environmental education access in Letcher County at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented our outreach efforts in local schools. 

Headwaters can only benefit from this important new partnership, and we appreciate the LCW team’s depth of ecological knowledge and community focus. In fact, Headwaters’ newest board member is Curtis Cox, an expert naturalist guide, ecologist, and manager at Lilley Cornett Woods. We are fortunate to have Curtis on the board.

Lastly, former Headwaters staffer, Alex Beer, has helped us complete the final reporting on the 319(h) Watershed Planning Project that was supported by the Kentucky Division of Water. COVID-19 prevented us from carrying out all of the community activities that were originally planned, but we hope to apply for funding for the next phase of this project in the future. It has been a real treat to have Alex back on board for a time as we close out this project.

I am thrilled to share these updates about our new staff and current projects. Please read Debi and Walter’s staff bios below. We hope you will connect with them if you haven’t already. We also have a new office space at 298A Main St in Whitesburg, though it will remain closed to the public during the pandemic. 

We appreciate your support of our work and your care for healthy waterways in Letcher County. 


Hilary Miles, Board Chair

Headwaters Board Members: 

Hilary Miles

Mimi Pickering

Jennifer Honeycutt

Evan Smith

Ron Brunty

Roy Crawford

Herb E. Smith

Curtis Cox

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