Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation Makes Three-Year Commitment to the Cumberland Forest Community Fund

Cumberland Forest Community Fund Award Recipients
2023 Cumberland Forest Community Fund Award Recipients

The Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation is making a three-year, $375,000 funding commitment to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in support of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund. Managed through a partnership between TNC, the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise), the Community Fund supports nature-based economic and community development projects in Southwest Virginia. 

The Foundation’s charitable gift aims to honor and uphold Anne and Gene Worrell’s legacy by promoting economic and community development in the region where the Worrells met and spent many years together.

Born and raised in Bristol, Va., Gene Worrell met Anne when they both worked at a summer camp affiliated with Virginia Intermont College, where Anne attended. Gene later launched the successful newspaper, The Virginia-Tennessean, in Bristol in 1949. In 1986, Anne and Gene created the Genan Foundation—recently renamed the Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation—to carry on their lifelong commitment to philanthropy.

“We’re excited to see how Southwest Virginians use their creativity and entrepreneurial skills to leverage the region’s glorious natural assets so that Appalachia and its people can thrive,” said Holly Hatcher, President and CEO of the Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation. “In addition to this commitment, we look forward to partnering with other funders to ensure that community members, The Nature Conservancy and UVA Wise have the support they need to grow and sustain this program for the long term.”

The Cumberland Forest Community Fund was established in 2022 as part of TNC’s 253,000-acre Cumberland Forest project that spans Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Funded projects in Virginia are selected through a competitive grant process led by UVA Wise for seven Southwest Virginia counties: Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise, as well as the City of Norton. The Community Fund also works with other non-profits in Tennessee and Kentucky. Funding for the program comes from a combination of mineral royalties through the Cumberland Forest Limited Partnership and philanthropic gifts to TNC. The new commitment from the Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation will allow for at least three additional annual funding cycles to help further demonstrate the Community Fund’s “triple bottom line”—enhancing economic diversification, building community capacity and improving environmental quality.

“We look forward to continuing to enable the success of a diverse portfolio of projects throughout the region. It’s fantastic to see such creative ideas coming to fruition through the Community Fund that are filling gaps in our local communities and may have otherwise never come to fruition,” said Shannon Blevins, associate vice chancellor for administration, government relations and strategic initiatives at UVA Wise.

Over two years of grants, the Community Fund has assisted 20 projects in reaching their goals. So far, projects have included outdoor education classrooms, a solar array installation, wildlife restoration projects and a trail network expansion to support rock climbing access at Breaks Interstate Park.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund is the opportunity to support passionate individuals and communities throughout Southwest Virginia as they pursue projects that improve our quality of life. We appreciate the support of the Anne and Gene Worrell Foundation, which recognizes that the people of Southwest Virginia are a driving force for positive change. This gift will have a significant impact and provide momentum as we move towards our third grant round in 2024,” shared Brad Kreps, director of TNC’s Clinch Valley Program.

The application period for round three of the Cumberland Forest Community Fund will open this spring. More information, including previous award recipients, can be found at