Coming Home: Connecting to Community

Coming Home: Connecting to Community is a public media initiative supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that celebrates the people, culture, and stories of rural America through authentic local voices and talent. This multi-faceted initiative will showcase local stories about the diversity, traditions and richness of small town and rural life – a perspective often neglected by commercial media.

Building upon recent public media projects that offer compelling local and regional rural-related content, CPB will also fund additional local content to identify and engage local talent, producers, filmmakers and citizens to provide their perspectives about “home” in terms of community, culture, and shared values in rural areas.

Pictured: “Alabamaland” is a feature-length documentary about three generations of black women exploring their very different ties to Jones Farm in Western Alabama, a place that shaped them and continues to exert a strange hold on their identities. This is the same plot of land that their ancestors once worked as slaves. Funded in part by ITVS. Photo credit: April Dobbins

Locally owned and operated public media radio and television stations serve as America’s trusted storytellers, especially in rural communities, and provide the best platforms to connect these local stories about Americans who call small-towns and rural communities home with a national audience.

The title Coming Home: Connecting to Community speaks to all Americans as public media stations share stories of what home means, about the contributions and significance of America’s small town, and about reclaiming a sense of community that is inclusive of the entire country. These are the stories about traditions, hopes and aspirations, struggles and what it means to be American.

Coming Home: Connecting to Community exemplifies the power of public media through storytelling across all platforms, through a distribution network of local and national public media organizations and thousands of partners, through community engagement that drives dialogue and solutions, and through education resources, resulting in direct impact on the ground.  

Coming Home Graph
Sarah Smarsh

To inform this coordinated effort, CPB has engaged thought leaders, national public media organizations, and public media general managers serving rural communities. In a survey of 162 public television stations conducted in 2018, stations highlighted over 120 local rural-related productions that have the potential for sharing across the system. General managers expressed interest in building greater local capacity for digital storytelling, deep community engagement, content sharing with a regional and national audience, and alignment of local work with national projects. This commitment is especially important to small-town communities. In addition, members of the National Multicultural Alliance (NMCA) identified over 50 potential programs featuring rural stories from Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans.

At the CPB’s Public Media Thought Leader Forum in January 2019, Sarah Smarsh, a fifth-generation Kansas farmer, American journalist and author of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, emphasized the importance of sharing local stories from rural communities and underscored public media’s opportunity to bring those stories to the forefront.

“Small towns across America and rural spaces are diverse in race, in politics, in religion in myriad ways that are not captured by the very reductive frameworks that are so often propped up by commercial broadcasting.”   Sarah Smarsh

At the PBS Annual Meeting in May 2019 former Governor and Senator David Pryor from Arkansas and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee addressed public media stations about the importance of discovering who we are as Americans and the America we all call “home”.                     

CPB will issue an RFP for pre-production and planning grants to local public media organizations serving rural communities to increase home-grown rural producers, filmmakers and storytellers that can put their unique and authentic stamp on what life in rural America truly entails.


CPB also recently funded the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) to train, mentor and provide technical assistance to help strengthen small, rural stations’ organizational capacities, as well as diversify their revenue streams. Participating stations include: WTIP (Grand Marais, Minnesota), WERU (East Orland, Maine), WMMT (Whitesburg, Kentucky), WNCU (Durham, North Carolina), WXPR (Rhinelander, Wisconsin), KBFT (Nett Lake, Minnesota), KWSO (Warm Springs, Oregon), KTNA (Talkeetna, Alaska), KZUM (Lincoln, Nebraska), and KRTS (Marfa, Texas).

Other projects that highlight the compelling stories about rural America include:

  • Monrovia, Indiana illustrates how values like community service, duty, spiritual life, generosity and authenticity are formed, experienced and lived alongside conflicting stereotypes in a small town.
  • Harvest Public Media covers topics such as agribusiness, biofuels, climate change, farming and ranching, food safety, and rural life from the Heartland.
  • Portraits & Dreams Revisited looks back at the family and rural life of children in a coal mining region in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.
  • The Providers features primary healthcare providers that bring hope and progress to those fighting life-threatening illness and addiction while living on the margins in rural New Mexico.
  • With support from CPB, 37 public radio and television stations across the nation used “Country Music: A film by Ken Burns,” as a spring board for local story development and celebrations about the history and impact of music in local communities, such as the local podcast, ”Raised in Knoxville” from WUOT talking about how country music was raised in Knoxville, one of the largest cities in the Appalachian region. 
  • In addition, the educational animated program Molly of Denali is the first nationally distributed children’s program featuring an Alaska Native lead character who shares her adventures in a small village. Created with local advisors and writers, this literacy program for 4-8-year olds highlights the indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditions of Alaska Native peoples. (Molly of Denali is funded through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready To Learn grant program.)