The program began in the mid-1960’s as Campus Action for Mountain Progress (CAMP). In 1968 the federal Office of Economic Opportunity began providing funds through the Council of Southern Mountains. At that time the name was changed to Students for Appalachia and was a community development program designed to help people with the problems of daily life. In 1970 an adult education program took formal direction and funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity and administration through the Council of Southern Mountains. The program was called STABLE (Student Taught Adult Basic Literacy Effort). In 1972 the two programs merged, and the name STABLE was dropped in 1976. Both programs completed their federal support in 1973 and since then have been financed by Berea College. SFA was administered by the Appalachian Center. The Appalachian Center coordinates the Appalachian commitments of Berea College. While both programs initially worked in four nearby counties, under Berea College the focus has been Madison County and Berea, where the College is located.
A Folk Recreation Leadership program was established in 1976 to provide these services locally because the Recreation Extension Department of the College was busy working throughout the region. This program was discontinued in 1984. Youth Ministry joined SFA in 1978, expanding into a year-round program in cooperation with the Campus Ministries. The Senior Adult Visitation program began in the fall of 1980 but was phased out in 1987.
In 2008, SFA had 30 labor positions and over 100 volunteers in the program.