BY JENNY TOTTEN, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR, THE HUB
In early June, residents from around the state gathered in a Zoom room for Creating Community in a Time of Crisis, a virtual community conversation hosted by the team here at The Hub. Our featured were guest speakers were community leaders Blair Campbell from Pocahontas County and Dural Miller from the West Side of Charleston. Both of these leaders have a deep history of working in their communities as both small business owners and individuals bringing people together around a common cause.
Here, we are lifting a few of the key points that we took away from this conversation to help others across the state to strengthen their work. These are all ideas coming from the experiences of West Virginians today to support the work of their fellow residents.
1 ) Focusing on relationship building leads to more resilient communities when crises happen.
Both Blair and Dural pointed to being highly engaged as business owners in their communities long before current crisis points hit. They cited the relationships they built while being present for their neighbors and active in their communities as one reason for their successes in supporting people during times of crisis. Dural pointed to work that required him to be outside in his community as an important moment for him to engage with residents in the area, whether it related directly to the work at hand or not. Whether it’s through support for local businesses, the connections made through services coming from community-based organizations, or serving in nontraditional community leadership roles, it is key to have this network of trust created long before a crisis occurs.
2 ) If you are facing a crisis in your community and don’t know how to address it, reach out to people working in other communities around the state.
West Virginia is in the midst of many different crises, and knowledge and resources are being built up in different areas of the state. The group discussed how the Opioid Crisis, homelessness, food access, racism, and other long-standing crisis points have been exacerbated by current events, as well as how current events have highlighted structural and systemic challenges that have been in place for decades. West Virginians in communities around the state are tackling these issues, but they aren’t necessarily connected to one another. The group shared resources freely and places for others to connect during the conversation, which broke down the geographic divide between residents representing larger and smaller communities in the state, and showed how no matter the corner of the state we may reside in, we can all be a valuable resource for one another. Reach out and connect with other West Virginians. A search on Google may surface stories of other West Virginians who are tackling the challenges your community may be facing, and The Hub can help to connect you to others as well (Visit the homepage of our site to request help: www.wvhub.org.).
3 ) Finding new ways to stay connected with one another will keep community work moving forward.
Even though we can’t be face to face as often, don’t give up. Participants shared information about both the WV Food ER 2020 Facebook group and the community response on Facebook to Fairmont State University’s decision to remove fine arts degrees. Both of these instances relied heavily on community leaders’ ability to pivot their regular modes of communication and to give control to a large group of individuals instead of a single person setting the course of action. Social media isn’t the only tool that people are using to connect in this time, informal Appalachian porch networks have become an access point to reach neighbors and social distance parades have become popular. People are innovating and finding new ways to connect. Be ready to change course to meet people where they are at now.
4 ) In times of crisis, the oldest and youngest among us are vulnerable.
Helping our senior population combat loneliness during quarantine came up as an issue for several communities, and there was also conversation around how to help young West Virginians process and address the challenges they are experiencing. Organizing groups of residents and also creating community projects to help support seniors and youth are critical to the well-being of the entire community. Dural shared one example of how creating container garden kits with senior citizens has helped improve morale in the West Side community of Charleston, and also helps to pass the time when family visitations are limited.
Do you have an idea to add to this list? Share it with others by using the comments section below!