A lot of people think that I’m absolutely nuts for wanting to work in such a remote area of Appalachia.
But McDowell County has felt like home since the first time I set foot on the grounds of the Five Loaves and Two Fishes Foodbank, more than 4 years ago.
Since then I’ve gotten myself into several projects, ranging from economic development and business creation to community agriculture projects.
In order to do work in McDowell County, you have to believe in community development principles that put residents first and individual egos last.
You have to 100 percent understand that every single person is doing the best they can, and the best they know how to do.
And you have to whole heartedly realize it is important to make small towns resilient and economies diversified while also paying homage to the deep roots coal has in central Appalachia. Change isn’t easy, and it’s even harder here.
I am a boomerang child of West Virginia – a term used for natives who left the state but found themselves back for whatever reason. I grew up right outside of Charleston, in a small, tight-knit community near Kanawha State Forest called Loudendale. Im a proud graduate of GW High School, a Virginia Tech Hokie and a rocket scientist, by degree and practice.
After spending some time in Haiti, I chose to work on development projects in my own state because the best way to affect change is to return to a place that you intimately know and love. I have always been devoted to West Virginia and am so excited to get my hands dirty doing work in a community that I have fallen madly in love with.
In my spare time I coach an all-girls Lego Robotics team, farm on a postage stamp size piece of property, explore the outdoors, and create things that border between craft and middle school attempts at an art project.
My vision for McDowell County’s future is huge. I see small vibrant downtown areas in Kimball and Welch, a blossoming small scale local food economy, and a world where Welch does not close at 5 p.m.
I see organizations coming together to help the people of McDowell design their own solutions. Music, visual arts, and theater all play a role in McDowell’s future. I see the natural resource economy blossoming with increased usage of the Hatfield McCoy trails, Berwind Lake, and Panther State Forest.
And most importantly, I see a county where, when a high senior class is asked about their future, the easiest answer is not “Leave the area.”