When I closed the doors to Spoiler Warning Games and Comics for the last time, I thought I had no option but to leave the economic depression that is the West Virginia coal fields.
When I opened my shop, I did so with the intent of reshaping the culture of Boone County. I researched communities that were heavily reliant on a natural resource and I was inspired by the story of Coos Bay-North Bend, Ore., that after losing the support of the lumber industry, bolstered their economy through opening 436 new small businesses in two years.
I felt that by leading the charge and opening a small business, I could be that beacon of hope that this community desperately needed.
Which made closing my business that much harder. I didn’t just feel like I had failed as a business owner, I felt like I had failed my community.
For several months after, I didn’t know what to do. I went through life looking for purpose, I knew what I wanted to do, but they don’t usually advertise a position for “Community Cheerleader” in the newspaper.
Or, at least that’s what I thought.
I had been writing for the Coal Valley News, Boone County’s local paper, for a few months, which led me to a story about a program called the Innovation Acceleration Strategy, or IAS, coming to help diversify the economy of Madison, W. Va.
IAS is a program coordinated through The Hub to empower communities to expand specific economic sectors, chosen by the individual communities. As I was writing the story, I learned that they were looking to bring on a VISTA to help with the program.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but even then it sounded like the role I’d been searching for.
Eventually, I decided that part-time freelance newspaper writing wasn’t a great long term employment strategy. Money was getting tight and I didn’t feel like I had the level of creative control as I was craving.
Then I recalled that The Hub was looking for a VISTA, a role that was essentially a “Community Cheerleader” for their IAS program.
I have now been in this VISTA role with The Hub for just over two weeks. I feel more fulfilled than I have for a long time.
The work that IAS is doing feels really important, because it’s helping regular people in struggling communities realize that they have the ability to take control of their future.
As someone that still lives in southern West Virginia, I know how hard it is to have a positive attitude when it feels like the world is against you.
But I’m here to say, that through the power of collaboration, we can take West Virginia back. We have the power to create the change we want to see.