By the time Colt Brogan reached his senior year at Lincoln County High School, his hopes of attending college and planning for a career had all but disappeared.
It wasn’t that Brogan didn’t have the ambition or the grades – he was set to graduate with honors. But part way through his senior year, he moved out of his home along the Coal River to escape what he thought was an unhealthy environment.
He still wanted to plot a way forward — to find a career, to afford an education, to build a life. But he said he felt trapped by where he grew up, who his parents were, what high school he attended, and what he could afford.
The price tag of higher education had convinced him not to go to college straight out of high school, and the chances of landing a job after graduation, he said, weren’t great.
Many of his classmates from Lincoln County confronted the same reality. Some considered nursing school. Others looked into construction jobs or work with a utility company. A few found jobs in Hamlin at the Burger King or 7-Eleven. Gone was any expectation of a job in a coal mine or manufacturing plant, like many of their fathers and grandfathers had.
For Brogan, joining the military started to look like his only way out.
“There weren’t really any other healthy choices for me at the time, because I didn’t take a lot of preparation for college because I never thought my family could afford it or that it was possible for me,” he said.
“You know, nobody was gonna help me get there. Nobody was really pushing me towards that. It was up in the air what I was going to do after school because nobody really cared.”
Then a teacher told him about a new company that had been growing in recent years and was looking to expand into Lincoln County. It offered not only a starting wage of $10 an hour, but the chance to attend community college for free.
Brogan applied, interviewed and was hired by the Coalfield Development Corp.
Now a year later, he’s attending Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. He’s learned how to deconstruct abandoned buildings, how to build new homes, and how to create high-tunnel greenhouses. Soon, he’ll be trying to build an agricultural business on an abandoned surface mine…
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