BY KAYCIE STUSHEK, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS SPECIALIST, THE HUB
This year has shifted the perspectives and needs of communities across the state. Multiple, layered crisis points have emerged as communities work to address public health; supporting the most vulnerable West Virginians; equality and safety for residents; and other pressing challenges.
Through virtual community conversations and also data gathering on the perspectives of West Virginians, The Hub has been working to identify needs and share out ideas for how residents can move into action around these challenges.
We released surveys this summer targeted to two groups: invested community members across the state and the community and economic development professionals that are working to serve them.
Our goal was to identify, from the perspective of West Virginians who are working to make a positive difference in their communities today, what are the most urgent needs communities are facing? And what are the most important actions we can take together to build resilience and prosperity in light of these needs?
We received 120 responses that made it clear that even though we are spread out across the state, have unique challenges, and are working toward different kinds of goals, we have a similar vision for our state, its needs and how to move forward.
Survey respondents stated that the most urgent needs and corresponding strategies to address them are:
1. Support community-identified and community-led responses to these challenges.
The clearest answer we heard from respondents is to support community-driven action! This included supporting and listening to all citizens equally, supporting the community to lead and direct its own future, and supporting residents in working with or becoming elected officials.
- “The most important thing we can do is to bring people together to decide what they need, want, and are willing to work for.”
- “Prosperity is built from the bottom up and never from the top down. Individuals and communities need a voice in shaping their future where they are.”
- “Help communities build the infrastructure to tackle problems at the community level.”
2. Identify the most vulnerable communities and align services and resources more clearly to support them.
When talking about which needs were most critical, respondents agreed that the most vulnerable communities and people among us needed to be identified and supported right now. Respondents also agreed that there was a need to align resources in more efficient ways, directing residents where they need to go to find the support they need without duplicating efforts or wasting time.
- “We have many vulnerable community members – of special worry are the ones that we don’t know about.”
- “Remember the goal is our families. We need to be more informative to the general public regarding what services are available. If I am a lifelong resident of WV and work in this field and still have trouble identifying resources, how hard or discouraging for our families to identify that information without support or the means to do so.”
3. Invest in critical community infrastructure and strategies to build more prosperous cities and towns.
Respondents emphasized supporting communities to rebuild with resilience and prosperity in mind, including improvements to broadband, health access, business support, and education. Supporting small businesses and improving broadband connectivity were identified as top critical needs – respondents placed a strong emphasis in their comments on keeping local people employed and staying connected as two vital strategies to move successfully through this time.
To help focus the work of community and economic development practitioners serving West Virginia communities, moving forward collaboratively in more strategic ways was identified as a strong need. An emphasis on planning, leveraging existing connections between groups, avoiding duplicating services, and working in partnership to diversify our economy were identified as key leverage points to build more resilient and prosperous communities.
- “One of the hallmarks of the underlying reasons for WV poverty and lack of opportunity is isolation of communities in much of the state. Internet access can open up our state for so many opportunities: social, economic, education… that will have a long term, broad, positive impact.”
4. Create new community identities that are inclusive of all residents.
Many respondents noted a need to develop a shared vision and positive identity for their community that represents all of the people there equally, especially marginalized groups.
Respondents pointed to the ways that national conversations are also reflected in their local communities in West Virginia. They lifted up a need for West Virginians to recognize that course-corrections are required to address systemic inequalities that disproportionately harm historically marginalized groups, such as communities of color, homeless residents, and residents facing addiction. Respondents suggested leaning into strategies that are more inclusive of everyone in the community.
One clear tactic cited by multiple respondents was a need to shift entrenched negative narratives about what it means to be a West Virginian to stories that point toward a focus on inclusivity, hope, and positive action toward a brighter future.
- “[We need to] establish and promote a positive shared cultural identity.”
- “West Virginia can’t truly thrive until all West Virginians have equal access to safe living conditions, healthcare, mental healthcare, education, social support systems, and welcoming communities. Our communities must clearly be for ALL West Virginians.”
- “Encourage citizen led efforts that build collaboration and encourage diverse voices across all boards of directors. Fund things where organizations are working in collaboration with others.”
- “[We need] a light at the end of the tunnel! Many people have developed a hopeless attitude.”
Consulting Your Community
The audience that The Hub typically reaches through our work and our communications is a group that is characterized by a common motivation – West Virginians who want to make a positive difference in cities and towns across the state.
Our reach is not all-inclusive of the West Virginians who fall into this group. If you were to run this same survey in your own community, you may come up with different results.
This survey is the beginning. We are encouraging of West Virginians who are interested in finding out this kind of information for their own communities. If you are interested in running a similar survey in your area, email The Hub’s Director of Strategic Network Communications Emma Pepper at email@example.com. She will give you the tools you need.
The events of 2020 have shifted the priorities of West Virginians along with the actions that need to be taken in the short term to ensure long term resilience and prosperity in our communities.
At The Hub, we are both listening and acting to address these emerging needs and priorities. This week, we released our 2019-2020 Impact Report, including new strategies we are enacting now in response to the challenges West Virginians are facing today – read the report here.
Through a clearer understanding of what people across the state see as their primary challenges and concerns, and where West Virginians feel that they need critical support in order to move forward, those of us working to build resilient and prosperous communities (including our team at The Hub!), can pivot our efforts to be more responsive and impactful in this time.