Advice from West Virginians on making positive change in your community

BY EMMA PEPPER, DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC NETWORK COMMUNICATIONS, THE HUB

28 West Virginians met today as part of the Community Coaching Fellowship initiative. These leaders are growing their skills in supporting residents across the state in sparking community-led progress.

We heard from three people who have led this kind of work in their own communities: Lori McKinney of The Riff Raff Collective and Princeton Renaissance Project (from Princeton); Kenzie New-Walker of the WV Mine Wars Museum (from Matewan); and Stacy Raffo of the WV Community Development Hub and Richwood Rising (from Richwood).

About her experience getting more deeply involved in Matewan, Kenzie New-Walker shared, “I saw the momentum that was building up, and I wanted to help people chase that. I wanted to help people meet their goals.”

Here are 5 pieces of advice we heard today in response to the question: What are some of the challenges or struggles that you have faced along the road, and what do you know now that you wished you would have known before?

1. There is a tendency to want to spring into action when you have an idea.

Don’t work alone. Slow down and be mindful of the people you can collaborate with and learn from. This is even more important now that we can’t be face to face as often. Emphasize building 1-on-1 relationships. Identify the people who can support you with your ideas – both within your community as cheerleaders and fellow volunteers and outside of your community as technical experts, funders, and others.

2. You can’t do it all.

It can be easy to fall into a place of thinking that you need to hold all of the pieces of the work in order to make it successful. Share responsibility with others, and work to share your knowledge with others so that they are empowered to do the work on their own.

3. Your town may not be what it once was, but it can be a great town again.

Often, we can fall into a place of thinking that our towns will never be as great as they once were in a bygone era. While it is important to honor our history, we can’t move forward by keeping our eyes solely on the rearview mirror. 

4. Acknowledge different perspectives in the room, and cultivate a space of respect for all perspectives.

Each person’s experience has value. Have the courage to push back or add a new line of thinking if a perspective being shared does not match your own experience. It’s also the responsibility of people who don’t share that perspective to respect and honor experiences that are different from their own. Let’s build a better future, together. 

5. It is easy to let negative feedback affect you personally, especially when those interactions happen online.

Even if you make positive changes, you may get negative feedback. Remember to keep your focus on the solutions and positive perspectives, and that can be your forcefield. Build in ways to support one another as you hear negative feedback, and build in ways to process critical feedback that may be helpful in shaping or changing what your work may look like in the future.

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