Where are they now? Two former VISTAs share their experiences

BY ERIN SUSMAN, OPERATIONS AND VISTA PROGRAM MANAGER, THE HUB

The Hub’s former VISTAs held crucial roles in creating momentum towards positive change in WV. We’re thankful for the time they’ve dedicated to our community development work, and it’s no surprise that they’re moving ahead to bright futures. We caught up with a couple of our former VISTAs–Sathiyan Sivakumaran and Zach Rissman–on how their work at The Hub has impacted future goals and achievements.

Sathiyan Sivakumaran

Former VISTAs Breanna Collins and Sathiyan Sivakumaran

Sathiyan Sivakumaran served in The Hub’s AmeriCorps VISTA program in 2018 with our HubCAP III program. During his year with The Hub, Sathiyan had a front-row seat to exciting progress made in the communities in the HubCAP program. He fondly remembers seeing the HubCAP teams take ownership of their community meetings to drive the work they identified was an impactful thing to witness and support. We recently had a chance to catch up with Sathiyan, and reflecting on his year, he said, “the connection of Matewan’s HubCAP community team to Coalfield Development was an awesome thing that happened.” Through those seeds being sown during the program, the Nenni Buildings in Matewan have been purchased and grant funding has been secured to further redevelop and revitalize the community. Without HubCAP, these connections would not have happened. 

Reflecting on his year of service with The Hub, here’s what Sathiyan had to say: 

“I learned a lot from everyone, whether it was from their experiences and stories or from their expertise. It’s hard to keep track of all I learned. Running effective meetings and ensuring there is value produced from meetings was something that’s proven extremely important in my work now. Nobody likes to waste their time, so when people are volunteering their time and effort, I feel like it’s even more necessary to make every minute worth it.

In a less tangible way, I gained a better understanding of the unique nature of every individual and how to navigate different personalities and mindsets to achieve progress. I also grew an appreciation–or at least, understanding–for the challenges and time that our efforts can take before clear value is shown.”

Since concluding his term with The Hub, Sathiyan has gone on to work for the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, where he oversees the agency’s Semester Internship, AmeriCorps, and AmeriCorps VISTA programs. He also supports the Abandoned Mine Land and Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) programs in his role. 

Zach Rissman at The Hub’s Charleston office

Zach Rissman

A great part of hosting an AmeriCorpsVISTA project at The Hub is getting to see our members continued growth. 

You may remember Zach Rissman, our AmeriCorps VISTA member who served at The Hub in 2019-2020. Zach was an instrumental piece of laying the foundation for the Community Collaborative Network. We recently caught up with Zach to see what lessons he learned during his year of service, and what he is up to now. 

Here’s what he had to say: 

“My year of service taught me some incredible things, both about myself and the world. First, it really helped show me what I was capable of and pushed me beyond my own limits. Serving with The Hub made me grow immensely as a person and, especially as my first foray into adulthood after college, was an extremely valuable way to spring into the world. The Hub allowed a level of autonomy that forced me to think for myself and helped me become more self-assured and self-reliant. 

Serving with The Hub also taught me a lot about the world. Through the work that was being done by The Hub and Hub partners and through meeting all of the people that I did, I became extremely humbled by the level of innovation, creativity, and humanity that existed in this sphere in West Virginia. I learned about the strength and beauty that exist all over West Virginia communities and will never forget the impact that had on me.” 

Zach shared that his next chapter will begin in May, when he enters a program to learn how to be a sustainable, small-scale farmer.

Erin Susman is The Hub’s Operations and VISTA Program Manager. You can reach her at e.susman@wvhub.org.

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Parsons

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Message from our Executive Leadership Team

Fifteen years ago, stakeholders building up local communities and economies in West Virginia convened to map a coordinated strategy to systemically grow community economic development activity in the state. From the shared vision and collaborative leadership of dozens of strategic partners across the state, the WV Community Development Hub was born.

Since that time, The Hub has grown into the anchor community development organization serving West Virginia. We have built upon the original vision to create a method for rural, community-led development strategies that is uniquely tailored to the needs and opportunities of our state.

As we have grown and developed a proven model for success, our partnerships with community and economic development practitioners, funders, and committed West Virginia residents have been foundational to every element of our work.

Over the past two years, the team at The Hub has adapted to the unprecedented challenges our communities have faced during the pandemic by leaning into our core strengths to deepen our impact. The Hub remains committed to tackling persistent challenges, and we have focused our attention on the most impactful elements of our work.

We are supporting community leaders to advance their visions for local development, creating new pathways for engagement and leadership growth through our virtual training platform, and leading strategies that lift up voices of community leaders to move forward solutions to long-held challenges to growth.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that nothing about the future is set in stone. While the coming year may present enormous opportunities for advancement in our state, they will also inevitably require significant capacity building, shared strategies that are grounded in trust-based partnerships, and extended efforts to support the leadership development of individuals and organizations who have been asked to do more during a time of extreme stress and strain.

The services that anchor organizations like The Hub provide are even more critical in this time, and we expect our work to scale significantly in the coming years ahead.

We look forward to continuing to do the work of putting into action the vision and the shared strategies envisioned by that core group of community economic development practitioners and funders fifteen years ago.

In Continued Accompaniment,

– WV Community Development Hub
Executive Leadership Team

Stephanie Tyree

Executive Director

Amanda Workman Scott

Director of Community Engagement

Emma Pepper

Director of Strategic Network Communications

Katie Loudin

Director of Strategic Development

Montgomery

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Smithers

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Kingwood

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Lewis County

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Meadow River Valley Region

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Monticello Neighborhood of Clarksburg

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Watch their community documentary.

New Martinsville

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Systemic Change

2021 became a time period of catalytic potential as we saw years of investment into our core strategies to enact systemic change yield new results. Our strategic focus areas include policy, communications, and supporting the community economic development system in leveraging unique financing opportunities such as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative and Opportunity Zones.

In addition, through our strategic policy support role within the Abandoned Properties Coalition, The Hub successfully advanced two key objectives: the creation of a statewide land bank at the West Virginia Land Stewardship Corporation and extension of the state’s Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. 

Through the Opportunity Appalachia program, 6 catalytic community projects located in WV-based Opportunity Zones received $250,000 for pre-development technical assistance. Three projects received additional private funding as a result of program participation.

Community Coaching

In 2021, we accompanied 16 communities through our in-depth, professional coaching programs. In addition to leaning into coaching and financing opportunities offered through these programs, participating communities leveraged an additional $2.8 million in funding on their own for community economic development projects. While participating in our entry-level coaching program, Cultivate WV, Montgomery and Smithers realized momentum-building success through access to $40,000 in seed funding for projects like farmers markets, public art, wayfinding, community events, and development of a trail system.

Six communities, Lewis County, Kingwood, Meadow River Valley, Monticello neighborhood in Clarksburg, New Martinsville and Parsons, graduated the intermediate planning program Blueprint Communities* with strategic plans in place. We also launched a new round of HubCAP, our flagship community economic development program, in six towns located in the Monongahela National Forest region: Cowen, Franklin, White Sulphur Springs, Elkins, Marlinton, and Petersburg.

Elkins

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. 

A core team led by Woodlands Development Group also participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Franklin

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Marlinton

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Petersburg

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

White Sulphur Springs

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Charleston

A core team led by Crawford Holdings, LLC participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Huntington

Core teams led by Thundercloud, Inc. and the City of Huntington participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support community development projects located in Opportunity Zones.

Grafton

A core team led by Unleash Tygart, Inc participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Leadership Development

As hundreds of people began to engage in our virtual training activities in 2020, we saw a critical opportunity to scale and deepen our impact. This year, The Hub team developed an accessible, virtual platform with options for self-guided and group learning activities as well as professional coaching.

Kickstart Communities is now the crux of our efforts to bring new people into the work and grow their leadership. These activities now form the foundational stages of a Community Leadership Development Pipeline to move motivated residents from seeing the challenges in their communities to proactively collaborating to resolve them.

Cowen

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. Read their community case study.