An interview with Olivia McConnell, the newest addition to The Hub team

Olivia McConnell, Community Coaching Associate

We at The Hub are thrilled to announce the newest addition to our coaching team, Olivia McConnell. Olivia will serve as the Community Coaching Associate to help coach communities across the state as they work alongside The Hub to revitalize their cities. Olivia is a native West Virginian and is excited about the opportunity to help her fellow Mountaineers realize the full potential of their hometowns. She is well-versed in The Hub’s work and mission having served as an AmeriCorps VISTA before starting her current role. You can expect to see Olivia in communities offering her knowledge and experience to uplift communities in their various efforts.

Olivia is working alongside Amanda Workman-Scott, our Director of Community Engagement. Amanda and Olivia connected for a conversation to share about Olivia’s background, her passion for community development, and what she is excited about in the months to come.

Amanda Workman-Scott: You’ve been with The Hub already as a VISTA, why did you want to transition into a larger role within the organization?

Olivia McConnell: The Hub is such a welcoming organization where I have always felt supported and encouraged to be my full self, which is really important for me. I knew that I wanted to continue with The Hub so that I could keep doing the work that I started both in the coaching programs and with VISTA cohorts.

As the Community Engagement Coordinator VISTA of the Hub Communities of Achievement Program (HubCAP), I was able to support the HubCAP coaches and the communities they serve. As I step into my new role as The Hub’s Community Coaching Associate, I can continue that work while I build my own leadership skills and begin coaching communities myself. Working with six of the Mon Forest Towns in HubCAP has prepared me to continue working with that region through the Downtown Appalachia: Revitalizing Recreational Economies (DARRE) program.

In my short time at The Hub, I’ve already seen the VISTA program grow and improve in meaningful ways. We are moving towards a cohort-based model that will improve member retention and, more importantly, member development. It’s been incredible to see how engaged and collaborative the cohort has become and I’m looking forward to seeing all the work they accomplish over this next year.

AWS: How have you seen community development touch your life and the work you have been doing with The Hub?

OM: Even before joining The Hub, community development has touched my life in big ways. I live in the community of Greenmont, the oldest established neighborhood of Morgantown and historically a working-class area. Although flourishing at the turn of the century, Greenmont fell on hard times during the 1940s. The past 20 years have been a much-needed period of revitalization for the neighborhood and thanks to the work of local stakeholders, entrepreneurs, and long-time residents, we now have a coffee shop, bakery, restaurant, beer garden, brewery, and auto shop.

At work, community development has touched my life through the relationships I have built. I’ve watched community members work together to become strong teams that make real changes. I think a lot of us at The Hub would agree that it’s hard not to get too invested in the communities we serve. Their wins become our wins, and their challenges, our challenges.

AWS: As a West Virginian, what does it mean to you to be part of the work leading communities to revitalize their hometowns?

OM: I have to admit something here. I felt a lot of contempt for West Virginia growing up. As a teenager I was sure that I wanted to leave the state because it felt stifling, like I could never reach my full potential in a place so small. I decided to stay for college, not because I loved my home state, but because the Promise scholarship offered free tuition. The longer I did stay though, the more things I found that I wanted to embrace about life in West Virginia. I met new people that had an infectious love for their Appalachian heritage, and I began to appreciate the beauty, the history, and the culture of my home. Today, I can say I take pride in being a West Virginian, and an Appalachian. Being a part of the work leading communities to preserve the things that make them special, while creating new opportunities that make people want to be here and stay here is more fulfilling than I ever expected a job to be.

AWS: What motivates you in this work?

OM: I’m motivated by a vision of an equitable future where all West Virginians can thrive. I’ve heard so many times that our people are resilient and that’s true, but I don’t want that to be our legacy because to me it means maintaining when we should be moving forward. Thriving is so much more than surviving, and for all of us to do better collectively, we need to create opportunities for marginalized groups to have a seat at the table. I’m motivated every day by seeing people in our communities grow into strong capable leaders who will build the bigger table.

I’m also highly motivated by my co-workers. Hearing about the work they are doing in other parts of the organization, whether it be another coaching program, communications, or policy work, is inspiring and pushes me to accomplish more.

AWS: What is your advice to people who want to see change in their community but don’t know where to start?

OM: My first word of advice is to reach out to other people because none of this work gets done alone. Start with your inner circle but try talking to new people too. If you’re a young person, talk to someone who has been around longer than you, if you’re an older person, try engaging with youth. Having these conversations will give you a more informed perspective and diversity builds strong teams. Set some goals and give yourself the opportunity to make mistakes. Mistakes can teach you more than successes.

I also believe in The Hub’s mission and free virtual lessons. The Kickstart Communities Virtual Lessons are great resources that I share with people who ask me how to get started with their own projects. Anyone can start revitalizing their community one project at a time and I’m excited to work with community members who want to see their towns grow.


Olivia McConnell is The Hub’s Community Coaching Associate. You can reach her at o.mcconnell@wvhub.org.

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redefined is a storytelling project on a mission.

Watch real stories of West Virginians who are bringing hope to their communities.

For too long, who and what it means to be a West Virginian has been defined for us. It’s time to redefine the Mountain State in our own words and in the eyes of the world. West Virginia can be anything we want it to be – let’s redefine it together.

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.