VISTAs of West Virginia: Malcom Johnson Chose to Serve the Community His Family Has Called Home for Generations

Malcom Johnson, AmeriCorps VISTA, Monticello Neighborhood of Clarksburg

The Monticello neighborhood of Clarksburg is a special community in the Mountain State. Monticello is a historically Black neighborhood with a rich culture and close-knit community. Malcom Johnson, a current AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA), grew up there and holds a special place in his heart for the people who make up the community. Volunteering a year of his time to better his community gave Malcom a better understanding of the community he’s called home.

Malcom heard about the VISTA opportunity from a lifelong friend, Sherri James, the program director of the Kelly Miller Community Center. It was an opportunity he was interested in immediately. It was a chance to give back to a community that helped to make him the man he is today.

“It has been an eye-opening experience in the work of nonprofits,” Malcom says about his time as a VISTA. “It has allowed me to meet a lot of great people who want to see their communities become better places. That sort of energy is always a change of pace and inspiring. The support from the community that helped raise me makes it so much easier to do anything and everything for them.”

Malcolm is leading by example in his community. He believes that residents are the experts of their town, and their pride, investment, and lived experience in the community make them best equipped to identify projects the town needs. Their love for their community is a guiding force in creating the change they want to see in their hometowns. People with a deep connection to their community are more likely to take action to make it better.

“The whole idea that people need to move is because no one has done the work to make their hometowns feel like a home,” Malcom explains. “It’s important to maintain a community through generations if towns hope to ever maintain a certain standard. New neighbors are always welcomed but they do not have the same level of care as people who were born and raised in an area.”

He doesn’t shy away from the truth while doing his work. Part of what makes Monticello so special to Malcom is its history as a Black community. Seeing the relics of segregation reminds Malcom of both what has been and what can be with attention, love, and community involvement.

Yet, one thinking Malcom has experienced is the difficulty in getting young people engaged in the work needed to keep small communities thriving. He argues that pointing out the lack of things in the community is not enough to justify leaving your hometown in search of opportunities. Instead, it means it is time to create new opportunities.

“I always try to remind them that just because there are obvious opportunities, doesn’t mean there aren’t growing opportunities.,” Malcom advises young West Virginians considering leaving. “The same attractions that are taking people away from their hometown can be brought to them or even transitioned into a version of what they might want.”

For Malcom, giving back to the community that has been home for his family over the years is very important. The community of Monticello has become an extended family for him. During his year of service, Malcom’s love for his community has grown with every project he has helped to facilitate.

“I am proud of all the work I do for Monticello,” Malcom reflects. “Being a part of anything that helps the people in my community is something to be proud of. My family has been in the community for generations and it’s only reasonable to give back to a group that’s given so much and has become a family to me.”

The West Virginia Development Hub hosts AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) members in communities participating in our coaching programs as well as in partnership with organizations around the state. The Hub currently has VISTA sub-sites  in Fairmont, Morgantown, Rainelle, Clarksburg, Elkins, and other communities. The VISTA program was founded in 1965 and is an anti-poverty program providing needed resources to nonprofit organizations and public agencies to help lift communities out of poverty. The VISTA program places volunteers 18 years or older into communities where they perform a year of full-time volunteer service.

In the VISTAs of West Virginia series, you’ll learn more about the VISTAs working in Hub communities uplifting economic and community development teams around the state.

Interested in becoming a VISTA? Check out current opportunities through The Hub »

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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.