VISTAs of West Virginia: Michelle Dayton Explores Her Hometown Like A Tourist and It Leads Her Volunteer Work Beautifying Petersburg

Michelle Dayton, AmeriCorps VISTA, Petersburg

There is something magical about taking the time and effort to be a tourist in your own community. Some people never take the time to intentionally explore their own town and discover all of its secrets and adventures. Michelle Dayton, an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA), is living that idea during her opportunity to volunteer in her hometown of Petersburg.

Michelle loves her hometown because of the community around her and the way of life. There is something comforting in knowing that everything she needs is right around her. Even as her friends got excited about leaving their hometowns for different opportunities, Michelle never wavered from her desire to make her hometown something special.

“Most of the kids I graduated with that decided to move away for college are all starting to radiate back towards their hometown,” Michelle says. “I knew they’d come back, they always do.”

Michelle’s connection to the community is what ultimately led her to the VISTA opportunity. Michelle has deep roots and strong relationships in her hometown community, Petersburg. 

“I worked for the Grant County Convention & Visitors Bureau for around a year and a half before my manager told me about the opportunity to volunteer for a year,” Michelle explains about her path to her year in service. “I’ve wanted to be more involved in community development and I felt this was the perfect way to start. I’ve been partnering with a few organizations around Grant County to create events at South Side Depot, which Is part of the CVB.”

Michelle wants to make her town as beautiful as it could be. For her, Petersburg’s community is invested in making a positive change and the town is already starting to benefit from the collaboration. Over the past year, nine new businesses have opened in Petersburg and there is construction happening in several places around town.

“I started planning a Days of Service cleanup project earlier in the year and people are really starting to come together for that,” Michelle says. “We’ve gotten several donations for supplies and other things needed. We have several small groups and clubs that are volunteering with us during those 3 days. We’re all working together to make our city beautiful again.”

Residents of communities are the experts on what is most needed in their towns. Growing up in Petersburg has been an advantage for Michelle as she selects projects to focus her attention on for beautification and revitalization. Currently, Michelle has her eyes on cleaning up the creek that runs down the middle of downtown. The trash-littered banks bother her because she knows how beautiful the town could be if people didn’t litter.“I’m really happy to have grown up here and be able to make changes like this for the better,” Michelle proudly states. “I love being involved in the positivity going on around the community. It makes me very proud.”

Her hope is for more young people to choose to invest in making their hometowns into a place that fills them with pride. As she sees her friends returning to their hometowns after years away for school, Michelle is resolute in her mission to help Petersburg. This is something she thinks all young people should know about their own hometowns.

“There are always ways to better your community,” Michelle tells young West Virginians. “I believe that cleanup projects are a great beginning to revitalizing a city. The more you can get involved, the better.”

Michelle takes the idea of experiencing your hometown like a tourist to heart and lets it lead her work in Petersburg. Thinking about what she loves about her town allows her to think about what she would like people to experience when visiting. This knowledge is what directs her projects and her beautification efforts.

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.