The Magic Question: Can Appalachia Keep Its Young People

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I will never under estimate the power of the blue and gold. Native West Virginians have flocked to Jason Headley’s love letter to his home state, entitled “Dear West Virginia.” Since it posted last Sunday, more than 42,000 people have read it and hundreds have left heartwarming comments.

All of them share Jason’s love for the state’s hills and hollers and many asked an important question – how do we keep gifted young people like Jason in the Appalachians?

Today’s guest blogger Elizabeth Gaucher has a few ideas on that topic. She left West Virginia at the age of eighteen for college, launched a career in adolescent health and child advocacy, and found her way back home fifteen years later. Along the way, she created the project Essays on a West Virginia Childhood and the blog Esse Diem, where the below post originally published.

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The Magic Question: Can Appalachia Keep Its Young People

Every politician in a rural state with an aging demographic wants to know the answer to The Magic Question:

“How do we get young people to move here and stay here to start careers and families?”

I probably shouldn’t think this is funny, but for some reason I do. The situation itself is not funny, but the bizarre machinations around constructing arguments to lure twenty-somethings to rather than away from Appalachia are a little bit amusing. Part of the problem looks like this:

We say we want young, talented, intelligent, educated, passionate people to want to call West Virginia home.

Fair enough.

But then we talk to the very people we want to attract as if they are not wise enough to see what is written in flames about fifty feet tall. As beautiful as the Appalachians are, many parts of the region (including my home state of West Virginia) have a cascade of challenges. They are economic, social, educational, environmental, political, and medical. At least where I live, our day-to-day is not a party. We exist on some of life’s most frayed and tangled edges.

Don’t smart ambitious young people want to be in hip urban centers with lots of good times and easy living? That’s what it looks like on television, anyway.

What fascinates me is that I don’t think these “what’s in it for me” types are the ones we really want. No offense Jersey Shore and Gossip Girl; you’re entertaining and all, but you are the last thing we need over here.

The nation has suffered several years now of throwing off the costumes of wealth and easy money, sexy start-ups and Internet-driven marketing schemes. McMansions, gargantuan gas-guzzling vehicles, and extravagant parties are dwindling and even a source of embarrassment. We see more clearly what that all was, how false and how wasteful. No one wants to churn that again.

Even the PR efforts to market the great outdoors and low rent are part of a weak sales pitch. I’m betting we are on the edge of a different attraction. I say we market what we have for real and get the most hard-core world-changers we can.

I’m not sure what is more real than the opportunity to turn away from “all for me” and turn towards “all for the world.” Appalachia is in peril, and that is nothing new, but what may be new is the chance to harness global concern about our local issues to attract the right young people.

These are the ones who want to tell the stories of their youth as grand adventures in engaging serious problems with their whole hearts. They don’t care about bar-hopping and overspending on trips to casinos. They are modern journalists and water quality scientists and child advocates. They are health care specialists and teachers and professors. They are small business entrepreneurs and artists and historians and contractors. They are responsible natural resource leaders and sustainability experts.  Despite popular belief, they are lawyers too. They are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

They know right from wrong; they know giving from taking.

I don’t think they’re the types to tell self-pitying tales, and I don’t think they want a sales pitch or a hand out. I think they want us to get out of the way and allow their innovation, perspective, and talent to change the future of this complex place that we call home.

Will we?

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41 Comments

  • Rob

    As always, Elizabeth strikes a chord. Appalachia certainly is in trouble, and at the risk of sounding pessimistic, I’m not sure that the problem is political, or economic, or social, etc. The problem, to me, seems to be one of mindset, which is not so easily reversed. I also left at eighteen, and came back some twelve years later,, after having spent those years in Virginia Beach and Tampa. The mindset that I encountered on coming back, by and large, was one more resistant to change than I could’ve fathomed. West Virginia has gifted me with some of the most remarkable individuals I could hope to meet, mostly through the theater community, which tends to be more progressive than the general population. Outside of that community, there is an aversion to change that all but takes my breath away. It doesn’t seem to be an aversion crafted on top of a foundation of… well, anything. It’s simply a fear of change altogether. I spent my first four months doing little other than talking to local small business leaders in the community, and this is, overwhelmingly, the opinion I found. The result is that the young crowd that Appalachia wants to woo, and who themselves would probably love to be wooed, feel their voices being drowned in a sea of uniformity, which is abhorred among the young. The reason San Francisco, for example, is such a magnet for the young and affluent is its open-mindedness. They implore people to come in and shake things up. That’s the last thing Appalachia seems to want.

  • Daniel

    I agree with Rob. West Virginia (or those representing it) want to keep (attract?) young people, but they don’t actually want the “baggage” that goes along with young, fresh minds. That is, they’re not interested in progress, they’re interested in anything that keeps things safe, predictable, and unchanging. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I’m calling it as I’ve seen and experienced it. There’s no judgement. In fact, I’m very thoroughly (openly) judged every time I visit my dear home state. I don’t act or dress or speak in any obvious progressive manner. But the very fact that I’ve chosen to live away from WV is, in itself, enough fodder for ridicule. It breaks my heart so much, but I had to decide to not take it personally. I have to visit WV with much patience and acceptance.

  • Anne Barnhill

    I have not lived in WV since 1977, so I’ve been away a very long time. I hear what you are saying about the aversion to change and the fear of the new or alien. But what I want to say is that WV is always with me in my heart, my very core. Those hills and streams have formed me, and my love of beauty I trace right back to my WV childhood. I would go back in a heartbeat (and may at some point) but my husband is resistant for health reasons. If the state can keep its beauty (and get rid of mountaintop removal and other horrid practices) it will attract people. THey may not be young. They may be like me, a person who wants to spend that last third of life in the hills. Hey, I’m at the tail-end of the boomers and still have some fight! So, maybe the future it attracting that sort of person–boomers with that old hippy spirit! 🙂

  • Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

    I appreciate both Rob’s and Daniel’s comments. I think they reflect a large piece of the puzzle that is this issue. I wonder if people in other Appalachian states see this as well, or to the extent that we do in WV. What I notice is that the warm feelings and memories evoked in the essay prior to this one, while very real and based on real experience, hit the wall hard when it is time to actually be here for many people.

    (I’ll let someone else write the politics piece.)

    This is why I wrote the essay that I wrote. I do not blame anyone for not wanting to experience a life of constant conflict, no one wants that. But there are people who can shift their view of things and step outside of the conflict to meet the challenge, who relish that challenge, who have, as Daniel suggests, much patience.

    I think of it as being willing to drive for a long time in low gear, but still drive forward without stopping.

  • Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

    And I appreciate Anne’s too! I wrote that before her comment was online. I completely agree, it’s not all about youth. It’s about attitude!

  • Emily

    I’ve lived in WV all of my life and will be attending medical school this fall at WVU. When I was in undergrad I considered moving out of state to go to med school. The field that I used to want to specialize in would be difficult to practice with in WV, specifically in Greenbrier county. Since then I’ve decided that my desire to live in southern WV has outweighed my desire to practice that specialty. However, I feel like for every WV med student that decides to stay, there is at least 1 that decides to leave.

    Sadly, I think that one answer to this problem would change the very reasons that I love WV. Many jobs can only be found in bigger cities. I think that to urbanize WV to attract/retain younger people is not a good idea.

    I agree with previous posters though about the set-in-their(our)-way mindset. I know it turns me off and I can only imagine how it appears to those who have less of a connection to WV than I do.

  • Lynne

    I agree with Rob and Daniel about the need for change, but that change needs to go beyond economics and entrepreneurship. Many of the people I know who have left Appalachia did so because they can’t guarantee their atheist children’s safety and sanity in the public schools, or live their lives in fear of being gaybashed and ending up dead along a roadside or being fired because of who they love, or growing up ostracized because they had goals other than to be married at 19. WV talks a good game about letting people alone to live their lives, but if you’re outside the norm, that rule doesn’t seem to apply.

  • Topaz Dragonfly

    Yes, Rob- what makes our state so endearing is exactly that which will be our demise! People talk about WV as being something of a nostalgic “snapshot in time” that does not change. In some ways it is that which drew me back (having decided to return after 10 years of living in GA).

    But we have made some changes… the ones that label us as “backward”! As I said in my “Dear West Virginia” response, “I had also become disgusted at the reinstatement of mountaintop removal, destroying what I held most dear.”… Anon had said “the biggest problem is the state capitol”. What many consider as “progress” is actually a regression. (From 1981-1998, WV politicians helped fight the protections offered by the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in order to increase profits for the coal-mining industry.)

    Why are we marketing the great outdoors if we are destroying it? (Consider the damage that the proposed Frasure Creek mine up-stream from the New River Gorge will cause on Bridge Day!) Tourism indeed surpasses the coal and timber industries as our greatest sources of income (check the state commerce stats), yet our policies continue to pander to financially supporting big business owners from out of state (or even exporting our resources out of the country!). We say we need “more jobs” but MTR actually offers less employment opportunities than an underground mine. Sure, these companies may reinvest some of their money here, but what they take from us is far more valuable. This is the entire reason WV has been so suspicious of “outsiders” and yet we welcome those who seek to make this state into a wasteland and care nothing about our mountaineers.

    The paradox is that young, intelligent people in WV see this hypocrisy. Gaucher alluded to this concept and -to quote Mr. Manson in the movie “Bowling For Columbine” when asked what he would say to the kids or people in that community if they were here right now, he replied: “I wouldn’t say a single word to them, I would listen to what they have to say and that’s what no one did”… and yet no one is listening to the cries of our local young people. How can we retain our human resources if we are constantly exploiting them? This is what must change to ensure the survival of West Virginia.

  • wv heather

    ‘Let my people go surfing’ —

    I have long thought that we need to let young people from West Virginia leave — and make it easy for them to return 5, 10, 15+ years later much like Elizabeth and many others. And, absolutely, the lot that you describe in the blog is exactly the types of people we need to be welcoming. Those with hearts for service, eyes for beauty, minds that like a good challenge, and those who desire to live simply. Absolutely, Elizabeth, well-written! And, you may just have called out my profession in your list of who we should be recruiting.

    To jump into the discussion from others — from afar, I laughed at the “come home to West Virginia” campaign by then Gov. Manchin. I thought to myself – he is not really ready for us to come home — does he realize that I will only come home if the mountains are still standing (not demolished) and if I can swim in the rivers (I know how hard it is to find a good swimming hole in most places outside WV). Yet, after returning – I do not see West Virginia as a monolithic place nor do I see the people, young, old, come heres, or from heres as being simple or predictable. The state is complex and the opportunities for young people absolutely do exist for those who give others the benefit of the doubt, who seek allies issue by issue, and who persevere, persevere, persevere. I also think having a higher motivation – as mentioned in the blog – helps immensely.

    If you choose to work toward the common good in WV – you may just find kindred spirits in the places you would least expect them. Up a hollow that your work forces you to go (ah, will they meet me with a gun? Gee, they just offered me lunch.) or in the office of a mayor (will he belittle what I say? gosh, how is one person able to do all that he does? how can i help the mayor?). Or, more than likely, someone will support you an issue even though they see the world quite differently.

    So I say, roll those sleeves up. And take time to walk in the woods each day!

  • Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

    Lynne and Topaz D, this is why I made a donation to this blog today. I think here we can have the kind of dialogue that desperately needs to be had. Your observations are on point.

    What I wonder sometimes is how much power to give to those negative influences, and by that I mean that I too have cowered after being reprimanded to not be too vocal in my criticism of the coal industry, or to “watch out” about being too open about my beliefs about religion.

    I think this to some degree this is happening across the country, and so I wonder about my friends who say they are leaving to get away from something that may be a force to be reckoned with anywhere you go.

    I’m trying now to just be myself, no matter what. To remind myself every day that what my home needs is ME, being ME, and not being afraid or giving “the powers” undue influence because I won’t engage.

    I say let’s engage. Let’s do this thing, and we may die trying, but man, the glory! It’s positively Braveheart-esque.

  • Bob Rogers

    I left because of the glass ceiling of not being born in a certain county, of my parents being only educated to the eighth grade; there where many more of these restrictions alive and well in WV when I left in 1978. What I found elsewhere was an openness to who I was and what I could do, not who my parents were, what my religious affiliation was, or my cultural attachments. To stay or leave is a personal one for each of us who were born in WV. To attract new young people, offer them acceptance, allow them to suggest changes, offer new ideas, without making them feel unwelcome because they are, “trying to change our culture.” West Virginia’s culture has and will change; let the most creative do the changing…

  • Rob

    It’s interesting that the mountaintop removal issue comes up. When I came back, one of the issues that left me speechless was the vehemence with which West Virginians seem to despise the EPA. While no one outside of Appalachia doesn’t recognize the need for jobs, dehumanizing the EPA, turning them into “the enemy” is a position exclusive to this region, and it seems emblematic of the larger picture. Most of the country recognizes the dangers posed by the problems the EPA is here to tackle. While they are far from infallible, they play an important role in our progress, and in ensuring our kids’ future. To dismiss this mission as somehow anti-West Virginian is to miss the point entirely. As I said, it feels like an aversion to change, not for any valid, logic-based reason, but for the sake of avoiding change. The resulting atmosphere created is a stifling one, a brick wall erected to hinder future progress, and one gets the sense that the leaders who espouse positions like this know better, but they must double down to endear themselves to “traditional” citizens, patronizing those who want to preserve, rightly, what made West Virginia so great in the past. It’s a pernicious, dividing style of politics, where a uniting style is begged for.

  • John

    I left West Virginia in 1984 after graduating from WVU. Although I left WV, I didn’t leave Appalachia. I live in metro Atlanta and I can tell you that north Georgia looks and feels a lot like WV, maybe not as rugged. The issues discussed in these posts are very much a regional thing, from New York to Alabama. Young people in small towns set in the hills yearn for something different. All you can do is let them go find what they are looking for. If they do come back, the culture will be stronger with the input of their experiences.

  • Nancy

    I kinda feel like a sissy, complaining about living in WV. After all, I live in the Kanawha Valley! I’ve been to real West Virginia, coal country. My grandfather had the courage to move his young family out of a mining town 70 years ago. I still don’t know how, but I know that I honor him for it.

    But my question is this: how are young people supposed to make a difference? To my mind you need money and/or connections to create change. Without either does it matter what their ideas are? Will anyone hear them? And how can the young people create change when they’re busy working two jobs, trying to eke out a living delivering pizzas?

  • Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

    These are all such great comments, it does my heart and mind good to know people are so thoughtful about this issue.

    To Nancy’s question, how are young people to do this, my personal answer is I’m not sure. I have some hunches from what I’ve observed and mistakes I have made.

    This sounds terrible but I’m just being as transparent as I can, I think it is a very short distance from wanting to be a change agent and being co-opted. I’ve watched potentially very influential young people go almost overnight from being energetic about making a difference to being on the staff of political power brokers or in the employ of a large company (natural gas, coal, telecommunications). In no time, they are what I call “protecting.” They are in the status quo. They now see the world from the inside, and they don’t ever want to be on the outside.

    This does not inspire me, to say the least.

    I hold up as a role model a friend who works for social justice in WV. He asked for a meeting with the Secretary of DHHR. The Secretary brought 5 people with him. Rick came alone. “Where are your people?” Rick was asked. He said, it’s just me.

    That freaked them out.

    I think it begins with throwing out the rule book.

    That’s not very specific, but my gut tells me change the game.

  • Daniel

    (a returning commentator)

    I occasionally wonder what it would be like to go back to WV and attempt to create change, using anything I may have learned since leaving it. But change in WV needs to happen very slowly, because part of the process involves really connecting with the people. They’re very complex, which I imagine is contrary to outside perception. They (should I be saying “we”?) can see through a lot of BS, but are also easily influenced, particularly by those that reflect their own values. So anyone that creates a real, positive, long-lasting change most likely has to be one of the people.

    The sort of change I imagine myself doing would be done not on a wide-sweeping state level, just in the tiny rural community I usually think of as home. It’s a community that has retained a simplicity and purity I haven’t seen anywhere else. The “change” that I always imagine has more to do with creating conditions that allow the community to be the best it can be, because the people there need some empowerment to know how to handle the threats and problems to do arise.

    But more than any of that, I would like to organize simple activities that bring people together again. What happened to fire hall gatherings? Ramp dinners? Saturday night basketball at the school gym? Square dances? Cake walks, fairs, and dinners at the lodge hall? I’m only in my 30’s, but these were a very regular part of life when I was growing up there.

    As for really big changes (like tackling mountaintop removal), I won’t claim to have a clue about how to approach those complicated, controversial matters. But at one point it occurred to me that by leaving home and doing nothing to help my dear state, a self-fulfilling prophecy had taken place: I became the very person I feared most of becoming. That is, a person that says “That’s just how things are. You can’t change anything.”

    Will I ever actually fulfill the secret dream of going back home? It’s a move that would take more courage than it ever took to leave it. I don’t know.

  • Native WV

    I’ll start out as many of those who have commented on this article…I am a native WV’ian. Grew up in the northern panhandle and definitely relate to Jason’s “hills and trees, your railroad tracks, rivers, and run-down factories.” Married my high school sweetheart and moved away after college. We both hated every minute of the ‘big city’ life and longed for HOME. We were very thankful when the opportunity to return presented itself. We now live in southern WV which as Emily has already stated in her response to Jason’s letter, “feels like a whole different world” than my northern WV where I grew up, but it has easily become our new home. It has been my experience, regardless of what part of this wild and wonderful state I have lived, we don’t like outsiders. We don’t like them coming here and telling us how to make it better. We don’t like change and that is what these outsiders tell us we have to do in order to better ourselves and our state. What about OUR culture and OUR heritage? When we leave this state, we are expected to fit in wherever we are transplanted with the mentality to do as the Romans do; however, people who come here for whatever reason have no interest in learning about us, where we come from, our successes, our hardships, etc. They just want to “fix” us and change us into what they expect us to be. Those are the people we DO NOT need here since they will never succeed at their endeavor no matter how valiant. We need compassionate people who are willing to understand that WV’ians and Appalachian people work hard for a living and are often put in a position to sacrifice their lives in order to provide for their families. DO NOT come here with preconceived ideas about who we are or who you heard we are. Sit down for a while and talk to us, get to know us, listen to our stories, hear our music, enjoy our natural beauty. I wholeheartedly agree with Elizabeth’s idea that we don’t need the “what’s in it for me” types; however, I do think our native WV’ians that have left are the ones who would be welcomed home with open arms and open minds. After being once bitten and twice shy…Others need not apply.

  • Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

    Native WV, I surely understand your feelings, and I agree that an attitude of “they folks need to be fixed” is not one anyone, anywhere, welcomes.

    This is one of the reason I think it’s an inside job to some extent that needs to happen. At the same time, though, I believe we have to, HAVE TO, stop this culture of “if you’re not from here we don’t want you.” That is a clear difference with many other places in this country, while I agree we all are to try to fit in where we go, many other places are much more open to the idea that they don’t have all the answers, and that accepting diverse thinking and new ideas is part of moving forward and solving problems.

    This ties to something I wanted to say about Rob’s comments about the hostility towards the EPA. I think it’s true, the rest of the country thinks we are insane. It’s kind of like, let’s get this straight, you love your state and the people in it, but an entity who’s sole purpose is to protect your air, water, and soil from irreparable toxicity and to protect your mine workers from death and dismemberment is the enemy. That’s crazy.

    And I think it is crazy. BUT…..

    I also think it is a brilliant example of the damaged economic legacy of the coal industry in our state on our land and our people and our long-term economic picture. As with any abusive relationship, the key is to make the abused partner believe that no one else loves her or can care for her like the current partner. The coal industry is masterful and telling West Virginians that without them, we are nothing. And anyone who wants to limit their power is trying to hurt West Virginians. It’s sick.

    But our labor history and our economic fears keep us hanging on to industry propaganda. Who else will love us? We are damaged goods. And of course the irony being, we because we stay in this relationship.

    To be clear, I think it’s obvious that coal plays an important role in our state’s economy, and will for some time. But to not be willing to address the dangers and to not be thinking about and preparing for “what next” when we lean so heavily on finite resource is patently absurd.

  • Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

    And Daniel, you break my heart, but I feel you, brother. I know.

  • Tim McClung

    Dame G,

    Hearts break, spirits break and resolve is thinly stretch..reading through these posts..I think the apocalypse started for me when WV census projections showed for the first time negative growth in the 17-25 age bracket for the next 10 years. So now it is no longer just a question of keeping our young, it is a the prospect of a future without a youthful(l) pipeline.

  • mary-jacq

    NO. Our children, like us, must wander off and experience the world, then they can move back with their spouses and children. The truth is that our youth seek adventure, and they should seek adventure and experiences elsewhere. The mountains feel to safe and secure for the truly adventurous. It is exciting to move to a city, to hike the Alps, or live by the sea. OUR children should experience these adventures. They should. Let them enjoy the world, and when it bites them, or proves a bit more hostile then they like (or just plain too hot), they might very well come home. I did. But if you want kids to stay here, and to have jobs, they need to get degrees in science. There are plenty of jobs in the state for actual scientists, chemists, biologists, engineers and the like. Computer tech jobs are also available. Medical personnel are always desirable and have ubiquitous job opportunities. We even have manufacturing companies.

    WV has a “population problem”, not because our children leave, but because until about 30 years ago, there were no decent roads in WV so businesses and other people didn’t move to the state. Now we have interstates in good shape which will permit more businesses to locate in the State once their directors no longer fear mountain people. Morgantown is one of the most desirable growing tech centers in the country similar to the research triangle and silicon valley. It rates higher then Blacksburg VA as a desirable city to live in. It is one of our nation’s jewels in growing technology based cities. The eastern panhandle has been booming for years. With the recent economic collapse, however, WV has fared far better financially than the other states. We also missed the horrible real estate collapse (apparently because the crooked banks have no branches in the state).

  • mary-jacq

    I am sorry but I agree that bigoted people need not move here. We do have business in this state, and people who feel that we are too ignorant and uneducated, really do not need to move here. We have excellent Universities, some departments of which are much better than in other Universities. For example, the Psychology Department at WVU is excellent. They have created a computer software program to treat attention deficit disorder without drugs, which is extraordinary considering the emphasis on drug treatments everywhere else. In fact, WVU and WV have better mental health facilities because of WVU’s efforts to use behavioral and cognitive techniques. I remember once siting in a church in Massachusetts about ten years ago when the priest (episcopal) asked the congregation to pray for the poor uneducated people of WV. I was stunned. The bigotrism against West Virginians is every bit as common and ugly as any other biases against African or Mexican Americans. People truly believe that we are inbred and ignorant. Some are afraid to come here or come here to rescue us from ourselves. In actuality, we are doing just fine. Thank you very much.

  • PERKY

    I was born in WV. I love the beauty and I have been gone for 36 years, and When I return to visit ,I expect to have it there as if I had never left it , any change just seems so unreal . In all realality I know there will be change ,if not family passing , the homeplace had fallen down , makes me sad ,but yet it brings a smile from my memories I have if all of it . Weh I was a child ,I saw suffering from lack of jobs ,working in coal mines ,walk a mile to catch a school bus , frostbit fingers from cold biteing them on that walk to a school bus stop ,So at same time I have bad memories also . I have listened to people from other states comment on inbred and ingorant people come from there ,not knowing they are talking to someone from there ,who is just as smart of not more so than they are .I like the part were I say ,I am from WV . and watch there face turn every color. there nothing wrong with those of us there or from there , its the ones that are not , Thank -You

  • Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

    Mary-Jacq, I agree with you, our state’s young people need to see the world. I’ve written on that via my own blog and http://www.abetterwestvirginia.com before, and I passionately believe it. Go, fly, be free, come back if you like, but we also need migration into WV.

    I’ll simply say I think it is not an all or nothing situation when it comes to are we educated or not. There are clearly concentrated patches of very well educated people and intellectually vibrant communities here, absolutely. But that does not negate the swaths of poverty, insufficient educational attainment for 2012, and dependable stereotypes.

    Tim, thanks for your comment, the demographic trends are not encouraging, but we keep on keepin’ on, right? 🙂

    Love your story, PERKY. It’s fun to have the “I’m from WV” ammo in your pocket at those snotty cocktail parties.

  • Dannage

    A friend of mine still living in WV has an extensive background in web support, graphic design and computer science. He left it all after 10 years to become a red hat (newbie) in the coal mines to better support himself.

    When the only real game in town are the outside interests (energy companies) propping up a pseudo-economy based on the fluctuation of what a short ton of coal costs, most of the youth that do stay must eventually fall in line to make a semblance of a livable wage. Those who leave who are talented know all too well who actually makes the decisions back home.

  • Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

    Wow, Dannage, that is a disturbing story. But I completely see what you see around us as well, and while it’s not all there is, it is a huge part of the problem. Thank you for taking the time to comment and for your honesty.

  • Dannage

    Sadly it’s not the only one that I have –
    The saddest stories are of those who were born and raised in WV, “love it to death” and partake in the quarterly bonuses and never-ending profits. Profits related to finding new holes to drill in the Marcellus, setting the night sky ablaze with the burning of gas from over-productive rigs.

    If things like this happened anywhere else in the country that is so laden with raw beauty, there would be an outright war to stop it. The tragedy of the commons should be mandated as required reading at a very early age.

  • Hanna Wheeler

    I will move home when I can stop worrying that my property will be mined out from under me, can stop worrying that my well and swimming holes will be poisoned by coal mine drainage or unchecked erosion, can stop worrying about the way Morgantown and other places are succumbing to sprawl. I will move home when people realize there are ways to make economic progress without sacrificing the integrity of our communities and ecosystems. I will move home when I can work and live in a place where I can find open-mindedness and tolerance (instead of the xenophobia and prejudice I still witness when I visit). I will move home when the old people who have stayed will LET us young people return and be the strong, dedicated, creative-thinking, West Virginians that we are. Until then, I’ll still have this torn feeling: loving and defending West Virginia to the huge numbers of out-of-state jerks who make ridiculous inbreeding or Deliverance references but feeling unwelcome in my own home state.

  • Nicole Crawford

    I just ran across this page… its pretty late and I am on a pad rather than a actual keyboard so please excuse my usage of no caps and such. I just had to comment, I am from the southern part of WV though I live inhouston. I go back often to visit I just can’t get that place out of my heart and soul and never will don’t want to. It is home. I can say that the place all together frustrated me at some points in my life to visit..but now I miss the slower pace of life and as some people say intolerance to adversity there or down right fear of it. When you live in a major city and from what seems like a different world there is alot to miss. No one enjoys life here to busy to enjoy anything and keeping up with the Jones is the progitive. Outdoors,family activities, church, church activities,festivals,community anything pretty much no longer exist here. As someone constantly wishing to help the economics in some to save WV here is a suggestions from someone longing for the things that people have there. Has anyone realized that there is alot of people in the rest of the country that long to experience a simpler life. Without smog and millions of people on the road everyday a life that doesn’t involve sitting in traffic for two hours or more just to get to work. So here is my idea… number one most people out side of the region do not realize WV has anything to offer far as tourism. They don’t have a clue how beautiful and peaceful it is there are people here that have never seen snow nor mountains in their life. West Virginia needs national advertisement. Then play it up truly turn it into a tourism driven state. I know I know tacky gift shops come along with this but here’s the thing each chamber of commerce or however politics go there.. well make sure that they set buildings codes that only allow business to build historically correct or buildings that fit the history or surroundings..there is places that do not know the beauty of older architecture use it to WV advantage. All of it. Create destinations that really play up WV history, simpler quiet outdoors lifestyle, historic gambling boats, trains that go all over to historic towns. Don’t change WV for the rest of the world..to fit in..to end up full of keeping up with the Jones attitudes. Play up what it is… beautiful set back in time..take you kids to a place of gone by lifestyles,nostalgic.. include all of the wonderful artisans I’m the region..truthfully all the traveling I have done no place else has the potential WV does. Beautiful,quiet,set back in a diff time compared to a major city, wonderful old buildings and houses, lots of history, great artisians, wonderful music, unique people that should be better understood, make
    people realize how strong wvirginians are now and how they were. I have never seen such pride in people as from people from WV. Everyone needs to come together and realize all the potential WV has. Has so much to offer that does not exist in other areas of the country. I think I rambled…its late and I do that when home comes to mind… a very deep love for this hills and hollers..btw wide open spaces don’t even hardly exist in small towns here. Buildings houses everywhere. Biggest start is national advertising of WV tourism. I have never once seen a commercial here for WV yet all the time for TN. The people of WV need to do some research or remember family stories of the type of families they have came from. The people that settled WV were amongst the strongest and free willed people able to overcome obstacles that other people could not that why they didn’t want or didn’t settle the region. Pull together west Virginians make things happens rather you still reside there or not anyone from there is a westvirginian by heartand proud of it.
    ‘country.

  • Aimee

    I love the south. My ex is west virginian and spent much time in southern WVA that only locals would know about. I love the people and love the state, although im a yankee lol. Its still in my heart although I havent been down there in a few years. I think the state needs to hold onto their heritage, yet do something to attract businesses and ppl to the state. Without jobs and business, no ppl. To see a guy from Logan WVa win Americas Got Talent last yr was awesome. My son Logan, is named after that town. Its a great state that needs ideas. And yes im a young person of 32 who is a yankee. But I respect the ppl and the state, am responsible and have always been. Im in college and nonjudgmental. NOT all young ppl r horrible

  • Barbara Goodman

    I wish a lot of northern people who have always put WV and her people down could read these letters from present and former residents. It shows that people from WV think about BIG problems not just making shine or meth to make a living or trying to figure out a way to go on government assistance. It shows the good common sense that our people have inheirited from good hard working great grandparents, grandparents, parents, Aunt and Uncles. It shows they too can graduate from college with goals and ideas on how to improve their state and country. It also tells stories of how West Virginian’s have had to leave their beloved state in order to make a decent living for themselves and their families and how that eats away at their very souls. They talk about Governors who make money by destroying the mountains and Natives have to leave because it sickens them and the jobs they seek are just not there for them now and never were…….. leaving them no alternative to going north or west or east where the jobs are and a lot of the people ridicule them, calling them Hillbilies or Ridgerunners or worse. The articles tell about the mixed feelings about having to leave their home state, being pushed into a different society that they did not want nor enjoy having to leave family and friends behind most of the time. Yet……still being strong enough to cope and start a new life in a new state even with all the ridicule and new obstacles they may experience from a different lifestyle and strange place and losing a higher status they had bding in their own environment. Residents there not befriending them because they moved in on “their” territory perhaps taking “their” jobs.

  • dolly spurlock

    I really enjoyed reading, these stories heart warming i am from wva. left 50 yrs ago but never forget my memories of wva
    my mom is buried there so wva is always called home!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Those young musicians are from Maryland. One more foible in West Virginia’s history of not understanding its own local talent and culture.

  • Jennifer

    Jon livening in metro ATL! Big shout out! I too live in the metro- but grew up all my 21 years in the coal valleys of kanawha county and attended UC. I traveled back and forth for grad school to support UC and give my money to UC. I love my state- and will come home (building a cabin in Summersville near my family) but I will live in both places because of my work. I don’t think leaving WV is always a negative…. It gives you the love and appreciate our home for what you may take advantage of before…. But I do know that I miss home. Daily. And I’ve been in aTL since 1998. WV is still home…..

  • Thomas

    I’d move to WV just to meet that blonde woman on the right. Good Lord, she’s pretty.

  • Eric C

    I moved out of WV to Ut. I lived in Athens (mercer county) and miss it dearly; yet there is not really much hope to make a lving out there unless you want to work at a walmart or in fast food. The school system though is great; as we seen compared to UT whom’s education system is suffering. I do hope to come back home one day, but i would like to have a degree or option to make a good life there when I do- which is why I’m in ut at the UofU.

  • John Knutson

    I moved here in 1985 went to school and got picked on viciously because I was from out of state. I tried my best to fit in and to adopt my new neighborhood. However, they hate people who aren’t like them with a passion. Let alone, if you are a different race,culture or sexual orientation. If you don’t have their mannerisms,accent,clothing or behavior, they know right away and they will shun you, talk about you behind your back, at times physically assault you or even worse. I tell everyone where I live now don’t move their, I had a friend wanting to relocate his company to the state and I told him he shouldn’t. He visited the state and he agreed with me. This is what hurts state. A lot of people travel through with no preconceived notions of the state leave hating it and spreading what they experienced upon visiting.

  • Chuck klein Jr.

    I lived in West Virginia all of my life , I retired from the coal mines in West Virginia in the northern panhandle. I loved working in the coal mines. It’s sad how Obama is getting rid of coal. It’s west virginia’s # 1 resource .

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