McDowell Teachers Lead the Way, McDowell County WV (S2E2)

A new apartment building for teachers in Welch, WV is just one of the projects created by Reconnecting McDowell that is changing a coal dependent county toward a more prosperous future.

A new apartment building for teachers in Welch, WV is just one of the projects created by Reconnecting McDowell that is changing a coal-dependent county toward a more prosperous future.

McDowell Teachers Lead the Way, McDowell County WV (S2E2) Transcription

David Martin: This is the good government show.

Lillian Keys: We obviously live in a very high poverty area and reconnecting with people really focuses on trying to lessen that stigma of while you’re in a high poverty area, there’s nothing that people can do for you. There are multiple things that people can do for you, and there’s multiple ways of bettering your life and bettering your community, even though there’s not a lot of money.

Faith Poore: It is a good job. It is probably one of the best paying jobs. It has really good benefits. And I enjoy it overall, especially not having kids. I can plan the school when I have enough kids.

David Martin: What other job opportunities are there in town?

Faith Poore: Gas stations. The coal mines. And mom. And pop shops. Federal prisons and jails.

David Martin: And this is the best of all.

Faith Poore: Yeah, probably. I couldn’t imagine working in a prison or jail.

David Martin: Welcome to life in McDowell County, West Virginia. In this episode, we’re going to get to know some of the people that live in what is the poorest county in West Virginia, which makes it one of the poorest counties in the nation. And we’re going to see how an idea became a project that is changing the lives of the folks there.

David Martin: Welcome to the Good Government Show. I’m David Martin.

Carol D’Auria: And I’m Carol D’Auria. So we are going back to West Virginia. Is this near Boone County, David?

David Martin: Well, it’s about 2 hours south, a little bit closer to Kentucky.

Carol D’Auria: But the poorest, really. What was that like?

David Martin: Well, it’s incredible is beautiful and it’s tragic.

Carol D’Auria: But.

David Martin: You know, they say you never meet a stranger in West Virginia. And for me, that was true. One of the guys you’ll meet, he kept trying to convince you to move there. I saw beautiful scenery. And I also saw a downtown that’s pretty much been abandoned. You know, they say almost seven. West Virginia. I don’t know if is almost heaven, but I was in the very heart of Appalachia and in the very heart of the mountains.

David Martin: Beautiful. But I also saw dilapidated houses. I saw really hard living and many, many houses that were just completely abandoned and falling apart.

Carol D’Auria: That is really quite a contrast and sad, though.

David Martin: Yes, it’s rural beauty and rural blight.

Carol D’Auria: So this is more coal fallout.

David Martin: Yes. So less coal. Less coal was mined, less jobs, again, like in Boone County. Coal was king. And McDowell is in southern West Virginia. And this is really the heart of coal country. I saw lots of former, you know, company houses, the coal company houses, some that were lived in, some were not. There were entire towns that were just built for coal mines.
You know that line in the song I Oh My Soul, the company store. It was true. And those company stores are still there. Some are abandoned. Some have been converted, but they’re still there. And so is the idea of coal. And cause it’s not gone. But it’s nowhere near the industry it once was. And lots of numbers available.
Let’s just say that over the past ten years, the state has lost close to 10,000 coal jobs.

Carol D’Auria: An awful lot.

David Martin: Right. But that translates to loss of other jobs in related industries. It shrinks the tax base. It lowers the home values and it creates abandoned towns and neighborhoods, all because we use less fossil fuels.

Carol D’Auria: Oh, please. I need some good news here. Tell me how this is going to get better.

David Martin: Well, things are getting better. You heard about the lavender farm in our previous episode. That was over in Boone County. This story is about a program called Reconnecting McDowell. And this is a program that offers college scholarships to McDowell high school students as Lillian. She was one of the people you heard from at the top of the show, said they come back to McDowell to become teachers.

And this says two things. First, it fills a huge teacher shortage. And as you heard from faith, poor teaching is it’s one of the better paying jobs and kind of one of the more stable jobs. A medal.

Carol D’Auria: Count. Okay. Sounds like a worthy program. So tell me more. Okay.

David Martin: Well, first, I have to give you a little background on West Virginia and McDowell County. So for that, I’m going to turn to Cliff Moore now. This is the guy every time we driving by, every time we saw a house was just David. You could buy that house. Well, David, what about that?

Carol D’Auria: He doesn’t know you.

David Martin: Go ahead. No, no, wait. We’ve got Cliff and I go. We chatted a lot. But he would see a house and go, Hey, look at that. And then I told him about my boat and he goes, Now, look, look. There’s a boat. There’s a boat.

Carol D’Auria: I don’t see you doing much sailing in West Virginia.

David Martin: Well, not probably sailing, but, you know, the tug fork is a big river and they have canoes and sailboats and power boats. But anyway, I’m going to like Cliff explain. McDowell County.

Cliff Moore: McDowell It’s only a form, a shadow of itself where again, well, we had 100,000 people. We had a very high economic profile here in the county that is all diminished and gone away because of the coal market. And if coal ever comes back and I know and you know that it’s probably not going to. You can’t tell the people in McDowell County that because they have some kind of inexplicable connectivity to this geography, to the history, that the coal mines and everything that McDowell represents.

So as I told you earlier, when you were come to Welch, which is the county seat of McDowell on a Saturday, particularly a payday Saturday, when all the miners got paid, the schoolteachers got paid and everybody got paid. You couldn’t get down the streets of McDowell of Welch, because everybody was there. 100,000 people. People came to shop for clothing, for food.

They came for medical appointments and various things like they do in other places. And when McDowell County began to decline, as it has and is still in a decline, people moved away. And when they moved away, it took away the hope, it took away the prosperity, and it took away some of the resources that we used to make McDowell County great when it was great.

Carol D’Auria: Well, really big changes.

David Martin: Huge changes. And not all of them. Good as you heard Welch, it was once the big city in McDowell, Welch was so busy. Okay, here’s your McDowell. Fun fact of the day, Welch has the nation’s first municipal parking lot now, not New York.

Carol D’Auria: That’s what I would have thought.

David Martin: No, no, no. The first municipal parking lot. It. Welch was so busy. It was called Little New York. Really? Yes, it was.

Carol D’Auria: I can’t imagine

David Martin: It was Little New York. It was so diverse and so busy. You know, people just filled the streets on the weekend with all these people. They needed parking and you’re up in the mountains, no flat ground.

So they had to build a parking lot. Check out our website. The good government showed icon and you’ll see a picture of the nation’s first municipal parking lot. But I know it looks like it’s going to fall down and some people still use it. There’s a there’s a movie theater across the street showing all your favorite hit movies.

But it’s not it doesn’t get near the use of use of.

Carol D’Auria: So, okay, you have a really poor county and pretty empty downtown. What’s the good news here?

David Martin: Okay, so we’re getting that it all started with the state’s then first lady, Gayle Manchin. But before she was in the governor’s mansion and if you haven’t already guessed, she is married to this. Right. She’s now married to Senator Joe Manchin, but she was a teacher. She was a university professor and an educator. Her husband, who was then governor, Joe Manchin, he appointed her to the state’s Board of Education, and that’s when she saw what was going on with McDowell.

Gayle Manchin: So I get on the school board and I’m on there for a while and I realize that we have taken over McDowell County now. This had happened before I got on the school board, and so every year they would make recommendations for McDowell County. And I’m looking at results plus test scores and what’s going on and nothing nothing’s changed.
Nothing’s any better. And so I started saying to the state superintendent and to the other members of the state board, what’s wrong with this picture? We took this over. Now, we’ve been in control for almost ten years and nothing’s changed.

Carol D’Auria: So she discovers the problem. And you say took it over. What does that mean? Took it over. Okay.

David Martin: So what it means is the local county couldn’t effectively manage their county’s education system. So the state came in and they took it over and it was at the state level. And that’s when Gayle spotted the problem. She’s actually the person in this story who said there must be a better way.

Carol D’Auria: Okay, for Gayle. So what did she do?

David Martin: Well, two things. First, she met Randi Weingarten and Randi is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, and that’s the union that represents teachers across the nation. And we know Randi. We know.

Carol D’Auria: Randi. Absolutely. I’ve talked to Randi many times.

David Martin: Right. So have I. She’s a New Yorker and she ran the teacher’s union here. And we know we know her. So Gayle met her. She met her first in West Virginia, seated next door to dinner. And then she met her again in Washington. She kept.

Carol D’Auria: On. She wore down is what you’re telling me.

David Martin: So obviously, you know, Randi, but Gayle stayed in touch with her and she continued to press around the conditions in McDowell and eventually they came together. And so with public and private help, they created Reconnected McDowell. But as Gayle look deeper into the problems they were trying to solve, what she saw was it wasn’t just a new principal.

Gayle Manchin: They needed what we found, which was really not a big surprise, was children were coming to school hungry, they were coming to school neglected, they were coming to school without any support system at home. And so their learning, their success in school had nothing to do with the classroom or the principal or the teacher. It had to do with all of the wraparound services that these children needed in order to be able to be successful in school.

Carol D’Auria: So Gayle saw what needed to be done.

David Martin: Yes, she did. And it wasn’t just hiring. Teachers are getting new textbooks, but it really was setting up an entire system to support the students and ultimately the town.

Gayle Manchin: So we started you know, we started from that approach, bringing in these sort of wraparound services to help support children meals and meals to food, to take home and weekends, sending food home with kids and just starting to address the things that that they were living with every day. And what we found was that about about almost 50% of these kids did not live with a biological parent.

Parents were either incarcerated or dead from drug overdoses. They were living with grandparents. They were living with some maybe some relative friend. Many of them really didn’t even have a home to call home. Of those 50%, half of them never saw an adult get up and go to work in the morning. So this was the this was the world that these young people lived in.

And then they came to school and we said, okay, let’s read. Let’s do math.

Carol D’Auria: Wow, that is unbelievable. Right here in the United States. In America.

David Martin: Yes, exactly. Right here in America. And that’s when they really dug into getting solutions. That with Randi and the AFP plan, all that started to come together.

Randi Weingarten: We focused on three different areas improving student achievement, social and emotional assistance to kids and families, and then economic development. And as part of the improvement of student achievement as well as community relationships, there were several young adults who were from McDowell’s. He decided after college to come back to McDowell to invest in its future.

Carol D’Auria: Okay, so they have a plan coming together. They really saw it’s more than what goes on in the classroom. It’s what you bring to the classroom. Don’t bring to the classroom.

David Martin: Right, exactly. So again, let me talk a little bit about McDowell, the high school. It’s called Mount View High, and it’s called that because the school is actually built over a former coalfield. This is one of the many mountaintops that was removed and the coal was dug out. And the process leaves a flat piece of land where the mountain was.

And as we know, you have to improve on the on the mountaintop. And what they did was they built a high school and it’s so big. They’ve got the school, they’ve got athletic fields, and they’ve got to have Board of Education offices.

Carol D’Auria: Well, that sounds really good, actually. Is there a farm in this picture?

David Martin: No, no farm. But yes, it is a big area. And you drive up and you do you’re really driving up a mountain. Then I’ll certainly get to the top of mountains flat. And let me tell you, there’s a really great few on the top of the mountain. But I also went to two elementary schools. One school was on the main road and there was a small school that was at the.
And if a holler.

Carol D’Auria: Did you say holler?

David Martin: Get another holler? I’m using it correctly. And listen, there are hollers all over West Virginia. We’ve got to get out of New York all over where we go. You’re going to see them.

Carol D’Auria: So we want to see them.

David Martin: Good. The holler by Welch. That’s one of the ones I drove up. And this is right next to the school. It’s mostly trailers. Most have folks living in them. There are some old coal houses, the company houses that are still there. Some of the trailers look okay. Some are falling apart, some are fixed up and kind of nice and some of them are scary like it, you know?

Carol D’Auria: But it’s hard to believe this is where the kids live. And from there, they go to school.

David Martin: Yeah, not all students, but chances are somebody in their family lives nearby or he lives in one. So let me just say a little bit more about well, there’s one restaurant in town. It’s the Sterling Drive Inn. And this is an institution. It used to be one of the two drive ins where kids would go on a Saturday night and they’d cruise in one place into the other.

And now it’s the only place in town, and it’s owned by the town’s mayor. And we’re going to meet him later. He’s quite dynamic. And by the way, the biscuits and gravy definitely worth the drive.

Carol D’Auria: You know, I have never had biscuits and gravy and honestly, I don’t think I want biscuits and gravy.

David Martin: Nothing better than biscuits and gravy in the morning. Anyway, McDowell needed help and they needed major economic help as much as anything else.

Carol D’Auria: So it wasn’t just about the schools?

David Martin: No, it was about more than the schools. And I’m going to have Randi Weingarten explain the success and how they’re still working on improving the economy.

Randi Weingarten: I’m proud of the community work and the community relationships that that have been created as part of this. They that they know that, you know, some people would say that they were proud of the fact that the high school graduation rate has gone from 74%. When we started to 88% in the middle of all of this, some people would say that they were proud of the fact that the high school graduates that are enrolled in college have doubled.

But some people would say that they’re proudest of the fact that the schools now have reverted back to local control because of all the evidence of improvements. Some people would say they’re proudest of the fact that we have now built the first housing, the first multiple storey building in McDowell for 50 years. But what I’m proudest of is the can do nature of this partnership that it has created hope where fear and despair existed.

Carol D’Auria: That’s a lot of positive change and and a new, I guess you would say, attitude about the whole thing.

David Martin: It is. And it’s not just the school and the kids. It’s about the town and the county and the people and trying to make McDowell a better place where people want to live and there’s a chance for a better future. And that led me to Bob Brown. And by the way, Bob was my driver. He was my guide in West Virginia.
And Bob knows everybody. So let me let me introduce you, Bob.

Bob Brown: My name is Bob Brown. I work in the office of the president for the American Federation of Teachers, and I serve as treasurer of an organization called Reconnecting McDowell. We have a501c3. We’re in downtown Welch, West Virginia, standing in front of a Renaissance village, which is a building that we put together and helped finance to create a place for young teachers to live.

In McDowell County, there’s a critical teacher shortage in McDowell counties, and we thought we could help that if they had a place to live.

Carol D’Auria: They actually built an apartment building for teachers down there.

David Martin: Yes, right in beautiful downtown. Well, it took a while and some wrangling, you know, on all these projects. So but in the end, they have a new 16 unit and modern apartment building. It’s right behind the movie theater, across from the only convenience store in town and next to what used to be the hottest nightclub in Welch. But that’s closed for now.

Carol D’Auria: So they built an apartment, which actually it shows their commitment. Yes. To fixing this.

David Martin: Here’s the thing, Carol. It’s not just an apartment house, because I asked Bob, I said, is this really a step toward, you know, a revitalized McDowell County?

Bob Brown: Well, we think so. Look, if you have an ultimately our dream is to attract teachers and other young professionals live in this building. If you have 30 young professionals living in downtown Welch, it’s going to drive some local economic development. You’re probably going to see a dry cleaner open up. There’s a movie house next door. We hope it’s going to other restaurants in addition to the Brazilian restaurant going in here, we think it’s going to absolutely drive and make an economic development in downtown Welch.

Carol D’Auria: Did he say a Brazilian restaurant?

David Martin: Yes, he did. And I walked, right. Right. So that’s.

Carol D’Auria: Something I would like to.

David Martin: See now. Now you’re now you’re a big, tall man. Just so no biscuits and gravy. Brazilians.

Carol D’Auria: Yes. Yes.

David Martin: Can we start with biscuits and gravy for breakfast and then go

Carol D’Auria: Yeah

David Martin: You know, a couple of fried eggs.

Carol D’Auria: Sometimes you need a bagel.

David Martin: You’re like, no, no, no, no bagels in West Virginia anyway. Yes. So I get to walk around the place. There’s going to be a coffeehouse there. The Brazilian coffeehouse is going to be the restaurant. They’ve got an arts and crafts store that’s going on. So it’s it’s really going to be a downtown anchor. And I’m going to tell you more about this program after the break.

Carol D’Auria: The good government show is sponsored by Liquid. Welcome back to season two, Liquid.

David Martin: And we still love Liquid and not just because they are a sponsor again. But Carol, here’s a fun fact. A recent study found that over 80% of retail shoppers conduct online research before making a purchase. Do you do that?

Carol D’Auria: Well, yeah. You know, I do it when I know what I’m buying. Like, for instance, we needed some bug spray for the backyard. We were having a party, but we have dogs. So I didn’t want anything toxic for the dogs? So I had to run down a lot of products online.

David Martin: So you did your research.

Carol D’Auria: I did.

David Martin: All right. Good. And if you’re in a business, you really have to do your research because you really want to evaluate who you’re working with and making sure the company you are about to partner with, you want to make sure it’s a good fit.

Carol D’Auria: That makes sense. So you want to stand out to other companies that are checking your company out.

David Martin: Exactly. And that’s where Liquid comes in. They can help your business create a digital presence with impact. So you can be impressive to new businesses and keep your customers.

Carol D’Auria: And it’s not just about a website. See how much I’ve learned about Liquid since the first season?

David Martin: You are Liquid-aware, good for you, right. So they can guide you where to advertise, make sure your social media is relevant, and it engages your customers. They want to make sure your digital story answers your potential customers’ questions before they even have to ask them.

Carol D’Auria: And that’s but Liquid is good at: creating a full marketing and online digital presence.

David Martin: Liquid’s been around for nearly two decades. They have a lot of experience and a lot of research to back up their.

Carol D’Auria: Plans and they have a team of designers, marketers, strategists and developers that can help companies in many industries with award winning creative campaigns, content and websites.

David Martin: All good reasons to have Liquid plan your next digital marketing strategy. So check them out and talk to a liquid professional. Visit them at www.liquidint.com, that’s www.liquidint.com.

Carol D’Auria: And you will love liquid as much as we do.

David Martin: Because they’re our sponsor. We love Liquid. We want to welcome back as a sponsor to the Good Government Show, Kutztown University of Kutztown, Pennsylvania.

Carol D’Auria: And you want to talk about their rugby team?

David Martin: Well, they do have a good rugby team that just won a national tournament. And what I did was I called a friend, his daughter played at Kutztown, she played on the rugby team and asked him what did he like best about Kutztown?

Carol D’Auria: You mean besides the rugby team?

David Martin: Yeah, besides the team, obviously the team first. But he responded immediately and said something I didn’t know. His favorite thing is the chicken tower or it’s also called the Angry Chicken.

Carol D’Auria: What? I hesitate to ask. The Angry Chicken?

David Martin: Well, it’s such a landmark that it’s actually the school’s logo. It’s a clock tower. And apparently when you look from a special angle, the clock looks a little bit like a chicken with an open beak. So it’s the angry chicken.

Carol D’Auria: Okay, then. Well, let’s talk about the other stuff like that their degree program in music business is now nationally accredited. They offer undergraduate certificates in cybersecurity and technical writing.

David Martin: So is this what we do? Is this technical writing?

Carol D’Auria: Oh, no, no, no. Take his class and maybe get better at writing.

David Martin: Oh, come on. That’s not fair. You know what? You would benefit from the new graduate certificate program and be a school social worker. Maybe you’d be nicer.

Carol D’Auria: All right, well, the point is, Kutztown is a forward-looking university. They also offer Pell Promise scholarships. And for students to qualify, student tuitions and fees are all covered.

David Martin: And that’s just some of why we like Kutztown and are happy to be associated with this university. Oh, my friend thought it was really cool that sometimes the locals stay right here in a horse and buggy. So check out Kutztown University. That’s Kutztown University and cheer on the rugby team.

Carol D’Auria: Of course.

David Martin: Yes, please.

The Good Government Show welcomes a new sponsor for season two, and that’s NACO. And that’s the National Association of Counties. Carol, did you know that county government affects more people than any other form of government?

Carol D’Auria: Well, I do now. Funny you would think city or the federal government is bigger.

David Martin: Well, right, but. But it’s not. You’d think about this. Roads, highways, hospitals, schools, recycling, law enforcement, water, sewers: in most of the country, those services are maintained by the county. That’s county government.

Carol D’Auria: And we want to see good county government. And that’s where Naco comes in.

David Martin: Exactly. They’re a nationwide organization that represents all 3,069 counties across the U.S..

Carol D’Auria: Now, that’s a lot of support and more importantly, brain power.

David Martin: Exactly. And they have many organizations and committees and they do things like share best practices and they work together on national issues.

Carol D’Auria: And they are urban, suburban and rural counties that have different challenges. But they can still work together.

David Martin: Yes, they all work together. So NACO helps county government work better. And as we see in this and other episodes, when county government works well, that’s just good government.

Carol D’Auria: So thanks, NACO, for providing us with great stories and helping support good government.

David Martin: And thanks NACO for supporting the good government. And remember, citizens, don’t forget to vote.

Carol D’Auria: So we are in Welch. And you just told me about a new apartment house for teachers. I need to hear.

David Martin: More in the Brazilian restaurant. Right. So it’s called Renaissance Village and it’s going to create a new vibe in the downtown and it’s really already impacting the town.

Carol D’Auria: You see more coming to Will’s.

David Martin: Well, you will have to see for yourself because we just missed this year. It was the second annual West Virginia coalfields cook off. But mark your calendar. Next June, we’re going to announce we’re going to do some barbecue.

Carol D’Auria: Oh, you can find a barbecue festival.

David Martin: It wasn’t that hard. It’s down. It’s it’s the mayor. He put this together. And so this year’s winner, I’d love to try it. It was called Optimist Swine. So it’s a great pork dish.

Carol D’Auria: Actually, I do like pulled pork.

David Martin: Good life. All right, good. Now we’re getting somewhere. There were at least 15 pitmasters that were competing, so it’s a big deal in town. And guess what they did for the 4th of July? You’ll never believe us.

Carol D’Auria: No.

David Martin: They built a beach house. They built a beach, they trucked in sand. They closed off one of the downtown streets. They had a beach party.

Carol D’Auria: But I can relate to this.

David Martin: Yes. All right. So fun stuff, right?

Carol D’Auria: Right. Right. Okay. You can end up for a drive to Wells.

David Martin: Yes. Next year for the barbecue festival. So remember, the only restaurant in town is a Brazilian place open. Well, that’s owned by Harold McBride, and he’s the town’s mayor. And he actually stepped in because he wanted to make sure this kind of local institution didn’t go away. And he has big ideas for Wells, and it’s not just block parties.

David Martin: And he recognizes it’s not going to be easy. But this guy is an optimist. And I have to say, when you listen to him, you know, it’s you become a believer, too.

Mayor Harold McBride: At one time, McDowell County had 120,000 people. Now we’re down to 18,000. So everything’s a little low, hard, far as that goes. But we’re actually gaining. We start we bottomed out and started Welch’s self as gain. We’re getting some people in moving in from New York, Mississippi. There’s quite a few.

Carol D’Auria: In New York to McDowell. Really? I don’t know.

David Martin: Yes, yes. That’s what he said. Not me, unless Cliff wins. But yes, housing is incredibly cheap and there’s a lot of it and it’s available. And Hurley explained that Reconnects McDowell picked up more than just schools. He met with both public and private supporters who were looking at different ways to pick up the county and the city and create something.
And it wasn’t just passing out cash. They had plans.

Mayor Harold McBride: And we’re going to turn it into a TV haven. We’re going to have amusement parks. We’re going to have quality life improvement as we go one step at a time. And we think that people are going to move here. Hopefully we’ll get some housing project. We work on housing, so we do that. We keep going. We’re going we’re going to make sure we’re fine.

Carol D’Auria: Okay. So I have to say, this is really pretty inspiring. The coal jobs are gone. The town is not nearly what it was. The downtown is pretty much abandoned. But they have events here that actually sounds like fun. They have a new apartment building, a new coffee shop, a movie theater. So do the teachers live there yet? Have they actually moved in?

David Martin: Yes, they have. I want you to meet one of the reconnecting McDowell teachers. She’s a graduate of Mt. View High. She teaches there and she just moved into a new apartment. And it’s near family and close to school and it’s brand new.

Nadia Johnson: I’m Nadia Johnson. I live in the Renaissance Village here in Welch, West Virginia, and I’m a communication skills facilitator. I might be high school 6 to 12.

David Martin: So not only gave me a tour of our.

Nadia Johnson: Apartment, I have this kitchen with all black new appliances, a dishwasher, because I hate washing dishes by hand. So I need that my so my microwave, my fridge. If I keep going. You see my lovely living room, I have a right now. I just have a love seat. I don’t have a TV or anything yet, but I’m planning to put a projector up because it’s a nice big wall.

And that way I can feel like I’m in a movie theater. You go down the hallway and there’s my bedroom. Came furnished with a bed and a dresser and a nice calls it for all of my clothes and my shoes because I have a lot. Here is another door that has my washer and my dryer and it’s stackable and it’s new and it’s nice.

And then I have a huge closet, so I mean, a huge bathroom. So the ladies, you know, we love being in the bathroom all the time and this is just huge for it. Best place ever.

Carol D’Auria: Wow. I wish I could find a place like that for my son. Let him leave his dirty socks elsewhere.

David Martin: Well, I’ll tell you what. Well, she needs auto mechanics, too, so.

Carol D’Auria: Okay, so there could be…

David Martin: A series of tutorials and we could be branching out as all of a sudden. Oh, get out of Long Island. So I’m going to introduce you to another teacher. And this this woman is pretty incredible. She’s one of the first reconnecting McDowell students. She went to college, came back, and she’s actually spoken about it across the nation. It’s been in Washington. In Los Angeles. Really? Yeah. She’s been around and she’s got a lot to say.

Lillian Keys: My name is Lillian Keys. We are currently at the Renaissance Village in Welch, West Virginia, and I am a high school English teacher in McDowell County, and I teach at Mount View High School.

David Martin: Lillian grew up in McDowell. She knows the kids and in some cases she knows their brothers and sisters or their parents. She lives in the county and says much of the job is helping kids with problems beyond classwork.

Lillian Keys: We’re all from this pretty low poverty area and nobody is really excelling substantially here. And the fact that these kids are on this level and they’re all getting these opportunities, it’s it’s very important. And it’s it’s it’s great. You know, because like I said, these kids obviously don’t have the best lives and they don’t get a lot of opportunities.

They haven’t had, you know, the best of the best in almost anything. And so this program is at least giving its best to them. And it also it allows, you know, people like me and like other teachers and people like Bob to give their best to them, too.

Carol D’Auria: Oh, that’s great insight.

David Martin: She is really an impressive woman. And she says, you know, she says, I’m not a role model. I’m not a role model. But she is. And she actually grew up with Nadia and she inspired her to go to college and come back to teach. So.

Carol D’Auria: See, that’s somebody who sounds like she really has an impact.

David Martin: Right. And she’s looking to the next. Well, Lillian Keyes, when I asked her what her future was, she said she wanted to be a principal, but I’ll let her tell you her future.

Lillian Keys: I want to be the teacher who was younger, who just got out of college, who knew what they needed, who was able to talk to them in a way that they could understand, and not just about school, but about other things, too. And so that’s kind of how I look at my career as an educator is I want to be, you know, the teacher that they that I didn’t have or maybe the principal that I didn’t have.

Carol D’Auria: Well, two great stories.

David Martin: And I have more. So let’s meet Emily.

Carol D’Auria: Really?

David Martin: Okay. Emily, she teaches fifth grade. She’s at Kimball Elementary. That’s in McDowell. And she wanted to stay close to her family, so she got a scholarship to reconnect McDowell and she was able to succeed.

Emily Hicks: It opened up a lot of doors. I’ve met a lot of great people. I was able to, you know, we did our quick trip to Charleston and then we we did a trip to D.C. and met a lot of people. And then I actually got to fly out to L.A. and speak at one of the conventions that was representing Reconnecting McDowell through the AfD branch and, you know, it opened up a lot of opportunities.
I’ve met a lot of great people who have helped me get through college and my master’s and, you know, every day teaching.

David Martin: And she sees how the program is helping outside of the classroom.

Emily Hicks: You know, they’ve been able to do scholarships for some of the seniors. They’ve been able to help with the different programs. So I think they’ve done an excellent job, especially with Welch. They they find any way to try and help, you know, build the community back up, because everybody knows that Welch is never going to be what it was in the sixties or seventies, but they want it to be something that people want to be around.

David Martin: And at the very top of this, you heard from Faith Poore. She’s a kindergarten teacher at McDowell Elementary. And she, too, felt the pull of home and family. And so she came back to teach. But that was after her life changed in the program.

Faith Poore: They let me get my first pine rod. I had never been on a plane until we went to Washington, D.C. from Charleston. I have been on the plane twice since then, and I knew that if I came back home and helped my community, that maybe those kids would stay there and try to give back to their community. Because I’ve done a lot in the community, especially with DACA and Reconnected McDowell.

We’ve done a lot. So it helps a lot that the community knows my face. And then I come back and they were like, okay, now what are you going to do? And I’m like, I don’t know, but I’m back here to help.

David Martin: So let me have Gayle sum up what this has done for McDowell.

Gayle Manchin: We’ve created that next generation of McDowell County students that love their love their home, loved their county, love their land, and they want to be there. So obviously what we continue to do is work around economic development. What are the other things that we can help build in that area? And things are happening. I mean, we’ve have more opportunities probably right now than we’ve ever had or will ever have again with all the money that’s out there.

Carol D’Auria: Well, these teachers, these women, what great stories.

David Martin: And it’s a really remarkable story. And it all started with Gayle Manchin, who said there must be a better way. Now there are teachers with strong ties to community and a new apartment.

Carol D’Auria: And a Brazilian restaurant don’t forget.

David Martin: Yes.

Carol D’Auria: And and your favorite of barbecue cook off. So you were there. I mean, did you like it? Do you think you could move there?

David Martin: Well, you know, I could I live there first. There’s no ocean. So that’s that’s that’s a big problem for you right off. But, you know, when I got in there, I was driving around the when I first got there, I was like, oh, my God, I can’t believe this place. This is really this is really scary. But the more time I spent there, I sort of like you’ll look past that, that first shock.

And I met some really great people. I saw some really nice spots, I saw some really nice changes. And, you know, I was really impressed and I really do want to go back.

Carol D’Auria: Yeah, it sounds like it gives you, you know, when you see change and things happening for the better, you get a good feeling. So you had a good trip to McDowell?

David Martin: I did. And here’s the spirit I want to leave you with. Remember my good friend, Cliff Moore.

Carol D’Auria: The guy who wants you to move there?

David Martin: Yes, that guy. All right. So go to our website and check them out. And I’m going to give Cliff the last word. Okay.

Cliff Moore: Almost every storefront is closed, which means there’s an opportunity for growth, prosperity and opportunity. That’s how I look at it. And if I look at it any other way, then I’m going to fall in the same trap that everybody else falls into. And we’re going to lose hope and we’re going to lose the ability to come back to McDowell and other McDowell counties around the country and around the state.

Are we going to rebuild? We’re going to regrow. Are we going to revitalize?

Carol D’Auria: That is optimism.

David Martin: And that’s Cliff and that’s Gayle and that’s Randy. And it’s the teachers and it’s the mayor.

Carol D’Auria: Okay. I see why you were so excited about West Virginia. It’s really everybody coming together, working for the same goal.

David Martin: I was and I am. And I really do want to go back and I want to really see how things are there in a few years. So this is a story I really want to stay on top of. I want to go back.

Carol D’Auria: Yeah, we should. That’s one way to keep good government programs alive. We report on them. We make sure no one takes their focus off the good work they’re doing. You know, keep the eye on the prize.

David Martin: Exactly. This is good government in action. Gail mentioned. Look at what’s going on. She said we’re doing something wrong and we need help. She gets it. And as a result, there are new teachers, a new apartment building that anchors downtown. And over in Boone, you’ve got a strategic planner that sees a need and creates a new local industry and reclaims coalfields.

David Martin: That’s our region. Decline became a region on the rise, and that’s good government at work.

Carol D’Auria: And that’s our show. Thanks for joining us. I’m Carol Deloria.

David Martin: And I’m David Martin. And that’s our trip to West Virginia. Two great stories out of West Virginia. Join us again on the good government show.

David Martin: Don’t forget to follow the Good Government Show on your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss any of the great stories we tell. Join our community on Facebook and be part of the conversation. Join our discussion on Twitter. If you like our show, tell your friends to listen, too. For more extras on the show, check out our website: goodgovernmentshow.com.

The Good Government Show is produced by Valley Park Productions. Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder are the executive producers. Jason Stershic is our producer and editor. Some transcriptions were done by Kofi Ajeasi Ampah. Our hosts are me, David Martin and Carl D’Auria. Join us again for the Good Government Show, wherever you listen to podcasts.