The fire was rough on Colt. He didn’t hear from his mother for weeks at a time, and he lost a lot of sleep worrying about where she was staying, and what would happen to her, now that she was homeless. He and his mom drifted apart again, and they haven’t spoken much over the past few months.
But winter was, in many ways, a turning point for Colt.
“To me, 2017 is a year of second chances for a lot of people.”
One of his cousins is trying to get off drugs, and Colt says he’s hoping others in his family and across West Virginia can get sober too.
“I just feel like, in this year, for a lot of people...it’s time to make your peace.”
He’s feeling optimistic, partly because he’s doing well at his job.
Colt was awarded the youngest member of his company, Coalfield Development, to become a crew leader. He was also elected president of Coalfield's crew member council, so basically he gets to represent his co-workers and advocate for ways to improve their experience. Kind of like the student body president for his program.
Work isn’t the only thing going well for Colt.
He proposed to his girlfriend, Adrianna Burton, over Christmas.
You may remember from a previous story, Colt met Adrianna back in high school a few years ago, in agriculture class. They’ve been dating for about two years.
Adrianna is getting her Bachelor's degree in Agriculture at West Virginia University. But she wants to come back to work in Lincoln County as a high school Agriculture teacher.
“Part of the reason I want to stay is because the only way to make things change is to influence the people around you. And I feel like if I am the Agriculture high school, if I can stay here and show people that there is a productive and resourceful way out that’s not just coal mining or fracking or or having a buttload of kids just to have a check. It doesn’t have to be the most productive way out, but it is the most fulfilling way out," said Adrianna.
Colt said he feels confident he and Adrianna will find a way to stay West Virginia.
“Every part of me feels born and raised here and feels a part of this land. Just like anywhere else in America right now, it’s gonna take the people inside of it to make it stronger," said Colt.
"That strength is gonna come from within. I feel like I’m where I need to be. In that sense I feel blessed because so many people have had to move. Or so many people feel trapped and can’t move. In some ways I feel like I was put in a perfect place. I never had an assets, so I can’t lose any. You know, my backpack is light. If I had to I could leave. But if times got hard, I’m not hurting so bad cause I don’t have anything to lose. I don’t own a home, or I wasn’t a coal miner that was living a high lifestyle before. I’ve always been poor. So I’m good at it now."
Colt still doesn’t know what he’ll do next year, or even if he’ll graduate from Refresh Appalachia. But he’s staying hopeful. The uncertainty, he can live with. Because, he says, the journey is worth the struggle.