Gayle Manchin: Hope Is Alive in McDowell County

Jun 15, 2016

Former First Lady Gayle Manchin (left) and others at a Reconnecting McDowell event.

The problem with drive-by journalism is that you only see what your driver points out.

If Garret Mathews had really been interested in seeing if hope exists in McDowell County, he would have gotten out of the car and talked with dozens of recent high school graduates who were mentored, encouraged to work hard and stay out of trouble and are about to enroll in college.

He would have talked with McDowell Public School Superintendent Nelson Spencer, who would have told him about the encouraging December 2015 state education performance audit, in which every school was rated “fully compliant” on measures of academic progress.

He would have found out that all county students now receive dental services, that outpatient mental health therapy services are offered to all high school students and at one middle school, and that Southside K-8 school is now a community school providing social services and other interventions to students and their families.

He would have found out that work has begun to construct an apartment building in Welch, intended to recruit and retain teachers by providing modern housing.

All of this and much more are the fruits of the work accomplished over the past four years by Reconnecting McDowell, a partnership of corporations, non-profits, unions,  government agencies, lawmakers and community members to help revive McDowell County.

Of course there are plenty of serious problems that haven’t been solved, including high unemployment, the scourge of drug addiction and poor transportation. Poverty is the main culprit but Reconnecting McDowell is doing a lot of good - and bringing hope to families - to help mitigate the consequences of poverty.

It would be helpful for commentators to get out of the car and actually find out what’s really going on and what one person, one group, one company can do to make a difference in the lives of others.

Contrary to what Mr. Mathews says, hope is not dying in McDowell County. Rather, hope is alive and getting stronger every day, and we welcome him and others to be a part of it.

Gayle Manchin is West Virginia’s former First Lady, former president of the West Virginia Board of Education, and chairwoman of Reconnecting McDowell.