Jessica Lilly, Roxy Todd, Eric Douglas Published

Finding Resilience Through Song, Faith, And Storytelling


In this episode of Inside Appalachia, we hear how religious leaders are adapting to change and finding ways to continue helping people find solace and peace during the pandemic.

We also hear a series of stories from high schoolers who were challenged to work outdoors, in snow and ice and didn’t complain. Quite the opposite. Their teachers say they appeared to be more engaged in learning.

The students reported on topics like sheep farming and ice hockey, as part of a project that’s meant to help students build resilience through storytelling and outdoor education.

In This Episode:

Shape-Note Singing

Shape-note singing has deep roots in Appalachia and the American south. Popular first in 18th and 19th-century New England, shape-note singing is a tradition that relies on group participation. But what happens when groups can’t get together and sing? In a special report exploring folkways traditions, as part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Project, Kelley Libby spoke with singers in Virginia and Kentucky.


Credit Roxy Todd/ WVPB
People walk outside the Islamic Association of West Virginia in South Charleston in March 2019.

Keeping The Faith

Faith leaders have been forced to change the way they do things during the pandemic. Some religious leaders are streaming their services online while others have tried drive-up services, where people can listen to a sermon from their cars.

Last month, as the economy began to open back up, and small businesses began opening their doors, many churches, synagogues and mosques reopened too. This brought new challenges like how to enforce mask wearing and how to make sure people remain six feet apart.

Emily Allen spoke with several religious leaders in West Virginia about the work they’re doing to create safe spaces to meet in person.

Note: Since Emily originally reported that story in June, some of the faith leaders she spoke with have gone back to in-person services, or are considering opening back up later this month.

Jewish High Holidays

September marks two important holidays for people of the Jewish faith: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But neither of the two synagogues in southern West Virginia have a full-time rabbi. They depend on traveling rabbis for these holidays.

Now, they are facing the possibility of not having a rabbi who can come to them.

“It would be disappointing, because we’ve conducted high holiday services at Temple Beth-El since as long as I can remember,” said Tom Sopher, the president of Temple Beth-El in Beckley. “And if it gets missed, I mean, yes, it is somewhat heartbreaking in one aspect, but, you know, it’s a different situation right now.”

Social media and technology are helping worshipers stay connected. Doris Sue Kantor, co-president of Ahavath Sholom, in Bluefield, said her synagogue may have to stream pre-recorded services from Temple Israel in Charleston.

“We’ve always had someone here for holidays,” she said. “But, of course, we’ve never had a pandemic like this before either. But hopefully, is something it wouldn’t be the same. Let’s put it that way. But if we could zoom and have services, it would be better than nothing at all.”


Muslims had to adapt their traditions during this year’s Ramadan, their holy month. But not even the physical changes and all of the new normals could hinder their faith. Back in May, reporter Kyle Vass went to one mosque in Huntington, West Virginia, and has more.

Tell Us Your Story

If you’re Jewish, Christian, or Muslim — or another religion — how have you adjusted to social distancing during the pandemic? Has your church or house of worship reopened? Are you concerned about safety at these gatherings?

Or if you don’t go to church, tell us what you miss about gathering with people. It could be your favorite yoga class, music show, or the theatre. How are you finding ways to connect virtually, safely? Or, are you just fed up with the pandemic, and wish everything would go back to normal? Email us at or record yourself using a smartphone recorder app and send us your 1-2 min message. We may use it in an upcoming episode.


Credit Glynis Board / WVPB
College students and public school students mingle and discuss life passions and interests on a chilly day in February.

Youth Storytelling

At West Virginia Public Broadcasting we know the value of storytelling. And we aren’t the only ones. Researchers have found that deeply rooted in the human species is a need to connect, empathize, and understand each other, and that narratives are powerful and important tools which can either manipulate or harness human potential.

For the past couple of years, a group of high schoolers in northern West Virginia have spent one day a week, outside, during some of the colder months of the year. It was part of a project called Operation YURT, an acronym for Youth Resilience Training. The program prioritized the outdoors, mindfulness, food farming and storytelling.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting Assistant News Director Glynis Board, along with other educators, helped the students share these stories.

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from the West Virginia Folklife Program at the West Virginia Humanities Council.

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Dinosaur Burps, and Marisa Anderson.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Andrea Billups is our executive producer. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode.

You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.