West Virginia Veterans, We Salute You

Date Written by Jason Keeling on November 11, 2010

From the Civil War to Operation Iraqi Freedom, over 200,000 West Virginians have served their country, offering more troops than any other state, on a per capita basis. They epitomize the definitions of duty and service.

On this Veterans Day, think of the time spent away from families, the stresses of being in harm’s way, and the many who lost their lives, making an ultimate sacrifice. As civilians, let’s respect, remember, and celebrate those who have so selflessly and bravely defended the nation.

If you would like to honor a specific Veteran or leave a general statement of thanks, please submit a comment to recognize your heroes. They deserve much praise.

Celebrate West Virginia’s Statehood by Helping Others Grow Network

Date Written by Jason Keeling on June 20, 2010

Today marks the 147th anniversary of West Virginia’s statehood. In celebration, several people from the Mountain State’s online community have offered submissions for this year’s “a Better West Virginia Network” initiative, outlining needs that exist within their organizational, business, and personal efforts.

As you peruse the various essays below, perhaps you can help participants make a worthwhile connection. Doing so is a great way to move West Virginia forward and demonstrate the Web’s potential to facilitate positive actions.

Thanks to everyone that has submitted blog comments, blog posts, and/or Twitter updates relating to the networking theme. Additional blog submissions will be linked as they are made available, or simply post your thoughts via comment.

Networking for a Better West Virginia

Date Written by Jason Keeling on June 16, 2010

West Virginia Day (June 20) provides an ideal time to celebrate the Mountain State’s many unique qualities, but it also offers us the opportunity to do something for the state’s betterment.

The online community is invited to join this year’s “a Better West Virginia Network” effort, intended to help connect organizations, businesses, and individuals according to their need(s).

For the most part, everyone has some need or challenge that can be solved through networking, and the Internet is an excellent medium for publicizing such needs and generating worthwhile connections.

Maybe your nonprofit needs more volunteers. Maybe your business needs new clients and/or employees. Perhaps you need a new job. Maybe you’re looking for someone with specialized knowledge to complete a project. Perhaps your community has a specific need.

In some cases, making local connection(s) could suffice, while other instances may require help from outside of the state. Think locally, nationally, or globally, whichever applies best to your circumstances.

Here’s how to participate within the “a Better West Virginia Network.”

a Better West Virginia Network

First, identify and describe the need(s) of your organization, business, community, or individual circumstance.

Second, publish this information on your blog or website, and forward the link to me via email: jason(at)keelingstrategic(dot)com. If necessary, my mobile is 304.989.3262.

Third, return to this blog on West Virginia Day, where a list of the various submissions will be posted.

Lastly, visitors will be encouraged to peruse the compiled list and help make any connections.

If you don’t have a blog or website, feel free to submit a comment here regarding such a need(s). If you use Twitter.com, publish your need there and include the #aBetterWVNetwork hash tag. Facebookers, connect with our fan page and submit your need there.

This process is intended to make us think about the various needs in West Virginia, and ideally, it will help make useful connections and establish positive outcomes.

Public involvement, to whatever degree, will determine the effectiveness of this effort. Thanks in advance for your interest.

Community Working to Attract Google Broadband Into West Virginia

Date Written by Jason Keeling on March 2, 2010

Internet connectivity is an essential tool in today’s modern economy, but West Virginia lags behind the nation when it comes to Web accessibility.

While 66 percent of U.S. households have Internet access, only 56 percent of West Virginia households are connected to the Web, according to a 2007 task force report by the state Public Service Commission.

Morgantown residents Erik Pietrowski and Ryan Siglar have taken up the cause of expanding broadband in their community, jump starting an effort to attract Google Inc. into the Mountain State.

Google ‘Fiber for Communities’

On Feb. 10, Google announced “Fiber for Communities,” a pilot project that will provide high speed Internet connectivity across the nation to selected cities sized from 50,000 to 500,000 people.

Pietrowski and Siglar immediately approached Morgantown City Council member John Gaddis and the municipality is now developing its proposal, in conjunction with the adjacent communities of Westover, Star City and Granville.

Community members are being encouraged to submit their comments before March 26, given that Google weighs public feedback when awarding such projects.

A WVU Integrated Marketing Communications student, Pietrowski said landing the project would increase business capacity, further educational opportunities and potentially force competing Internet service providers to lower prices.

He added that regardless of whether Google selects Morgantown, the initiative will benefit the community, as it has brought people together for a worthwhile cause, which can have a lasting impact.

Advancing the Coal Conversation in West Virginia

Date Written by Jason Keeling on January 22, 2010

The debate over coal’s environmental impact and future, between Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., was most significant due to the relatively civil manner in which it occurred. Last night’s forum, hosted at The University of Charleston, was mostly devoid of the disrespect and intimidation that arose during public demonstrations and hearings in 2009.

To date, this issue has had a polarizing effect, resulting in an “us versus them” mentality that tends to overwhelm emotions and inhibit rational discussion.

Those employed in the coal industry feel threatened by the potential loss of their economic vitality. Those immediately impacted by mining’s environmental effects are urging investment in alternative energy sources. General consumers of electricity appear removed and unconcerned regarding the future of the climate and coal-mining communities.

Progress, Not Peril

When people demonize each other as “coal thugs” and “tree huggers,” they fail to see each other as human beings. The potential for collaboration and future planning is diminished. So long as these patterns of communication continue, the likelihood of economic and social progress will remain bleak.

Perhaps the Blankenship/Kennedy debate will mark a new point in West Virginia’s history, in which people start listening to and hearing each other on the future of coal. Perhaps they’ll start caring more for their southern county neighbors, both those who are impacted by mining’s environmental effects and those with few job options outside of the industry.

As a native West Virginian, I contend it is the moral obligation of residents to stop turning a blind eye. Instead, let’s further educate ourselves on the matter, let’s listen to all parties, let’s engage in the political process and let’s make the tough decisions that help ensure an economically diversified state, whose image is no longer characterized by peril, but by progress.

NBC Washington Not the First to Bash West Virginia

Date Written by Jason Keeling on December 23, 2009

Once again, the Mountain State has been smeared by commentary distributed via a major media conglomerate. NBC Washington columnist Chris Needham featured an account of the public records database developed by the state Division of Culture and History, a system that had previously received praise as “fantastic” in comparison to similar efforts across the country.

In his Dec. 18 piece, entitled “West Virginia Discovers the Internet,” Needham chose to ignore the database’s various advantages. Instead, he thought it more appropriate to generalize and degrade West Virginians, describing them as “yokel neighbors” living in “tar-paper shacks.”

Though they likely can’t access the Internet, he said, if they could, they’d discover “a listing of all the birth certificates for people named Cletus…and a listing of all the weddings in the state where both the bride and the groom had the last name ‘Smith.’”

Needham continues: “…they have to poop in their backyard, running through the cold, fearing that the trap door on their red flannel pajamas should pop open early, exposing their nether regions to the bite of the winds? Why do we have to make fun of them for their misfortune?”

His conclusion: “The site has all the data they have that’s legally shareable. Birth certificates can’t be shared for 100 years; death certificates are on ice for 50. Records from the Civil War aren’t available, as well as a few gaps where fire or flood took out a courthouse or two.

“But if you’ve ever wondered what Hank Williams’ death registry looks like (you can put your hand down), now you can die happy. (And have someone from WV look at it 50 years later, once the Internet finally comes to the state.)”

Discovering ‘Local Color’ in the Mountains

Needham’s description of the state is nothing new and could be considered “old as the hills.” Instead of countering his negative depictions, let’s look at the issue from a historical perspective.

“The Invention of Appalachia” offers insight into the formation of Appalachian stereotypes. Author Allen Batteau calls attention to a literary phenomenon that occurred during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Known as the “local color movement,” free-lance writers from urban centers like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York ventured into the Appalachian Mountain region in pursuit of “interesting” stories.

Their works were published in periodicals such as Scribner’s, The Century, Appleton’s, The Living Review and Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. The overtones of local colorist writings often contained exaggerated depictions of the region’s inhabitants as uneducated, isolated savages, describing an inherent “otherness” within their characters, which also contained frequent references to drunkenness and folly. Unfortunately, many of these fictitious stories were postured as journalism.

Scholar Henry Shapiro says that publisher motives at the time were two-fold: First to sell magazines and secondly, “to tell their middle-class readers what they wanted to hear: That it was the center of the universe and the true bearer of American culture.”

Most contemporary urbanites and the majority of Appalachians are ignorant of the above literary movement, yet the exaggerated images portrayed by the local colorists continue to rear their ugly head. The key term in this analysis is ignorance, which tends to insidiously proliferate such distorted perceptions.

Appalachia 2.0

Fortunately, ignorance can be overcome through exposure to the previously unfamiliar. Today, one of the best tools for challenging misconceptions is the Internet. Unlike the days in which people had little means of publicly defending their image, the slighted can now stand up virtually and educate others as to the realities of who they are.

D.C. blogger and West Virginia expatriate Karl Johnson offered the first objection to Needham’s writing, and word of the episode quickly spread online. Subsequently, many people expressed offense to NBC Washington, which pulled the piece. Needham has since posted an apology in the form of a blog comment.

Though the Internet provides a medium in which we can better challenge stereotypes, let’s not forget there are bits of truth to generalized depictions, as poverty does exist here, economic expansion needs to occur more rapidly here, there are many health problems here, there are environmental challenges here, etc.

Therefore, let’s not only celebrate the great things about West Virginia, but let’s continue to use the Internet in a fashion that betters our state and region by addressing its challenges as well.

- Keeling is a public relations and online communications consultant.

Additional blog posts relating to the Needham commentary:

FrameWorks: Strengthening West Virginia Families

Date Written by Guest Post on October 23, 2009

By Carrie Robey

“Even as the cell is the unit of the organic body, so the family is the unit of society.”
– Ruth Nanda Ansehn

In the lives of children, families are the building blocks, providing a place of encouragement, a place to build dreams and a place to grow. A positive and encouraging family helps children learn acceptable social behavior and personal values are nurtured. Healthy families lead to healthy, growing and stable communities.

However, not every family provides a stable foundation and many children in our state suffer abuse and/or neglect. FrameWorks, an initiative of Mission West Virginia, recruits potential foster/adoptive families who can provide love and support.

Currently, there are around 4,000 children in West Virginia’s foster care system, approximately 1,000 of which are legally eligible for adoption – meaning their parents’ rights have been voluntarily relinquished or have been terminated through an involuntary legal process.

Families: The Building Blocks of Society

Many of these children have been waiting years for a forever family and need the love and support of our communities to empower their lives and provide the building blocks they need to become productive citizens.

When you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to laugh with, who do you seek out? Personally, I turn to my mother and many other relatives. Imagine being a child born into a family of abuse and/or neglect, growing up in the foster care system, having minimal items that belong to you, and not having a single relative to count on.

You have the power to make all the difference in a child’s life and help build stronger communities in our state. If you or someone you know would like to consider adopting, fostering or supporting a child, please phone 866-CALL-MWV or visit the FrameWorks blog.

Readers, please share your experiences with adoption and/or foster care and provide suggestions on how you think we can work together to empower the lives of youth going through difficult times.

— Robey is Mission West Virginia’s director of public relations