West Virginia youths win statewide competition to make hometowns ‘cooler’

Students from Greenbrier, Marshall, McDowell and Nicholas counties honored

FROM WVU TODAY:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia youths feel pretty passionate about their communities. And they are improving their hometowns by developing ideas and opportunities to make their communities even “cooler.”

Through the “My Hometown is Cool!” competition, four teams from four West Virginia counties – Greenbrier, Marshall, McDowell and Nicholas – will have an opportunity to implement their innovative ideas to make their towns cooler. WVU Extension Service and WVU Chambers College of Business & Economics have created a statewide initiative aimed at increasing youth voices in community development.

This year, the organizations hosted the My Hometown is Cool! statewide competition where teams of two or more youths (ages 9-18) were invited to submit a three-minute video showcasing why their hometown is cool. Each team also presented an idea for a project that they believed would make their hometown even cooler. Eight finalists were chosen to present their ideas to a panel of judges in April, and the four winning teams were selected to receive $2,500 to use to implement their ideas into their community.

“Engaging young people in community building serves as a catalyst for positive change and generates creativity,” Lauren Prinzo, community and economic development specialist, WVU Extension Service, explained. “We often discuss what our state needs or lacks. It is important that we acknowledge the wealth of assets we have in communities in our state and build upon them. These young people studied their hometowns, developed creative ideas and put a lot of thought and detail into their project plans. As we look at how we keep young people in our state, developing programs like this – ones that create space for their voices to be heard and ideas to be shared – gives us a great opportunity to give them the tools and knowledge they need to create opportunity. The judges, our sponsors and others were extremely impressed by the work of these young people. I want to congratulate all of the participants on a job well done.”

Winners of My Hometown is Cool competition include:

Greenbrier County: Expand recreational opportunities at Hollowell Park

A group of teens from Greenbrier County are committed to creating and expanding recreational opportunities in their community. With current renovations being done at Hollowell Park in Lewisburg, Suzanne Bicksler, Zach Ellis and Ryan Vaughan felt this was a great opportunity to piggyback on the project by adding four permanent pickleball courts at the park.

The teens’ idea is not only to promote exercise in their community, but they also hope the new courts will encourage residents to try a new sport. And, in the mindset of true entrepreneurs, the group believes the addition of the courts could lead to local and regional tournaments, clinics and other events, which will benefit the local community.

Their mini-grant will go toward the installation of four pickleball courts, seating area and a kiosk in Hollowell Park. The City of Lewisburg will partner with the group to assist with the project installation. The team is coached by WVU Extension Service Agent 4-H Youth Development Agent Robin Haynes.

Marshall County: Neighborhood Food Pantries

For Megan Pintus, a business education teacher at John Marshall High School, the My Hometown is Cool project resonated with members of her tourism and hospitality marketing class. With food insecurity remaining a major concern in communities all across West Virginia, the teens wanted to focus on not only making food more accessible, but also reducing stigma for people who need help.

Team members Mack Allen, Peyton Dille, Catherine Foster, Matthew Hall, Michael Hebert, Sean McNeil, Rayna Ratliff, Coltin Rogers and Hailey Schramm plan to use their mini-grant to build and stock at least three food pantry boxes, which will be located in high traffic areas of town. The City of Moundsville is in the process of building one pantry, so the team felt this could be an extension of those efforts and expand access to the pantries.

The team also recognized in their planning the need for partnerships. The group will work with the city, local church food banks, community groups, and community members on the project, including identifying food donations from churches, local organizations, business and community members. The teens also will get some help from members of the county’s 4-H Teen Leaders group who will assist with the construction of the mobile food pantries.

McDowell County: The County Perk

Karinna Finley, Meredith Miller, Dalton Powell and Autumn Reynolds are committed to creating new opportunities and offerings in their community. The team identified a need in the Welch community in the form of caffeine. The “County Perk,” an artisan coffee and baked goods food cart, not only will provide a service currently not available in town, but also create a “third” space in the city.

Using the $2,500 mini-grant, the team will create a pop-up coffee shop experience, which will be hosted throughout the town this summer, and provide them with an opportunity to test their business the concept. Starting small, the group hopes to use the sales from the coffee cart to generate revenues that can be used to expand and/or support the existing business. 

Looking to the future, the group would like to purchase and rehabilitate a building in downtown Welch that would become a brick and mortar coffee shop. The shop also would include a “features” space for open mic nights and a used book store, as well as space to support other youth entrepreneurs. The team is coached by Jenny Totten of the West Virginia Community Development HUB.

Nicholas County: SummersFESTIville

Hundreds of thousands of visitors travel Route 19 through Summersville on their way to points north, south and in between. But nine-year-olds Auriana Barnett and Chloe Cook want you to reroute your trip a bit and spend time visiting local businesses in the downtown Summersville area.

The duo, who are the youngest winners of the competition, plan to use their mini-grant to host SummersFESTIville, a day-long event to bring residents, visitors and others to the downtown area to eat, shop and play. Funds will be used to create art projects, decorate the downtown and host activities such as making wildflower seed bombs, canvas paintings and rock paintings for a hidden rock contest. As part of the event, businesses will offer special discounts and set up outside with special samples and activities for visitors.

Barnett and Cook have already generated support for the festival, including a thumbs up from the mayor of Summersville who has agreed to help fund the project and provide other resources to help make the event a reality. The team is coached by WVU Extension Service Family & Community Development Agent Ami Cook.

“One of the most important elements of this project is the collaboration between local government and our future leaders. Understanding the many ways that local governments support communities and the citizens is key to working together as a team,” Kathy Yates, WVACo member services coordinator, said. “Our vision at the West Virginia Association of Counties is to be a strong, unified partner in creating a better West Virginia, and this project is a great example of vision, from the view of our young leaders. Educating our youth and inspiring young leaders is the coolest thing about this project.”  

The My Hometown is Cool mini-grants were provided by the West Virginia Community Development HUB, West Virginia Association of Counties and Williams Companies.

The My Hometown is Cool project was developed by WVU Extension Service to provide youths with opportunities to learn about community development and how their ideas, creativity and commitment can help drive change. Each team was provided with a number of resources to use in developing their ideas. Over 800 youth across the state have completed the WVU Extension My Hometown is Cool! lesson series this school year. More than 40 youths participated in this year’s statewide pitch competition.

To learn more about WVU Extension programs, visit  extension.wvu.edu, or contact your local WVU Extension Service office. Keep up with the latest in WVU Extension Service news on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by following @WVUExtension. 

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