Tag Archives: West Virginia

Two Words, Eight Letters: Thank You

By Kinga Zsofia Horvath, 2016-2018, Hungary

Fulbright Amizade participants from left to right: Edward Lo, Fulbright U.S. Student to Brazil; David E. Natarén Oyuela, Fulbright Student from Honduras; Mylinh Huang, Fulbright U.S. Student to Vietnam; Kinga Zsofia Horvath, Fulbright Student from Hungary in front of 34:Ate, a Williamson local restaurant.

Editor’s note: In April 2017, twelve Fulbrighters engaged in a week-long service learning project in Williamson, West Virginia, an Appalachian community with valuable lessons to share about sustainability, perseverance and revitalization. This is one in a series of blog posts from the Fulbrighters who visited Williamson. The Fulbrighters were asked to focus on their experiences in Williamson, as well as their engagement with local American community leaders. Visit the Fulbright Amizade 2017 Storify for more details on their journey.

In the small coal-mining town of Williamson, West Virginia lie many gems: the wild and wonderful landscape, the hospitality of the community, and the persistent work of everyday heroes who make miracles there. In Williamson, it does not matter whether you meet an 8-year-old girl participating in an after-school program, a 40-year-old man playing basketball with underserved children, or a 70-year-old beekeeper, you can experience the fact that “giving back to the community” is ageless. During the first week of April 2017, twelve enthusiastic Fulbrighters were able to experience and contribute to the ways in which the residents of Williamson make a difference. We joined local residents in building community gardens, turning rocky mining lands into fertile soil, and teaching the next generation how to give back. This is a thank you note to all of the people who were part of the Fulbright Amizade service-learning project and made an impact on our lives, inspiring us to take our turn to build a better future for the next generation.

Williamson’s Own Words

By Marcus Cederström, 2014-2015, Sweden

Editor’s note: In April 2017, twelve Fulbrighters engaged in a week-long service learning project in Williamson, West Virginia, an Appalachian community with valuable lessons to share about sustainability, perseverance, and revitalization. This is the first in a series of blog posts from the Fulbrighters who visited Williamson. The Fulbrighters were asked to focus on their experiences in Williamson, as well as their engagement with local American community leaders. Visit the Fulbright Amizade 2017 Storify for more details on their journey.

There are many stories to be told about Williamson, West Virginia. About Coal Country. About Appalachia. There are stories of drug abuse and diabetes and poverty. Of unemployment and government regulation and presidential elections. Those stories have been told for decades. Those stories continue to be told today by media outlets around the country. They are stories that can be found throughout the country.

Laura Robinson (right), Fulbright U.S. Student alumna (2014-2015, India), talking with Shane from the Williamson Fire Department. Photo by Marcus Cederström.

There are other stories too. Stories of health and wellness and entrepreneurship. Of resilience and revivals and recreation. Of people working to make their communities just a little bit better. Because throughout the country there are groups of engaged citizens identifying problems and finding solutions. These are stories that must be told as well.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

By Cheryl Nachbauer, 2014 - 2015, Chile

Twelve Fulbright Students from around the world gathered in Williamson, WV, to participate in a service-learning program led by Amizade. As our group was warmly welcomed by the local community, I felt an authentic sense of belonging, where conversations flowed freely and friendships ran deep. What impressed me the most was the people of Williamson. Their sense of community, hospitality, pride and unwavering perseverance to succeed, was not only inspiring but contagious. Due to a series of floods, the coal mine collapse, and lack of employment, Mingo County’s population dwindled from 50,000 to 3,000 residents. Despite their misfortune, residents are uniting as a family to breathe not only life but hope back into their community.

This collective passion is what drives a community to become the best version of itself, and encourages others to join in the revolution. In a way, this devastating crisis has presented a blank canvas for Williamson to rebuild the future they desire. Sustainable Williamson has spearheaded this revolution by taking a holistic approach to challenges faced by this Appalachian community. By reimagining what sustainable agriculture, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and tourism paradigms could be, they are transforming a place back into a home.

An Architect Discovered Hope in Williamson

By Ahmed, 2015 - 2017, the Middle East

Former Mayor of Williamson, Darren McCormick, from 2005 - 2014 teaches the Fulbright Amizade participants about the community's history. Photo by Jorge Caraballo Cordovez.

Former Mayor of Williamson, Darrin McCormick, from 2005 – 2014 teaches the Fulbright Amizade participants about the community’s history. Photo by Jorge Caraballo Cordovez.

As an architect from the Middle East, I came to United States to pursue a master’s degree.  I was invited by Fulbright and Amizade to Williamson, West Virginia, to do community service. Williamson is a small town in Mingo County that recently experienced the impacts of coal mines being shutdown. As a result, the population declined from 10,000 to 3,000 citizens in the past few years. The town was in a critical situation until community  heroes tried to find new hope. Through Amizade and Fulbright, I had a  chance to meet these leaders and learned from them that it is not impossible to change a community whose livelihood has depended on coal into a sustainable, green one. I learned from these leaders that small actions can have huge impacts on the community. Actions like community farms, health care, building renovations and a CoalFields Got Talent show. It is like throwing small rocks in a calm lake; you start seeing ripples spreading and growing throughout the community.

I believe we can make Williamson sustainable and green if we believe in it and start involving the community.”  Darrin McCormick, Former Mayor of Williamson

Faces of Williamson, West Virginia: A Photo Essay

By Jorge Caraballo, 2015-2017, Colombia

I’ve only been in Williamson, West Virginia for 48 hours and even though it’s not enough time to have a deep sense of everything that is happening in town, I’ve found a significant contrast between the quiet energy that I feel on the streets and the vitality of the residents who are trying to make improvements to their community.

I have been walking around with my camera capturing signs of a town that has suffered a dramatic decrease in its population–from 10,000 to 3,000 people–and talking with locals, asking them why they chose to stay when the coal industry has slowed down.

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Williamson, West Virginia, was once a vibrant mining town with a population of 10,000 people. Since the big coal mines closed, there has been a dramatic decrease in the population.  You can feel the absence of those who have left.