If you follow this blog, you know by now that our VALOR II group is travelling the Commonwealth and beyond, learning about Agriculture, Leadership, and a lot about each other. Our July trip to Southwest Virginia added a whole new level of learning and a whole new level of people obtaining results in their communities.
In Blacksburg, we learned more about leadership and a little about what it’s like to be President and First Lady of Virginia Tech.
In Wytheville, we learned about how one family farm keeps changing and diversifying, always open to the next new idea that will result in keeping the business profitable and the family farming together.
In Carroll County, we learned how the enthusiasm and focused commitment for Rural Economic Development of one county administrator, paired with the investment of time and resources provided by energetic and forward thinking entrepreneurs, local businesses, educators, and government, can obtain amazingly diverse and positive results in that community.
And in Wise County, we learned what it means for individuals to be committed to a community and a way of life through good times and bad, convicted to implementing change and obtaining results in the place they love and call home.
It was an eye opening journey, with this last group of people leaving the deepest impressions.
We met Wendy, a transplant to SW Virginia who has adopted her new home completely, owning a local business, employing local people, writing stories about this place, and advocating for more and better jobs, for health care access for everyone, and for funding to bring relief to the myriad problems facing this part of Virginia. Who when asked if there was anything good about Wise County told me, “I wouldn’t live anywhere else”.
We met Destiny, a local woman determined to improve her life and her community, who after applying to the local college was told she couldn’t attend if she didn’t have health insurance. Who, while figuring out this complicated effort at getting an education, also made the amazing and self sacrificing decision to donate a kidney to a man in need of one. Her experiences solidified her determination to become a nurse and she is succeeding.
We met Kelly, a local entrepreneur with no health care coverage for herself or her partner, but who daily figures out how to make sure their children are well fed, well educated, and ready to make their mark on the world.
We met Delilah, a health care professional, who rather than let one more child fall through the cracks of the system, adopted a newborn baby from a young local couple without the resources to raise a child, welcoming Lacey into her own home and family. Who after sharing her own shining example of it, left us with this quote: “The solutions to a community’s problems will come from within the community”.
We met Terry, a dentist, who for 16 years has volunteered at the Wise County Remote Area Medical event, trying to impact communities that have no education about and no access to proper dental care. Who has extracted close to 3500 teeth during each year’s event – which goes on year after year and gets bigger rather than smaller each year.
We met Stan, founder of RAM, who, after helping address medical needs of people in remote areas around the world, brought his program to SW Va. and other U.S. areas that have the same dire medical needs we normally ascribe to third world countries. Who marveled at the staged delivery of medical supplies by drone to this year’s event, but regretted that the media event was focused on the technology and not the 3000+ people that line up each year to a field populated with M*A*S*H-style tents to get possibly the only medical, dental and vision care available to them.
We met Gary and Freddy, retired coal miners, trying to preserve the heritage of that dying industry and help heal the environmental scars it left behind, while looking for new opportunities to keep the next generation living and working locally and carrying that heritage into a new era.
We met people who don’t just care about their community, but are committed to the hard work of finding solutions and enabling change, who will not be satisfied until social justice is served in their part of our Commonwealth equally with the rest of Virginia. Who daily strive to obtain the results that will improve and advance their communities.
So to everyone we encountered in this latest journey, thank you for the insights, the lessons learned, and the inspiring examples of community leaders obtaining results.
And to all the people in Wise County who looked us all straight in the eye and asked for our help in working through their overwhelming challenges – until we find bigger ways to obtain results, in the smallest of ways, I’m at least sharing your stories with my own family and friends, and in my own Virginia community.