In southern West Virginia, poverty is endemic and generational. In many counties, those with the means and the skills move away, leaving many with little work and, as a result, a bleak future. For many, government dependency is the height of aspiration. For others, life is characterized by another sort of dependency: West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the country, a consequence of the opioid epidemic. With an undiversified economy, little in the way of resources, and substandard education, poverty has a cyclical feature in West Virginia—its consequences are inherited down family lines.
Coalfield Development is taking a different approach to break this cycle of generational poverty in southern West Virginia. With their proven 33-6-3 model—which features 33 hours of paid labor, 6 hours of higher education class time, and 3 hours of life skills mentorship—Coalfield is seeking to revitalize communities by providing job opportunities to unemployed and underemployed people. Offering positions in the industries of real estate development, construction, mine-land reclamation, wood working, agriculture, and artisan trades, Coalfield is working to promote a diversified economy in counties where, for a considerable time, coal was a singular way to make a living.
Coalfield’s progress is substantial. Eighty-three percent of participants in the program graduate, and more are on their way. Sixty new jobs have been created in the wake of the seven business enterprises Coalfield has founded since their beginning. In addition to the numerous opportunities to work in many lucrative professions, Coalfield offers multiple professional certification opportunities. In all, they have revitalized over 175,000 square feet of dilapidated property, drawing in over $10,000,000 in fresh investments to southern West Virginia.
Before Coalfield, most program participants did not count college as a possibility for their futures. Exposed to educational opportunities and comprehensive support, participants now envision a new future for themselves. The secret ingredient to Coalfield is personal transformation founded upon a newfound sense of confidence and achievement. Participants come to embody the very values of the organization: Gumption, Grit, and Grace. The impact of that confidence is intergenerational—the families of graduates want to experience that very same success.
Coalfield Development began is 2009 to address housing concerns in Wayne, West Virginia. They quickly uncovered deeper issues at the root of poverty and realized that traditional charity did not adequately break the cycle passed from one generation to the next. After intense community engagement, Coalfield developed a relationship-based, holistic approach to on-the-job training. Today, they are a leader in the building of a new economy during the wake of the coal industry’s decline.
Coalfield Development is a 2017 S+ Catalyst. Through participation in the Catalyst Program, Coalfield Development receives training from industry experts in organizational development, branding, measurement and growth, and strategic relationships to amplify their impact and strategically expand their reach.