Here in West Virginia, public service is a way of life. People dedicate their lives, careers and countless volunteer hours to serving one another. I like to think public service is in our DNA. It is who we are.
In celebration of the spirit of giving that lives in all West Virginians, I’ve been marking a “Summer of Service” with stops across the state. I started with a roundtable discussion in Morgantown with students and graduates who would like to consider public service careers but are concerned about the burden of student loan debt. We talked about resources available to pursue public service, and how the Congress must take action before they have to mortgage their dreams to pay off their loans.
Then I met in Charleston with a group of fascinating West Virginians, from VISTA workers to health providers, to talk about the paths that led them to careers in public service – and how public service and giving back has defined our state for 150 years. After this inspiring discussion with the current faces of public service in our state, I drove a couple miles south to Emmons, where I first came to West Virginia 50 years ago and found my own passion for public service.
This poignant summer of service most recently took me to Pocahontas County, where we celebrated a new community wellness center and some truly incredible volunteers. Based on my visit there, I can assure you that community service is alive and well – and will only be buoyed by this wonderful new facility.
And today I had the great opportunity to meet with Boy Scouts attending the National Scout Jamboree in Fayette County, where tens of thousands of young people are fanning out over nine counties for an unprecedented community service initiative. Together with local volunteers, they’re tackling more than 350 projects – from improving community parks to supporting animal shelters – totaling hundreds of thousands of service hours.
This type of initiative isn’t new to the Boy Scouts – serving others is a fundamental part of their oath. But it is new to the Jamboree, and it’s not surprising that the projects have really ignited in West Virginia, where serving others is what we do.
Within each of these discussions during my “Summer of Service” tour, and within each and every West Virginian, live remarkable stories – moments of giving worth celebrating and remembering.
Like my own memory from my early Governor days when Southern West Virginia got hit with terrible flooding. I opened up armories for people to take shelter but no one showed up – even before I could initiate my emergency plans, their neighbors had taken them in.
Or the LifeBridge Americorps leader in West Virginia who told me about her grandfather inspiring her path to public service. As a young girl, he asked her to help him clear snow from an elderly neighbor’s driveway. When she asked why, he replied, “That’s just what you do.”
Or the young Boy Scouts who, right now, are installing playground equipment in Wyoming County and cleaning up walking trails in Mercer County – acts that might seem small, but together make our communities a lot brighter.
In commemoration of our state’s 150th year, I’m asking West Virginians to share your stories of service – particular moments of generosity you experienced or initiated that make up West Virginia’s legacy of service and giving. I’m compiling submissions in a publication to archive in honor of our Sesquicentennial – as a way to preserve and share them with future generations.
We all have a story to tell – whether it was a teacher who went above and beyond to help a child succeed, or volunteers who made a profound difference in someone’s life, or neighbors who took it upon themselves to fix a roof after a windstorm.
I encourage you to share your own experiences like these. You can do so through Facebook, Twitter or on my website by August 20, 2013.
Yours are the stories that have defined who we are as West Virginians for 150 years. Your stories will help shape our future, and will make sure this tradition of giving – of making a difference in our communities from the inside out – lives on.