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Generation W.Va. looking to keep young people in state

The Inter-Mountain photo by Haley Gordon Brittany Hicks, regional manager for Generation West Virginia, speaks to the Elkins Rotary Club Monday about the importance of retaining the youth population within the state.

ELKINS — Brittany Hicks, regional manager of Generation West Virginia, presented to Rotarians on Monday about the organization’s goal to retain population in West Virginia.

“Our mission is to attract, retain and advance young people in West Virginia,” said Hicks. “The reason we do this is that West Virginia has the fastest rate of population decline in the country.”

According to statistics, an average of 30 people move out of West Virginia every day, which is equivalent to every citizen in Lewisburg, Fayetteville and Barboursville moving away in a single year.

“I think we’ve all experienced this,” said Hicks. “We all have family and friends that have had to move away for work and for other reasons, many of who would like to come back it they could.”

The outpouring of population from West Virginia damages the state’s tax base, businesses and communities. Generation West Virginia believes that “attracting and retaining young people really is the most foundational, economic development strategy for West Virginia.”

There are 12 local “generations” across the state, and Generation Randolph is located in Downtown Elkins.

“We call them generations rather than chapters but that’s the general idea,” Hicks explained.

“They’re run by young people, roughly ages 18-40, to basically help with the quality of place, help young people have a voice in their communities, get in touch with resources and opportunities in their communities and find that sense of community among their peers where they are,” she said.

These local leaders have generated about 150 events every year to connect with, engage and retain the next generation, she said, adding that “92% of our leaders in these local generations said they’re more likely to stay because of their involvement with their local generation.”

Some of the events planned for the upcoming year include making masks for Fasnacht in Helvetia, a St. Patrick’s Day brunch and the Joggers and Lagers event.

“We’ve hosted a River Day the last couple of years and we had a couple hundred people come out to it to float down the river at the Shaver’s Fork last year,” said Hicks. “We’ve going to try to do that again, weather permitting, this spring.”

Generation West Virginia hosts programs that allow young people to explore employment opportunities in meaningful fields. The Impact Fellowship places selected applicants in full-time positions with a minimum salary of $31,000. The employees work Monday-Thursday and spend Friday’s volunteering at a local non-profit organization.

“So far, in the last two years of the program, we’ve created 33 new jobs, had over 820 applicants, connected 19 employers with new employees and have had $1.4 million leveraged in private investments for this program,” said Hicks. “This is not going to solve the entire problem of the ‘brain drain’ in West Virginia but it’s a model that we can use to start looking at this issue and creating pathways for people to stay.”

NewForce is another competitive six-month program in Huntington offered by the organization that presents a unique opportunity to become certified in technology and software at no cost.

“We had a bunch of technology companies telling us that they would create more jobs in West Virginia if they had people that were qualified to fill them, so we saw a need for technology training in the state,” explained Hicks. “We have a very high job placement rate, actually, right out of the program. In fact, they ended up having an 86% job placement rate out of the first class.”

Generation Randolph meets at 204 Davis Ave. in Elkins on the third Wednesday of the month. January’s meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday for anyone interested in attending. Facebook pages have been created for both Generation West Virginia and Generation Randolph to keep up-to-date on happenings across the various generations.

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