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Could country roads bring immigrants to new home?

Columnist Rick Wilson says it is possible for West Virginia to attract people from foreign countries in his column titled “Immigrants can help regrow W.Va.’s Population.” Wilson points out that this state has lost 59,000 people over the last 10 years — that is 11,000 more than the whole population of Charleston.

Studies from West Virginia University report that West Virginia is the only state in the nation that has lost population for the last 50 years and the only one expected to lose more people over the next 15 years.

I too have been wondering about the idea that West Virginia could become a new home for immigrants fleeing from other parts of the world.

Wilson notes that we have an aging population with high rates of families in poverty and disabled individuals. West Virginia has more deaths than births each year, and we do not seem to be able to attract young people. At this point good jobs are not available, and few companies can see good prospects for finding a strong workforce here.

Employers are not attacked by high drug use among adults and low achievement test scores for school children.

Wilson describes a long history of industry recruiting immigrants to work in the Mountain State. Along the Ohio River, German and Swiss families found jobs in the iron works, and Belgian and English artisans came to the glass factories.

In the coal fields the Italians, Poles and Slovakians made their way into the mines. These immigrants brought their cultures and their skills to us and we now brew beer and bake pepperoni rolls as local specialties.

Of course, the “melting pot” is not always ideal, but West Virginia needs to reach out to immigrants who are refugees from places like Afghanistan. We could give them a new home, and they would bring us new energy.

I wonder if an organization like American Friends Service Committee, where Rick Wilson works, could get federal funding to help provide temporary housing for immigrants fleeing from Afghanistan. Then the Friends might offer space for families to live and share the initial costs for getting started in this country in a building like the old “Odd Fellows’ Home” also called the International Order of Odd Fellows building located on Georgetown Road near Elkins.

The IOOF building will be auctioned online Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. The structure has 98 rooms and is equipped with fire escapes and other safety features that have been added since 1908 when it was built.

It has served as an orphanage and a senior care facility. This historic brick building has the unique charm of a place that was built to “elevate the character of mankind by promoting the principles of friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, charity and universal justice.”

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