Communities should accentuate the positive
I love Elkins. Though I wasn’t born here, I’ve lived here long enough to consider myself almost a native.
Our community has so much going for it. You can find camping, rock climbing, canoeing, hiking and backpacking opportunities all around. . . some of the best outdoor recreation on the east coast. We are the center for city, county, state and federal courts and are home to many government agencies serving this area. Our town is the hub for health care for people from all around our region.
We have good educational opportunities from preschool through college. We have decent, God-fearing citizens who don’t nose into each other’s business, but are always available to help when you need a hand.
Those are just a few of the reasons I love Elkins and why it pains me to hear comments I have heard lately. Yes, we do have challenges. I know we need more high-paying jobs. I know we need to make sure that high-speed internet is available to everyone in our county. I know we need to improve student math scores. I know we need to root out the drug problem in our community. I know we need to complete Corridor H to Thomas. I know we need to have empty retail spaces filled. I know we need to do something about dilapidated houses in town. I could go on, but hopefully you see that I don’t have my head in the sand. I hope every one of us will pick at least one area in which our community faces challenges and take an active role in helping to solve it.
My concern is how we portray our town to others. Do we focus primarily on the challenges we face? Or do we let people know what a privilege it is to live here? I doubt that any of us would really want to scare off people who are thinking of moving here or have just moved here. Would you choose to move to an area where all you hear about are the problems? We need good people to move here and help us with the ongoing work of building our community. We don’t want to send them running because all we can talk about are challenges.
The drug problem is a case in point. I have heard a number of concerned citizens talking at length (sometimes with newcomers in the group) about how drugs have taken over our town. If you look at the statistics, that just is not the case and we need to keep it all in perspective. According to my read of the statistics (feel free to correct me if necessary, statisticians!), the 2016 opioid drug overdose rate for the nation was 19.8 per 100,000 (https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html). The rate for West Virginia was (alarmingly) 48 per 100,000. The rate for Randolph county was 17.2 per 100,000 (https://helpandhopewv.org/docs/PFS–County–Reports/Randolph–PfS%20County%20Report–Final.pdf). Since we have fewer than 29,000 people in the county, that means that we had around five actual deaths for the year — countywide. Too be sure, five is too many, but do keep it all in perspective. Randolph County ranks below national and state averages for opioid related deaths. Of course, we want that rate to be zero. But our statistics are not as alarming as some make it sound.
In my opinion, we need to focus on the many positives of our town, while we continue to work on our challenges. Let’s attract people to Randolph County because they hear us talking of what a great place it is to live. . . because it is a great place to live. I have lived other places — quite a few, actually — before I finally found my home in Elkins. For me, Elkins has what I need for a happy, healthy, fulfilling life and I don’t mind bragging about it! I hope you will join me in getting that word out!