Approaching home with a new perspective.
All it takes is a kernel of an idea. From there, a Possibilitarian can turn frustration to hope, stagnation to vitality, “Why bother?” to “How can I help?”
That’s what you’ll see in these stories: West Virginians whose love for their communities turns out to be fertile ground where ideas sprout, thrive, and fertilize the imaginations of those around them. Sometimes to their own surprise, their purposeful action is catalyzing lasting change.
As adolescents, it can be hard to see our hometowns for what they are—sometimes, all we allow ourselves to see are reasons to leave them behind us. West Virginia University Extension is combating those thoughts with a program that encourages students to look at their hometowns in new ways.
My Hometown is Cool—one of Extension’s community development programs—is a youth competition that engages students and community members from ages 9 to 18, helping to develop and support their ideas for improving upon their favorite aspects of where they live. Winners of the competition receive grants of $500 to $2,500 to fund their projects.
Led by adult coaches, students are asked to consider what they like about their hometowns—what makes them “cool.”
Megan Pintus has been one of those coaches. A business education teacher at John Marshall High School in Glen Dale, Pintus used the My Hometown is Cool project not only to teach her students about marketing, but also to bring them together in a post COVID-19 world.
Pintus was amazed at what their food box project turned into—the teamwork, empathy, passion, problem-solving, and pride that grew from it all. “I like that they had to go out and find things they like about their hometown. Teenagers always think their town sucks, but they had to go out and find those things they loved. Getting them to see it through a new perspective was the best part for me.”
Check out the John Marshall High School project and those of other previous winners on this page. Search “My Hometown is Cool” at extension.wvu.edu to learn more about the competition, watch videos of past winners, and see what the 2023 winners will be up to.
Check out all the videos below.
Jace Campinelli and Olivia Rocchio
A forgotten boathouse at Brooke Hills Park was rife with opportunity—at least to two students who love Brooke County’s outdoor recreation locales. In their video submission, Campinelli and Rocchio discuss plans to turn the boathouse into a safe and unique hangout for teens as well as a hub for Wellsburg community events like movie nights, fishing tournaments, and cook-offs. With park staff behind them, the students plan to use their awarded funds to give life to an empty space for the benefit of their peers and community.
Suzanne Bicksler, Zach Ellis, and Ryan Vaughan
Even the coolest small towns in America need a little help staying that way, and these three teens were up for the challenge. Bicksler, Ellis, and Vaughan appreciated many aspects of Lewisburg but noticed a lack of outdoor recreational opportunities—and 87% of the community agreed with them in a survey the students shared. When local Hollowell Park began undergoing renovations, they saw an opportunity to lend a hand. Their idea of adding four pickleball courts to the park as well as seating and an information kiosk was met with enthusiastic support.
Mack Allen, Peyton Dille, Catherine Foster, Matthew Hall, Michael Hebert, Sean McNeil, Rayna Ratliff, Coltin Rogers, and Hailey Schramm
In the wake of COVID-19 and its restrictions, communities saw their fight against food insecurity become an uphill battle. First-person experiences within a John Marshall High School classroom brought attention to the stigma associated with food banks and kitchens where those in need of them were often the subjects. The class came together and decided to combat these issues with freestanding food pantry boxes placed in easily accessible locations, with more more anonymity.
Karinna Finley, Meredith Miller, Dalton Powell, and Autumn Reynolds
Aside from a few fast-food locations, Welch was lacking in local coffee shops and cafes. It wasn’t just the community members that this group of entrepreneurial teens was concerned about in the mornings, but tourists coming through their historical town as well. Their solution was presented as a food cart for coffee and baked goods located at high-traffic areas on weekend mornings. They are already thinking ahead and hope to use revenues to eventually revitalize a downtown location into a brick-and-mortar coffee shop.
Auriana Barnett and Chloe Cook
These girls may be the youngest winners, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t bring big ideas. Fans of Summersville’s downtown area, they noticed a large number of people driving through but never stopping to take in all that downtown has to offer. To draw tourists into the town center, they came up with SummersFESTIville, an all-day event hosted downtown where visitors are encouraged to explore and support local business. Activities and art projects helped keep residents and tourists alike engaged and enjoying themselves all day long.