During the two years I’ve been a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving at the WVU BAD Buildings Program, I have been extensively involved with the work of the Abandoned Properties Coalition (https://badbuildings.wvu.edu/abandoned-properties-coalition). The APC is made up of stakeholders, partners, representatives from key organizations, and topic area experts (Including PAWV and the BAD Buildings Program) that are committed to working with communities to adequately address the issue of vacant, abandoned, and dilapidated properties across West Virginia. At the start of my service, the APC was just beginning the transition period from being headed by the WV Community Development Hub to the BAD Buildings Program. Thanks to my position, not only was I able to see the APC grow and develop, I took an active role in that progress.
My original task for the APC was the maintenance and growth of the Abandoned Schools Inventory. One of the issues the APC is focused on is the amount of abandoned school buildings in West Virginia. Once schools are shut down or consolidated, the buildings (many of which are historic) are left to stand there and become dilapidated. The inventory was created by the Abandoned Schools Team to keep track of the buildings and to create a clearer understanding of the scale of the issue. I created a survey that would allow people to submit abandoned school buildings and all information they knew about them online so that these buildings can be added to the inventory. The survey was a great success. Thanks to it, over 80 new school buildings were added to the inventory. This inventory along with the map, that is based on it, have been important parts of the APC presentations and future plans.
Besides the Abandoned Schools Inventory, I was a member of the APC Transition Team. This team was created to facilitate the moving of the APC from the WV Hub to the BAD Buildings program. Members of this team would meet to discuss what has been working, what can be changed, and what the future of the APC would look like as hosted by the BAD Buildings program. We wanted to ensure that the APC was developing in a way that would improve the cohesion between committee members, the general constituency, and the larger communities we serve. For this purpose, I wrote an outreach improvement strategy that was approved by the steering committee. Additionally, I started an official newsletter for the APC that makes it easy for interested individuals to subscribe and stay informed about the efforts of the APC.
The Abandoned Properties Coalition is dedicated to pursuing the revitalization of abandoned and dilapidated properties across West Virginia and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it during my service term. I am proud of the contribution I made for this coalition. Various members of the APC have thanked me for what I’ve been able to do and I hope the short term and long term effects will continue to provide support to the APC’S mission of revitalizing abandoned and dilapidated properties around West Virginia.
Summer Phillips served with the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 service years where she was assigned to assist the West Virginia Northern Brownfields Assistance Center with its WVU BAD Buildings Program.
My time as an AmeriCorps member at the Pocahontas County Opera House has given me the opportunity to flex my social media muscles again. I graduated from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, with a degree in English and minors in communication and history. Within my paths of study, I focused heavily on written communication, whether that was online, like social media, or in print, like journalism.
I found myself fascinated by how people communicate with one another online. We are all looking to be entertained, to be thought of, and to be involved with the communities that we love. Social media is a great tool to use, but as I began learning about social media, I was overwhelmed with all of the different tips and tricks that were taught to me online, through my professor, through other students, and through internships. Each place had a different answer for what you should be doing online. On top of everyone’s advice, social media best practices are constantly changing because of tweaks to social media algorithms and the whims of the audiences that businesses are trying to reach. After some experimentation throughout my time as an AmeriCorps, through my time at university, and my time in internships, I found some things that made a major difference in how many people saw my organic content (content that I had created myself). Here is what I learned worked to reach a larger audience:
1. Have a mission
What do you want your efforts with social media to do for your business or nonprofit? Do you want to bring in more visitors? Do you want to increase sales of merchandise? Think of these goals ahead of time and create your content with this goal in mind.
2. Develop a social media plan for your social media efforts
Having a plan typed out for your social media use is an important step. It doesn’t have to be too complicated. A plan, even a simple one, will help make guidelines to follow if you have multiple people running social media, and it also will help you create content more easily than if you were working from scratch every time. It doesn’t have to be extensive; for example, at the Opera House, we have a few categories that we can draw from for social media, which include pre-show posts, post-show posts, historical posts, and behind the scenes posts. This allows us to pick a category and draw inspiration from there, rather than starting from ground zero. You can also include measurable goals you want to reach in terms of analytics or sales and this plan will help you measure your social media progress. You can use the questions in the graphic above to get started.
3. Keep your branding consistent across platforms
Brand recognition is important for your business or nonprofit. You want people to recognize your logo and your name, so keeping your logo and your handle consistent across all of your social platforms is important. For example, the Opera House’s website, Facebook, and Instagram is all pocahontasoperahouse (.org), and our Twitter is @pcoperahouse because of Twitter’s unique character limit on handles. Our profile pictures are always the same and our name is always Pocahontas County Opera House (see above photo). This comes in handy when someone from one platform searches for the Opera House on a different platform, as they can easily find us and our content.
4. Be consistent
Be consistent with your posting. Try to post regularly without detracting from the quality. It is better to post higher quality content less frequently than lower quality content more frequently. Keeping up consistent posting of great content should help your page begin to grow. If your posting is less consistent, you will lose momentum on your page growth.
5. Always include a picture
Across all social media platforms that we use at the Pocahontas County Opera House—Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram—posts with a photo always do better than posts without a photo. People tend to engage with the content more, share it more, and overall enjoy it more.
6. Avoid links as much as possible on Facebook
Facebook is one of the best platforms for businesses. Facebook is a highly used social media platform and has a significantly diverse demographic on the site compared to others, like Instagram or Pinterest. However, because Facebook makes its money from advertising, links and events typically perform worse than content without links. I have suspicions that this is because Facebook wants businesses to pay for advertising, but I am not sure. I can, however, assure you that every post I have made that includes a link has gotten a fraction of the views and shares that a post with only an image does. This is also true for events.
7. Use hashtags
Hashtags are one of those social media discussions that always seems to be changing. No one seems to know quite how many to use, what hashtags are helpful, and when to use them. I recommend using them every post on Instagram, and also on Twitter when you can within your character limit. Hashtags are critical for reaching new audiences on Instagram and can help drive engagement with your page. Try out hashtags on every post, and see which hashtags are the most effective. I always recommend having a branded hashtag, one that matches your branding, so that people can use it when discussing your business or nonprofit.
8. Have fun
I know this sounds cheesy, but you will come up with better content if you find someone who genuinely enjoys creating the content for your page. This will make having more consistent content easier, and the enjoyment will hopefully spill over to your audience in the long run as your page has more and more genuine content.
Overall, social media is a great tool to use when you want to reach your current audience and potential audiences. Businesses and nonprofits can share genuine content that helps their audiences stay connected, and overall, build fonder feelings towards the business. This is great for community building, and for helping people come back over and over throughout the years.
Marilyn Creager served as Preserve WV AmeriCorps member during the 2019-2020 program year at the Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton, WV.
names of buildings, current owners and tenants, and original construction date. During the pandemic, I was able to get out into the community and walk around to have a better understanding of the buildings to continue the building inventory and update any needed information for the inventory that was not available online. Much of the district now has been completed and includes all of the main streets that are home to many of the businesses and historic homes.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the museum that the Berkeley County Historical Society has to close. During this time, it provided time for the society to change and update a few exhibits. One of the exhibits that I was able to work on was one of the schools in Berkeley County. This exhibit provides an historic resource improvement to visitors especially now during the pandemic because it provides a glimpse of how different schools looked like not long ago. The exhibit focuses on how schools in Berkeley County looked like from the late 1800s until the 1950s. The exhibit includes photos of the smaller one room schools, school activities, class photos and school schedules that reflect that time-period. Due to the pandemic and how schools as we know them are currently changing, this exhibit may help remind the audience of the evolution of schools.
The historic resource improvement for both sites can help both sites in current and future historic preservation efforts by having some groundwork completed and available. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Downtown Martinsburg Historic district may evolve with the change in business, but the current inventory can provide some background information on the buildings. The school exhibit is a reminder that schools have evolved in the past and the information may help in the transformation in how schools evolve now due to the pandemic.
Susan served in the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program during the 2019-2020 program year. She served at two sites during her term: Main Street Martinsburg and the Berkeley County Historical Society.
Hinton’s oldest standing residential structure, The Campbell Flannagan Murrell House Museum, built circa 1875, has recently gone through more than the obvious face lift. This current day museum has also received lots of much needed preservation attention and preventative maintenance.
In June of 2017, the former Preserve Alliance of West Virginia’s AmeriCorps Member, Sarah Rogers, submitted a (successful) National Coal Heritage Area grant in hopes to address the concerns of the safety of the CFM House and to preserve the structure and its contents. Combined with that, Candice Helms, the current PAWV AmeriCorps Member, submitted a mini grant through the Hinton Area Foundation to fund the painting of the exterior. The City also contributed their labor to doing a majority of the work. In September 2019, the project started and successfully ended in July 2020. Jumping in after Sarah left, was quite seamless. The entire Board of the Museum has been very supportive and excited as Candice was to see a much needed, finished product.
A staple in the repair process was the installation of a much needed retaining wall. Water damage issues were in abundance with this Historic structure, and redirecting the water away was just the beginning of the process. Tree removal, installation of supplemental guttering, and equipping a dehumidifier in the basement were also needed to complete that effort. Throughout the house there were windows that needed attention, walls in need of patching, flooring to be replaced, and much more. Lastly, the entire house was painted to what the Museum Board deemed as the most accurate, original color scheme.
Hinton is coming around the bend full force in Community Development and this project is just one of the many to consider successfully done! We are very proud of this new, shining beam in the West End and every passer-by gets greeted with a lovely sight, and all who put in any effort, receives a reminder that it takes a village to keep moving forward, FULL STEAM AHEAD!
devlin cyr wallace, professional photographer volunteers for monroe county historical society project
The Monroe County Historical Society has been fortunate to have a volunteer conservator to work with us for a few weeks photographing the Native American artifacts in our collection.
While vacationing in the Area, Ms. Devlin Cyr Wallace stopped by to visit the museum and ask about the Native American heritage of the area. After reviewing our books and record on the subject, she was interested in viewing our artifacts, and after learning that the museum had a project to photograph items in its inventory, Wallace volunteered to work with the artifacts.
Devlin Cyr Wallace is a 2019 photography/videography graduate of the NYC School of Visual Arts, a member of the NYC Explorers Club, the National Speleological Society, and the Greenbrier Grotto. She had also taken classes in Native American archeology in Kentucky. Photographing the artifacts provides an opportunity for her to dovetail both her interest in the subject and her skill set.
Wallace hopes her visual documentation of the Society’s Native American collection will attract attention and interest to the area’s rich Native American history which has yet to be fully explored. She will also benefit by using this experience to expand her professional portfolio.
Vernessa is to the 19-20 Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving with the Monroe County Historical Society. Vernessa is responsible for volunteer management at the historical society, in addition to museum cataloging, exhibit development, and outreach.
Preserve WV AmeriCorps Member Partners with West Virginia Mask Army to Support Healthcare Workers and Community of Pocahontas County
Marilyn Creager, an AmeriCorps Member with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia's Preserve WV AmeriCorps program, has partnered with the West Virginia Mask Army to sew masks for the public and for Pocahontas County’s healthcare workers.
Creager is currently placed in an AmeriCorps position at the Pocahontas County Opera House and has been supporting the Opera House through help with social media marketing, grant writing, historical research, and event planning. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Creager has switched gears to help her local community with COVID-19 relief.
“Sewing masks made me feel better about everything that was happening. Being stuck at home made me feel helpless, and I wanted to do something,” Creager said. “The Opera House is
located in a fantastic community, and I wanted to continue helping people directly.”
The head of the Potomac Highlands mask hub, Kim Musser, stated that the mask army is something special to her. Once Creager joined the team, she was able to add Pocahontas County to the Potomac Highlands mask hub and make it the largest hub in the West Virginia Mask Army, which was serving over six counties.
“Very quickly, I grew, to the point where I realized that I couldn’t take on just my county alone—being Grant county—so I became Potomac Highlands, which encompasses Grant, Hardy, Pendleton, Mineral, and Hampshire,” Musser said. “Then, the Potomac Highlands became the Eastern Panhandle once [Creager] joined in... We just grew and grew and grew.”
The Mask Army expanded its operations as time went on and is now switching gears to put masks on the faces of the community, rather than just healthcare workers. Each hub has a different priority. Creager is making and distributing GoreTex face shields and is distributing them through Community Care of West Virginia in Marlinton and Green Bank, as well as some through the Deer Creek Clinic in Green Bank, West Virginia.
Overall, Creager’s experience with the West Virginia Mask Army has made her feel more connected to the state.
“Because we have all had to work together to flatten the curve—to varying success—and because there were so many volunteers working with the West Virginia Mask Army to help the state, I felt more connected to the state than I have in a long time. It feels special to be involved with such an amazing group that helped when help was few and far in between,” Creager said.
Musser agrees. “I met so many friends, [Creager] included, throughout the state, and I am just so proud of the state and how we all came together,” she said.
So, as this public health crisis continues, Creager is currently looking for volunteers to continue the sewing project to help community members in Pocahontas County while the state adjusts to the current reality. If you would like to participate, please email Creager at email@example.com and she can discuss volunteering with you.
For more information about the West Virginia Mask Army, please visit https://sites.google.com/view/wv-mask-army/home.
In the spring semester of 2019, Jennifer Thornton, an assistant professor of public history at West Virginia University, contacted Nicole Dias of BAD Buildings and the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center and asked her if she would like to give a guest lecture to her historic preservation class. Nicole agreed and included me, the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving at BAD Buildings, into the project. We created a presentation on BAD Buildings and our work with abandoned school buildings across the state. The guest lecture went over well with both Professor Thornton and her students. For the rest of the semester Jennifer and her students remained in contact with us, sending us questions and information about abandoned schools they did projects on.
With the success of our first guest lecture, in January 2020, Professor Thornton contacted Nicole and I to do another guest lecture for her spring 2020 historic preservation class. We scheduled the guest lecture to take place in April. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plans for the guest lecture seemed uncertain. However, Jennifer Thorrnton assured us that the guest lecture will go on as planned, except it would be done through zoom. We would be able to share our presentations through screen share and talk to the students.
Nicole and I split the guest lecture into two parts. Nicole would give the basics of the BAD Buildings program while I would give the basics of the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program and how historic preservation is connected to BAD Buildings. Since this is my last year as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member, I wanted to share my experiences with the class and encourage them to look into becoming a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member post graduation. Additionally, Nicole and I wanted to give the students a lesson that lets them know that historic preservation is not only important for history, it is important for a community's redevelopment. There are a lot of benefits to historic preservation and we wanted to share them with the students to encourage them to continue this path in their professional careers.
Despite not having given a lecture through zoom before, thankfully our guest lecture was a success without any technical errors during the presentations. The students were well behaved and Professor Thornton added insightful comments. At the end, several students asked questions indicating that they were engaged with the lecture despite the circumstances. Unfortunately, at the very end of the guest lecture the zoom audio started to malfunction so we had to call the class to a close. The next day, Professor Thornton thanked us again through email and told us, “I was worried that with the COVID-19 quarantine the students would miss out on the guest lectures. I appreciate that you were committed to making it work despite these challenges!” It was great to work with Professor Thornton again and share our experiences with a new group of students.
Summer Phillips is the Preserve WV AmeriCorps service member with the BAD Buildings program at the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center. She began her service in 2018 and it will conclude in August 2020.
If you are interested in volunteering during the COVID-19 crisis or are in need of help, visit these resources:
Rapid Response WV - https://rapidresponsewv.org/
Volunteer WV - https://volunteer.wv.gov/Volunteer/Pages/Covid-19.aspx
On Friday March 20th, we had a small group of volunteers which included middle and high school students. We set up an assembly line and implemented social distancing by keeping ourselves apart, washing our hands, and being careful about not touching any switches and door handles. We made 322 emergency food boxes. On Saturday March 21st, we only had four people, including fellow AmeriCorps member Morgan Agee who normally serves at Trout Unlimited under the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area. Despite the small number, by the end of the day we were still able to prepare 82 emergency food boxes for the needy. It was hard work but we felt a real sense of accomplishment looking at the finished boxes ready to be loaded onto trucks!
I learned what a complicated logistical operation a food bank is! Imagine when you get a call and are offered two truckloads of Fruit Loops; you don't want to say no, but you have to figure out where to store them and how to work them into your food rotation. The director Kathryn Porter is extremely well organized and deals with this type of issue every day. She is a practical problem solver of the first degree – think of a cross between a drill sergeant and an elementary school teacher and throw in some humor as well because you must have some fun too!
If you are interested in volunteering during the COVID-19 crisis or are in need of help, visit these resources:
Rapid Response WV - https://rapidresponsewv.org/
Volunteer WV - https://volunteer.wv.gov/Volunteer/Pages/Covid-19.aspx
Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia.
During Jessi Hersom’s service term as a Preserve West Virginia AmeriCorps member she had the opportunity to give visitors personalized experiences during tours of the historic district at Jackson’s Mill. This summer she led a personalized tour for a family who homeschooled their children, that went along with their current school lessons.
This family decided to visit the Jackson's Mill Historic area as a field trip relating to their recent lesson about 19th century homesteads and farms. They were particularly interested in seeing the McWhorter Cabin, which was originally constructed in the 1790s by Henry McWhorter near Jane Lew, West Virginia and was relocated to Jackson’s Mill in 1927 for preservation purposes. This cabin is part of the historic area at Jackson's Mill and is set up to display how a home would have looked in the early nineteenth century.
The family was particularly interested in the fireplace and chimney and its role as the kitchen and how these elements connected to the neighboring garden and gristmill. They were given a full tour of the historic homestead after their specialized tour of the McWhorter Cabin, where they could see how the farm buildings and other components of the Jackson family business supported the Jacksons, who originally lived in a cabin that was similar to the McWhorter Cabin.
Jessi Hersom located specific examples of photos of the McWhorter Cabin from the Jackson’s Mill archives so the family had references during their tour, which also aided in providing an experience that was unique to their needs and educational. They greatly appreciated their time Jackson’s Mill and benefitted from the chance to have a hands-on experience in a nineteenth century cabin and shared that they would be visiting again in the future.
As the Preserve West Virginia AmeriCorps member at Jackson’s Mill, Jessi Hersom led tours of the historic area at and led demonstrations that included operating the historic grist mill and working blacksmith shop during special events.
During her term she also continued projects in the Jackson’s Mill archives. Creating electronic records, rehousing, locating and organizing items, inventorying, and processing new documents are some of the activities that are essential in order to maintain the archive. The continuation of digitally inventorying these historic items is vital to preservation and processing items and photographs allows for future access to those who are interested in the site’s history.
Several visitors directly benefited from this project by having access to historic documents that were otherwise inaccessible. On one occasion, a visitor requested any photos from the early days of the state 4-H camp at Jackson’s Mill, when his father was attending during the nineteen forties. Jessi was able to provide him with several dozens of images from this time period. He was then able to reference these images during his visit to Jackson’s Mill and could compare the historic photographs to the current status of the camp.
The archives are also essential for research and can be used as a tool for referencing primary sources regarding the Jackson’s Mill historic area and State 4-H Camp. Items in the archives are referenced regarding any new publications about the site and will be used for new signs and markers that will be created to aid visitors during self-guided tours. The 4-H Camp at Jackson’s Mill will be celebrating its one hundredth anniversary in 2021, and these documents will be vital for the research needed for future publications regarding this event.
Being able to provide guests with data from the archives supplements their visits and allows for a more satisfying and comprehensive learning experience and will also help people understand Jackson’s Mill in its historic context. These improvements may also allow for an increased interest in the site and help boost attendance in the coming years.
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