Community Website Weelunk Expands into Randolph County with Elkinite
Since its launch in November, the online community portal Weelunk has attracted web traffic from all 50 states in the U.S. and around the globe. The website serves as a platform for in-depth stories about Wheeling and also provides a forum for new ideas and community events.
Now the site’s creators have taken that formula and applied it to a similar project in Randolph County, called Elkinite.
“We just want to find stories that build people up and do things constructively. We don’t want to, we don’t want to tear people apart,” said Davis & Elkins College student Andrew Carroll. He’s one of Elkinite’s managers and content providers.
Carroll is also helping West Virginia Public Broadcasting provide coverage of this year’s summer workshops and festivities in Elkins at the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis & Elkins College.
Their Own Thing
Carroll said Elkinite doesn’t necessarily want to compete with traditional media outlets.
“They’ve got their own thing and it works for them. We’re not interested in that, we’re interested in our own thing,” he said. “But what we’ve recognized is that in these communities there’s a void where someone’s not telling a story that people would read and they would care about. And there’s also a void in the digital presence and the web presence. And so we’re just filling a market space that no one’s in.”
Weelunk co-founder and Elkinite mastermind Jason Koegler said the idea behind both sites is also to provide young people with an avenue to connect with their community using the technology they’re used to.
“The information that’s important to this generation in terms of culture, quality of life, inspiration, ideas, to do something, to take action, this is the void that we’re filling,” Koegler said.
The Idea with Ideas
Back in Elkins, Andrew Carroll said that one of the more unique aspects of Weelunk that Elkinite has replicated is the Ideas Section.
“And the idea with Ideas is someone can pitch their idea, but really write a plan for it and be constructive about it,” he said.
“And also with that, if someone has something negative they want to talk about, they can talk about it, but they need to offer a solution to it,” Elkinite co-manager Kate Reed said. “So we don’t want it to just be like, ‘We’re terrible. So, we have a drug problem,’ and that’s it. So what are we going to do about it?”
In her regular job, Reed is the alumni coordinator for Leadership West Virginia. She said at first she was apprehensive about taking on a project like Elkinite as a volunteer because of how public it is and she wasn’t sure how it would be received by the local community.
But she decided it was worth the risk.
“I get ticked off when people make fun of my town or think I’m uneducated or really attack the problems and stereotype us. So being part of something positive makes me feel good and I want to continue to be a part of it,” Reed said.
Elkinite had a soft opening last week and officially launched on Tuesday, July 7.
Koegler said Weelunk provided a framework for what worked, but it’s the volunteers in Randolph County who are making Elkinite a success.
“They took that ball and ran with it. And actually, they’ve, in this past 10 days, have given us five things to consider for Weelunk that we’re considering changing or doing ourselves,” he said.
Plans To Expand
Koegler doesn’t want to stop with Weelunk and Elkinite. He said he is working with West Virginia Executive Magazine to extend the Weelunk model to other towns around the state.
“It would be great to have 10 of these up and running by this time next year,” Koegler said.
He said the plan is to also build a state-wide umbrella site.
“What it would do would pull content from its feeder sites, so like Elkinite and Weelunk and then what other cities come on board,” Koegler said.
Koegler said he’s already in talks with several other cities to explore starting new projects. He’s not ready to name all those places yet, but he did say the New River Gorge area is next on the list.