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Looking At National Stories Through An Appalachian Lens

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Emily Hilliard
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West Virginia Humanities Council
The Chicken Blasts run from the last weekend in May to the last weekend in August at the Serbian Picnic Grounds in Weirton, WV.

On this episode of Inside Appalachia, we’ll hear several stories about people who are working to help address problems within their own communities.

We’ll visit a high school where students are learning to become recovery coaches to help their fellow classmates who struggle with addiction. And we’ll hear the story of a group of citizens in West Virginia whose case against a major chemical company inspired the film “Dark Waters”.

We’ll also visit Weirton, West Virginia where volunteers from the Serbian immigrant community are trying to keep their culture and traditions alive despite population loss. 

In This Episode: 

Special Guest Host

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Credit Lalena Price / WVPB
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WVPB
NPR newscaster Giles Snyder returns to his roots to host Inside Appalachia this week.

Long-time listeners of Inside Appalachia will recognize this week’s host as the original host of the show. Or, you might have heard him on NPR. 

Giles Snyder actually was the first host and producer for Inside Appalachia. He’s now based in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle and works as a newscaster for NPR. We invited him back as a guest host for this week’s episode. 

Youth Recovery Coaches

Stories about the epidemic that make national news usually seem to be about how it’s ravaging Appalachia. But while the statistics can be depressing and used to stereotype the region, in this episode we hear a more hopeful story about one high school that is working to interrupt the cycle of addiction by training kids as recovery coaches. Kara Lofton visited the school in the central West Virginia town of Clay and brought back this report.

This story originally aired on West Virginia Morning last month. Afterward, West Virginia State Senator John Unger says he heard from people at colleges in Texas and Montana who now want to do similar programs in their communities. 

Eric Eyre

Eric Eyre is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with the Charleston Gazette-Mail in Charleston, West Virginia. He broke some of the biggest stories on the opioid crisis with his investigative journalism. Giles got a chance to talk with Eric to learn about his new book, soon to be released, called “Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic.”

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Credit Photo courtesy Focus Features
Actor Mark Ruffalo in a film still from "Dark Waters."

Legal Battle Plot Of “Dark Waters” Film

Another legal battle that made national headlines in recent years is the decades-long saga over DuPont’s dumping of toxic chemicals in the Ohio Valley. The story is portrayed in the film released last year, “Dark Waters,” which stars Mark Ruffalo as lawyer Rob Billot, who defended chemical companies, until he decided to take a case against DuPont. 

Scientific studies eventually revealed that one of the materials used to make Teflon, called C8, or PFOA, can cause cancer. It’s an ongoing story that didn’t stop after the film’s release. Brittany Patterson reports the chemicals are showing up in more drinking water systems around the region. 

100 Years Ago Women Won The Right To Vote

More women than ever decided to run for the Democratic nomination to be President of the United States this year. This seems like a good time to remember that one hundred years ago women earned the right to vote after more than 70 years of struggle. That included everything from marches and protests to beatings, hunger strikes and force feeding.

Today, much of that history is overlooked. But 2020 marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Across the nation, efforts are being made to remember the struggle. 

Eric Douglas sat down with Renate Pore and Rita Ray from the Kanawha Valley Chapter of the National Organization for Women. They discussed why it’s important to remember suffrage history and some of the ways it is being commemorated this year. Find out more about the history and upcoming Centennial events.

Chicken Blast

Portrayals about Appalachia often follow incorrect stereotypes that our region derives most of its culture from the Scots-Irish. 

In fact, our cultural roots can also be traced to Native Americans and African Americans, as well as immigrants from across the globe. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, Serbians fleeing religious persecution settled in the Upper Ohio Valley. They established a Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church and picnic grounds along the Ohio River in West Virginia and Ohio. 

Many found work in the steel mills and coal mines. The population has shrunk in recent years with the decline of those industries, but the Serbian community remains a noticeable presence in the river town of Steubenville, Ohio and nearby Weirton, West Virginia. They’re especially known throughout the region for one thing: roasted chicken. 

The Men’s Club of the church roasts 5,000 chickens every summer, in a weekly event they call a “Chicken Blast.” West Virginia State Folklorist Emily Hilliard went to check it out

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That story was produced by the West Virginia Folklife Program at the West Virginia Humanities Council and Inside Appalachia. To order a chicken from the Chicken Blast, call 1-304-748-9866 the Wednesday morning of the blast -- between May and August. Make sure you start calling at 6:00 in the morning; they’re usually sold out within a couple of hours. For more information, visit Serbian Picnic Grounds on Facebook.

Reflecting On Poverty

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Credit Courtesy photo

Katherine Manley grew up in poverty in Logan County, West Virginia, but went on to teach in the same schools she attended. Mountain State Press recently published her memoir called “Don’t Tell Them You’re Cold” and it is about the challenges she faced as a young girl and how she overcame them. 

The title refers to a time when she was begging on the streets of Logan with her father. Manley says her dad was afraid the authorities would take her away if she told anyone she was cold.

Manley is retired from teaching now, but regularly speaks to groups of students about what it takes to break the cycle of poverty. 

This story is part of a series of occasional interviews that Eric Douglas conducts with writers from, or who write about, Appalachia. You can find more of these interviews on our website.

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from Appalachia Health News, a project of West Virginia Public broadcasting with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center. Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Dinosaur Burps and Spencer Elliot.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Glynis Board is our executive producer. She also edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi helps with promotions. 

You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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The main thing you should know about Giles Snyder is that he is an extreme commuter. He drives 90 miles from his home to the NPR newsroom, usually in the middle of the night.
Roxy Todd is a reporter and producer for Inside Appalachia and has been a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2014. She’s won several awards, including a regional AP Award for best feature radio story, and also two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.
Eric is a native of Kanawha County who graduated from Marshall University with a degree in journalism. He has written for newspapers and magazines throughout his career. He is an author, writing both nonfiction and fiction, including a series of thriller novels set in locations around the world. You can reach Eric at edouglas@wvpublic.org