Parts of Appalachia are bleeding population; the 2015 U.S. Census showed West Virginia was losing population faster than any other state. There’s a palpable struggle to leave, but also to stay in these hills.
In April of 2017, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s podcast, Inside Appalachia, launched a series of stories called “The Struggle to Stay”. Reporters have spent about a year following the lives of six individuals as they decide if they will stay or leave home - and how they survive either way.
As people watch friends and neighbors move away, some want to join them, but can't afford it. Others feel obligated to stay. Some are compelled to remain in Appalachia with dreams of turning their region into one that's economically and culturally vibrant, while proving its value to the rest of the country.
Here’s an introduction to the people you’ll meet and follow on their journey of finding a place to belong:
Colt Brogan, age 20. A native of Lincoln County who is learning to farm at his former high school through the Coalfield Development Corporation. Colt says he wants to stay in West Virginia but knows it can be tough to make a living here. He says his childhood was unstable, and he dreams of owning a farm and raising a family in West Virginia.
- 'My People are the River People' - Part One
- 'I Would Rather Die Than Be a Burden' - Part Two
- Can a Young Person Make a Living as a Farmer - Part Three
- 'I Just Felt in Complete Turmoil' - Part Four
- '2017 is a Year of Second Chances' - Part Five
Mark Combs, age 32. A disabled veteran who has seen many of his closest friends and fellow veterans succumb to suicide, Mark determined he had to leave to find success as a comedian and an artist. These stories follow Mark and his friend as they set out on the open road, beginning in the fall of 2016. With hopes, dreams, and a lot of encouragement from friends - will he be able to find his place outside the state?
- 'If You Want to Succeed, You've Gotta Leave' - Part One
- California Dreams... and Realities - Part Two
- Learning Loneliness in Denver - Part Three
- Stronger Together - Part Four
Kyra Soliel-Dawe, age 20. An aspiring actor who has formed a small theater company in Shepherdstown. They don’t feel like the conventional theater groups take them seriously yet, partly because they are all so young. Kyra dreams of being recognized as an artist here in West Virginia.
- Finding Myself in 'This Beautiful, Beautiful Place' - Part One
- 'We Are Real and We Are Here' - Part Two
- 'I Will Stay Here, Because I Feel Free' - Part Three
Crystal Snyder, age 37. A single mother of two, Crystal lost her job working in a T-shirt factory two years ago. She was hired to work with Coalfield Development’s Refresh Appalachia program, the same company that employs Colt. She wants to stay in West Virginia, but has considered leaving for work or school if the opportunity arises. But moving would be difficult because her children have roots here.
- 'Is it a Good Idea for Me to Leave My Kids Here?' - Part One
- Challenging Racism & Sexism at Work - Part Two
- Juggling Work and School, 'I Will Get it Done' - Part Three
- Kids, Squash, and Saving the World - Part Four
- Overcoming Childhood Trauma, Still Shining Her Light, Conclusion
Derek Akal, age 21. Derek left home with a college football scholarship, but a spinal injury took him off the field, so he quit school and came back home to Lynch, a coal camp town in Harlan County, Kentucky. For generations, Derek’s family and others in the coalfields’ African American community have found themselves leaving home to chase better wages.
- You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive - Part One
- 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken?’ - Part Two
- 'Hollywood Dreams' - Part Three
- Conclusion- Part Four
Dave Hathaway, age 38
A laid-off coal miner who lives in Greene County, Pennsylvania. Dave and his family have lots of roots in Pennsylvania, and so he feels that he can’t leave. He and his wife just had a baby. She has a job and is the main bread winner in his family.
The Struggle to Stay project builds on a collaboration between WV Living Magazine and West Virginia Public Broadcasting and became a long-term reporting project that includes stations in the Appalachia region: West Virginia Public Broadcasting, WMMT in Kentucky, the Allegheny Front in Pennsylvania, and the reporting collaborative Ohio Valley ReSource.