By Melanie McIntire
It’s no secret that, as young people in West Virginia, we often feel pressure to leave the state in order to attain success. It’s a seed we ourselves have planted in conversations had while growing up, weaving into our adolescence and following us into adulthood.
For myself and my now fiancé, COVID-19 was the tipping point that led us to decide — rather reluctantly — that it would be in our best interest to pursue professional opportunities elsewhere. I had just completed a contract with Virginia Tech, and though I wanted to return home and use my new skills and knowledge to benefit my community in Greenbrier County, I couldn’t find a job that felt “right.” I knew it would be easy to find a position that met my career goals if I decided location wasn’t an obstacle.
I was stuck. My heart was urging me to return to West Virginia, but if I was to continue moving forward in my career, I thought I had to look in a larger area. After applying for and accepting a new position, we packed up our things and relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina.
Soon I was in North Carolina working in higher education, and while the position allowed me to work with young professionals, something in my life still felt out of place.
I discovered that something crucial was missing: the sense of purpose and the meaningful relationships that come from a shared history and commitment to one’s home. I couldn’t shake the feeling that, one way or the other, I was meant to be in West Virginia.
Following several months of trying unsuccessfully to settle into life in North Carolina, I found Generation West Virginia — a statewide nonprofit dedicated to attracting, retaining, and advancing young people — on Facebook. They were searching for a director for the GWV Fellowship — a professional development program for young adults. I had no idea that an organization like this existed in West Virginia and was thrilled to see that there was a whole network of support for young people determined to build a future here.
While I enjoyed my time in North Carolina, and it was a valuable experience, I learned that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. My instincts had been right – my future belonged here in West Virginia.
I have since returned to our state to serve as the director of GWV’s Fellowship program — a role that has allowed me to begin helping others find their paths in the Mountain State while forging my own.
Designed to bring emerging and mid-career professionals together to learn from leaders throughout West Virginia and become more engaged in their communities, the GWV Fellowship is a nine-month program with an objective that goes beyond professional development.
Through this program I’m leading, participants have a unique opportunity not only to build skills that will help them grow as professionals, but also to form long-lasting friendships with their peers and connect more deeply with West Virginia. From whitewater rafting in New River Gorge National Park and riding ATVs on the Hatfield and McCoy trails, to exploring our state from the Northern Panhandle down to the Southern Coalfields, Fellows get to experience firsthand the many paths waiting to be found and forged here.
The GWV Fellowship is unique because it supports the development of young adults in West Virginia while giving them the opportunity to see our state through a new lens.
I wish someone had told me a few years ago that I didn’t have to look so far away to build a career I was proud of, or find a community I love. It’s my mission, and GWV’s, to ensure that more young West Virginians recognize the network of support they already have to make a home for their dreams, right here.
If you’re a young professional who is feeling “stuck” or longing for more, as I was, I encourage you to give yourself a chance to experience West Virginia in a new way by applying for the GWV Fellowship. And, if you’re reading this from another state, just remember that these mountains are always waiting to welcome you home.
The GWV Fellowship is open for applications now until February 20, 2023. To learn more or apply, visit generationwv.org/programs/fellowship/apply/, or contact Generation West Virginia at [email protected].