Beacon Award Winner Liz Brunello has lived in Charleston for seven years. After graduating from the University of Richmond, Liz moved to West Virginia as an AmeriCorps VISTA, working in youth leadership development and community health with local non-profits. For more than five years, Liz has spent her time working for the American Friends Service Committee as the youth program coordinator in the southern coalfields. This is the perfect job for Liz—supporting brilliant high schoolers and young adults as they become the strong leaders and passionate advocates that our state needs. Her work is guided by her belief in the power of youth organizing to make long-term change for the common good.
Beacon Award Winner Clara Lehmann grew up surrounded by dedicated and genuine community leaders in Helvetia, WV. In her own volunteering and professional filmmaking efforts, she attempts to mirror their commitment.
Volunteering as president of the Helvetia Restoration and Development Organization, Clara and a handful of volunteers built a playground, restored the museum, preserved cemetery headstones, and hosted traditional events celebrating Swiss heritage.
In addition to volunteering, Clara co-founded the creative studio Coat of Arms and directed her first feature-length documentary, “Born in a Ballroom.” Fulfilling a promise Clara made to her late grandmother, the film reveals a legacy committed to ancestry, rich tradition, and community. Clara hopes her grandmother’s story will ignite audiences to treasure the past while designing a fairer future.
Beacon Award Winner Marissa Rexroad is a long-time resident of Harrison County, WV. Growing up, she remembers experiencing a powerful sense of injustice whenever she saw someone living on the street. A desire to help stuck with her, and it motivated her to create a Task Team with the mission of investigating lasting solutions to homelessness in the area. At the Task Team’s recommendation, she proceeded to establish the United Way of Harrison County’s Solution-Focused Street Outreach and Rapid Rehousing Programs, which aim to facilitate systemic pathways out of homelessness.
Marissa’s work is fueled by her belief in individual social responsibility, personal curiosity, and optimistic resilience—all qualities she hopes to further inspire in her community, because she knows that the only way to defeat homelessness is by stepping up together.
Beacon Award Winner Takeiya Smith is a youth and racial justice organizer with Our Future West Virginia, whose work centers around organizing young people to dismantle oppression through education and civic action so that young people of color and diversity can grow and thrive in West Virginia with dignity, safety, and equity.
As a college student, Takeiya began organizing to tackle issues of exclusion and institutional racism. Building off that experience, Takeiya was the co-chair of the Call to Action for Racial Equality initiative, a collaborative community effort that brought about an eight-point anti-racism plan addressed to local policing. She is now the lead organizer with the Young West Virginia Power Building Movement (Young WV), a movement organizes young students of color to address some of the state’s most challenging issues including discrimination in schools, policing, xenophobia , youth participation in civic engagement and voter engagement. Young WV collaborates with student groups across the state who share a common vision of a safer and more equitable West Virginia.
Beacon Award Winner Danny Swan is the co-founder and director of Grow Ohio Valley. Danny is working to engineer a Wheeling food system that promotes health, eradicates disparities, and leads to farmers’ prosperity. Danny began this work in his teenage years, organizing community and youth gardens, and has since helped to grow a movement in Wheeling that has garnered national attention. Danny is known for his creative community problem-solving, abundant optimism, and unquenchable work ethic.
Beacon Award Winner Jenny Totten grew up in Loudendale, WV, where she spent her time daydreaming and building things. After a very brief career as a real live rocket scientist and other interesting plot twists, she returned to her home state as an AmeriCorps VISTA. Today, Jenny works for both the WV Community Development Hub and the WV Food and Farm Coalition while living in McDowell County with her four-legged buddy, Oliver.
Jenny is a problem solver, thinker, and explorer by nature and loves playing the role of cheerleader for her community and its youth. She sees a future where Appalachian young people can have an active role in shaping the next chapter of their communities, find meaningful work, and invest deeply in the region.
In spite of facing considerable obstacles in her own life, TK has become a tireless entrepreneur and advocate for her community. Whether spearheading a project to refurbish and reimagine a community center, organizing local concerts and championing the arts, or helping people register to vote, TK is infectiously positive and utterly unstoppable. She is a respected mentor and inspiration to many in her community, always using her energy, creativity, and spirit to ensure that people don’t give up on themselves.
“I truly want to bring back love into my community, bring back that simple love – like checking on your neighbor – and caring for the people around you. I want to bring back positivity and remind people about hard work and dedication because that’s what our state truly needs.”
As co-founder and leader of Solutions Oriented Addiction Response (SOAR), Sarah is not only facilitating pathways to recovery from addiction—she is also helping generate systems-level solutions to the opioid crisis in Charleston. Sarah actively incorporates practices of honesty and integrity in everything she does, drawing upon her own experience of recovery to empower others. Sarah leads by listening. Through exceptional sensitivity to others’ needs and her genuine passion for helping people recover from addiction, she has been and continues to be a powerful force for good in her community.
“I like to be responsible, I like to be dependable, I like to show up for myself. I feel called to show up for my community—for my peers now and for my future peers.”
Program director at the locally-based nonprofit organization Step By Step and pastor at Risen City church, Farmer is a servant leader who works with and for his community to make it better for all—children especially. Farmer’s remarkable ability to connect with anyone, along with his talent at building lasting relationships founded on mutual respect, have greatly aided him in his mission to serve. By forging connections and bringing people together, Farmer is expanding access to resources, improving quality of life, and making Charleston’s West Side tangibly healthier and stronger.
“You don’t have to have this extensive background to be able to help youth and kids. It’s a matter of just being there consistently with them. And that’s the first step: just being consistent.”
As a young mother, teacher, and engaged member of her small, rural community, Lucy was aware of a pressing need for supplemental educational opportunities in Beverly. She took initiative—securing grant funding and establishing community partnerships—and created the Beverly Book Mobile (which provides access to healthy snacks as well as books). Through her determination, knack for problem-solving, and compelling vision, Lucy has ensured that the Book Mobile’s services continue to grow and benefit every part of her community. Lucy’s capacity to inspire trust in others and turn her ideas into action are providing essential opportunities and support to many.
“Our project is a great example of what can happen when an entire community shares their imaginations, talents, enthusiasm, and resources. So many hearts, hands, and minds have worked together to make our project what it is.”
A go-getter with a record of accomplishing whatever she sets her mind to, Allison’s positive impact on her community has been pervasive. From serving as secretary on the New River Gorge Learning Cooperative’s executive committee to rehabilitating a local bowling alley, Allison continually demonstrates that she is willing to do what it takes to get things done—and done well. She is relentless in her efforts to make her community better and is known by everyone who has had the chance to work with her as unfailingly loyal, a true team player, and the kind of person you can count on to make waves.
“What can we do to help? This is our community. These are our people. How do we help them out?”
A long-time resident of Charleston’s West Side, Dural is founder and CEO of the locally-based nonprofit organization Keep Your Faith Corporation (KYFC). Its mission is as ambitious as its founder’s is: to empower members of the community through outreach and direct services, and, ultimately, to improve the overall quality of life on the West Side. By facilitating crucial partnerships, providing mentorship to other young and motivated change agents, and always staying true to his values, Dural is helping positively transform his community and guide it toward its full potential.
“If we can give them some tools to go forward, then we can cut into homelessness a little bit, because those folks can talk to other people on the streets who aren’t going to listen to me and bring them in—and then we’ve got something to give them once they get here.”
The West Virginia Beacon Awards are selected on a nomination-basis. Phase 1 nominations for those leaders who are performing outstanding work in their community are submitted online between March – April. Through the nomination form, nominators provided basic around the “what” of their nominees work, including name, organization (if applicable), the primary community of work, and answers to a few longer descriptive questions. These questions provided further detail on the individual, their work and strategy, and how they are supporting their community through their vision and execution. Nominators are invited to complete Phase 2 of the Nomination process if their nominees meet the following criteria:
– inspiring others to action
– addressing a social challenge in their community
– internally driven to make change
– represent the values of the Beacon Awards and the One Foundation
For those nominees who meet the requirements, their nominators will be invited to complete a few final questions for the nomination process. These questions focus on the “how” of the nominees work. Both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the nomination process were created in alignment with our desire to select awardees who may be under the radar and doing their work not focused on recognition.
The Review Committee, made up of Generation West Virginia and One Foundation staff, review all nominations according to the selection criteria as outlined above to identify up to 15 individuals to continue to on to step 4.
The Review Committee will reach out to nominees to discuss the program and identify references. After receiving additional feedback from references the Nominating Committee will reach out to the nominated individuals directly for in depth interviews. The nominator remains confidential throughout the process.
Based on the step 4 research, the Review Committee and with input from prominent community leaders will select five – six winners for the award.
In August, Beacon Award winners will join a cohort of past and current winners for a 2-day retreat. Later that fall, the One Foundation and Generation West Virginia will host an awards ceremony where the Beacon Award Winners are presented with monetary awards of $2,000 each.