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Kelly Merritt: Many 'non-working adults' are very productive

It's not all bad – the news, that is – that West Virgina has so many people not employed.

Sure, it is a distressing statistic, reported a couple of weeks ago, that less than 50 percent of West Virginia adults are in the workforce.

The state certainly needs as many productive people as it can get working, generating income for themselves, for their employers and generating revenue for the economy and the tax base.

There are lots of needs in this state for more economic activity to fund increased tax revenue, and the best way to have that is to have more people employed, more businesses employing them and more revenue – at lower tax rates – for the state.

Having said that, it's also important to realize that not every “non-working adult” is not productive.

In fact, on the day I was reading the news about that depressing workforce statistic, I happened to stop by St. Christopher's Episcopal Church.

There in the kitchen was one of those “non-working adults” preparing what appeared to be about 20 pounds of chicken legs to be cooked for kids attending an after-school program at the 2nd Ave. Community Center in the old Paul Lawrence Dunbar Elementary School building on Charleston's West Side.

Elaine Chiles spent her fair share of time as a working adult, adding value to the community and paying her share of taxes. The former school teacher and administrator retired in 2007 after more than 40 years in education.

With her during my visit was her husband Fred, who retired in 2012 as music director at Riverside High School after working 32 years in the school system.

Fred was helping Elaine in the kitchen. When he's not doing that, he's offering music lessons and/or conducting choir practice and preparing the music for the upcoming Sunday service.

These are just two of those counted in that 50.2 percent of “non-working adults” in West Virginia.

Meanwhile, every Tuesday and Thursday at the same church, a visitor would find more “non-working adults” busily working away. Juanita Cook, Lauretha Kellum and Marcia Van Hook volunteer as co-directors of the Mary C. Snow After School program that St. Christopher's conducts for some students from the new Edgewood Elementary School.

Those co-directors, along with a dozen or so “non-working adult” volunteers, spend several hours a week transporting and tutoring kids who really benefit from the extra attention to their studies.

And that's just a snapshot of the volunteer work of a few of the “non-working adults” at one community church in town.

At St. John's Episcopal Church at breakfast and lunch every day, visitors will find scores of “non-working adults” helping to feed the area's hungry during Manna Meal.

Many of the hungry folks who eat at Manna Meal are non-working adults that need assistance to get back into the work force, while some may never truly become productive members of society and will always need the safety net that working adults provide through their tax dollars.

Across Charleston and the state and elsewhere on any given day, there are many “non-working adults” working hard to make life better for children, less fortunate adults and many others.

Retirees, or anyone with free time looking for a productive activity, can check with any church. Or call the Retired Senior Volunteer Program of the United Way of Central West Virginia at 304-340-3524.

Yes, West Virginia needs more working adults contributing to the economy.

But let's not forget the many “non-working adults” who work hard improving our community every day.

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