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Stephen Smith, Mason Ballard: WV is best place for millennials, who want to change the world

By By Stephen Smith and Mason Ballard
Mason Ballard, Stephen Smith

Last week, you may have read headlines that called West Virginia the worst place to live for millennials — the generation of Americans who, like us, are in their 20s and 30s. is a “personal finance website” that is owned by a credit card company. It’s true: West Virginia may be the worst place to live for millennials who care deeply about what a credit card company thinks.

But West Virginia is the best place to live for millennials who want to change the world — a humble place where you can make a difference, raise a family, and find real community.

Here are a few statistics that WalletHub ignored in their rankings:

n West Virginians ranks No. 1 in amount of time neighbors spend together.

n We rank No. 5 in time we spend with family and friends.

n Charleston and Huntington rank in the top 5 most charitable cities in the country; but we are nowhere to be found on the list of cities with the longest work weeks.

n By various measures, West Virginia ranks at the top of lists for participation in military service and public service programs like Americorps.

n And, unfortunately, there’s no statistic yet for the natural beauty of our rivers and mountains.

There is a genuine, quantifiable civic spirit in West Virginia — what Alexis de Tocqueville called “the knowledge of how to combine.” This is the natural resource that fuels a democracy, and West Virginia is resource rich.

Pain is a fact of American life. Inequality, incarceration, substance abuse, and divorce are near all-time highs in American history. That pain lies deep in the bones of West Virginia families. It is natural to want to ignore that pain, or to wish it away. Some of us try to escape it, seeking solace in “nice” neighborhoods and “nice” things. If you want to buy fancy things and be left alone, West Virginia is not the best place for you. We want more of you than that.

West Virginia is the place for folks who want to fight that pain head on, for folks who embrace the struggle. West Virginia was born in America’s darkest hours. A child of the Civil War, West Virginians seceded from the secession to fight for American values. The land of John Brown and Mother Jones, West Virginia’s revolutionary spirit has shaped the American story.

If you want to change the world, come to West Virginia and plant your life in our revolutionary soil. You will be surrounded by a genuine, multi-generational community of neighbors, friends, and family (biological or not). In West Virginia, you will be fed — mind, body, and soul. You will be surrounded by pain, yes, but also the fruits of that pain: resilience, know-how, and plenty of stories to tell. Our families have seen the worst, and we are ready to be hopeful again. We are ready for young folks like you to join and to lead our communities, congregations, schools, and industries. We are ready for folks who want to make a life here, not just a living.

If you choose to come (or stay) you, too, will discover a struggle. A struggle inside you and a struggle around you. Like any journey through West Virginia, there will be peaks and valleys. As new ideas enter the public square, iron will sharpen iron, and sparks will fly. We can light a revolution for our economy, within our institutions, and throughout our government. It will not be easy. But what good is easy? And where better to start that revolution than a place this neighborly, this family-oriented, this beautiful?

There is a sense of place in these hills and valleys. You know you’re somewhere when you’re in West Virginia, and when you’re in West Virginia, you know you’re someone. Maybe you are not sure where to start. Maybe you feel like you don’t know anybody here. Now you do. Give Mason a call at 304-550-4831. Give Stephen a call at 304-610-6512. We would love to hear from you.

Stephen Smith is the Director of the WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, and Mason Ballard is the Lead Pastor at Resurrection Church.

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