Beacon Award winners leading community response efforts during pandemic

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“We may have limited resources, but when it comes to taking care of one another we always step up and find a way,” said Michael Farmer, program director of the locally based nonprofit Step By Step and pastor at Risen City Church.

In a time when COVID-19 has created and exposed additional needs within their communities, Farmer and two other Charleston-based young leaders — Sarah Stone and Dural Miller — are stepping up to meet those needs in any way they can.

Not ones to wait around for others to act, they have been at the forefront of their communities’ efforts to respond to the crisis. By collaborating with each other and their communities, they are working to ensure that no one’s needs are left unmet.

The moment West Virginia schools shut down March 13, Farmer and his team began working to respond to concerns about how children would access food outside of school and after-school programs, resulting in a meal delivery program for families across Kanawha County. With the assistance of numerous other organizations and individuals, including both Stone and Miller, Farmer’s team distributed 1,987 meals in March alone.

Upon hearing about Farmer’s meal delivery initiative, Miller called him up and offered to provide fresh fruits and vegetables from a community garden he runs on the city’s West Side. Miller, a lifelong West Side resident and founder and CEO of the locally based nonprofit Keep Your Faith Corporation, has also been working to make sure members of the community experiencing homelessness are adequately cared for during the crisis by facilitating access to bathrooms, laundry and shower facilities.

Stone, who also lives on the West Side, assisted in coordinating the donation drop-off at Farmer’s church. Through her various networks and community connections, she helped raise $400 in food donations and over $450 in monetary donations to support meal delivery.

“Especially in times of crisis, we need to lean on our neighbors. I’m always proud to be from West Virginia. In a crisis, we take care of our own folks,” she said.

Co-founder and leader of Solutions Oriented Addiction Response, Stone has mobilized her own community, which she defines as “people in recovery,” to respond to the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond gathering donations for Farmer’s meal delivery program, Stone’s group is also distributing Naloxone and hand sanitizer to vulnerable populations, as well as hosting monthly community meetings online.

The kind of leadership that Farmer, Stone and Miller are displaying is more necessary than ever. Yet, they would argue, it isn’t anything special, and it certainly isn’t complicated: They see a need or a gap in their community, and they fill it.

Although Farmer, Stone and Miller are all residents of the West Side who were already leading impactful work, what brought them together as collaborators in their COVID-19 response efforts was the West Virginia Beacon Awards program.

Their resourcefulness and compassionate leadership were part of the reason they were selected as Beacon Awards recipients in 2019. A nomination-only program, the Beacon Awards recognize and connect young leaders who are working with their communities to create lasting impact. It’s presented in partnership by Generation West Virginia, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to attracting, retaining and advancing young people in the Mountain State; and the One Foundation, which supports grassroots efforts building a stronger, more inclusive economy in Central Appalachia and beyond.

This year, five new Beacon Award Winners will be selected and awarded $2,000 each to support and sustain their community service. Generation West Virginia will also support this upcoming group of winners for a year by providing additional resources and by connecting the awardees with each other.

If you know a young person who — like Farmer, Stone and Miller — is leaning into existing challenges, digging into possible solutions and turning their ideas into action by collaborating with members of their community, nominate them for the 2020 West Virginia Beacon Awards by noon on April 28 online at www.gener ationwv.org/the-beacon-awards.

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