A new center at West Virginia University is working with communities across the region to address many of West Virginia’s most complex challenges.
The Center for Resilient Communities will cultivate a collaborative network of grassroots leaders to advance justice, equity and social action in Appalachia around shared initiatives in fields like agricultural development, health equity, social enterprise, environmental sustainability and community revitalization.
“We want to elevate the spirit of solidarity among community leaders in our state and learn from the wisdom of those working tirelessly on the frontlines to create a brighter future in West Virginia’s communities,” said Bradley Wilson, associate professor of geography and the center’s founding director.
The center’s first initiative will be the Collaborative Action Lab, a state-wide program designed to connect scholars and community partners to learn together, experiment and incubate new solutions to Appalachia’s most systemic challenges, often called “wicked problems.”
“‘Wicked problems’ are not easy to solve. They are complex, and they underlie and compound existing problems,” Wilson said. “Rather than turning away from problems with no easy solutions, we focus on building thoughtful and sustained community engagement, in-depth collaborative research, and most importantly, cooperation to create more just and inclusive strategies for change.
Wilson has honed this approach through collaborative action research fighting hunger and building equitable food systems since arriving at WVU in 2009.
The center’s second initiative will be the Community Leadership and Social Action Program, a fellowship program providing training and education in community building for WVU students and select community leaders in West Virginia. Participants will build capacities, skills and knowledge through social action projects across the state in service of some of the most dynamic community-based organizations in West Virginia.
The center is supported by a significant gift from the One Foundation, an organization committed to sustainability, equity, inclusion and service in Appalachia.
“At the One Foundation, our core strategy is to partner with individuals and organizations to build and lead initiatives that regenerate community, the planet and self,” said One Foundation founder Marz Attar. “We foster a strong entrepreneurial environment to ensure change is both systemic and transformational. This approach is much like that of a farmer, who cultivates the ground and tends to the roots so that there can be healthy growth.”
The center’s partnership development and action-research strategy follows a “ground-up” approach, ensuring that researchers, WVU students and local leaders focus on the root causes of the most pressing issues by listening to and learning from the communities themselves.
“Ultimately, the center’s goal is to work in service of local leaders and community-based organizations and to accompany them in the development of place-based strategies for systems change,” Wilson said. “Through listening and working directly with local leaders, we hope to develop unique tools and resources that to deepen our understanding of long-standing issues and take action together to create more resilient communities.”
Through the new Center for Resilient Communities, Wilson hopes to bring together experiential learning, community-based action research and community engagement initiatives at WVU to elevate the land-grant mission.
“For the long haul we need to draw upon WVU’s land-grant history and mission to continue to improve our relationships with our communities, improve the training for our students and improve our university’s effectiveness and impact across the state and region,” Wilson said.
The Center for Resilient Communities is set to open in Brooks Hall on WVU’s Morgantown campus in fall 2019.
“The Eberly College is proud to host and support this important Center. It will allow faculty and students the opportunity to participate in community engagement scholarship, which reinforces our commitment to our land-grant mission,” said Gregory Dunaway, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “I am particularly appreciative for the generous support of the One Foundation. Their investment in this initiative will be truly transformative for West Virginia communities.”
The gift was made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit corporation that generates and administers private support for the University.