By Kate Cahow
Tessa Gore’s passion for creating positive change in the Appalachian region was sparked during her time with Build-It-Up West Virginia.
“My first summer, we traveled to several mountaintop removal sites, and I witnessed the impact on the environment and surrounding communities,” says Gore, a student at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky. “That’s when I became an environmental activist. Build-It-Up opened my eyes to grassroots organization and mobilization, and showed me one person can definitely make a difference.” The Ohio native is using her experiences to establish a Build-It-Up program in southeast Ohio.
Build-It-Up West Virginia and sister chapters in Tennessee and Virginia engage participants in service-learning projects focused on healthy, sustainable and locally-based economies. Through community partnerships, they have planted gardens in lower-income neighborhoods, hosted workshops on sustainable food production and preservation, and shadowed local leaders to learn about water-testing standards and local mine safety rules and legislation.
“Appalachian youth are strong leaders,” says Johanna de Graffenreid, co-coordinator with Build-It-Up West Virginia. “They’ve experienced the impacts of the coal mono-economy, and through Build-It-Up they’re learning to build solutions.”
For Joe Gorman, program coordinator with Build-It-Up West Virginia, the most gratifying part of his work is witnessing the personal growth of alumni. “It’s exciting when participants grasp a deeper understanding of what’s at risk in their communities, and then work to change it,” he says.
Build-It-Up is part of a national network of grassroots youth organizations called Grand Aspirations. The Virginia and Tennessee chapters are starting this summer, and this fall the West Virginia chapter is transitioning to a year-round program with West Virginia State University.
Build-It-Up! in Appalachia
East Tennessee: zval33.wix.com/builditupetn