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Mingo County Service Learning

Support students of economically limited backgrounds to participate in a service-learning opportunity in Mingo County, WV

Project Leader(s): Beth Nardella, School of Medicine’s Department of Human Performance – Exercise Physiology
Collaborator(s): Office of Global Affairs

Mingo County, West Virginia, has been hit hard by the decline of the coal industry and the opioid epidemic. It has lost 50% of its population since 1950. Mingo County is near the bottom of West Virginia county health rankings, with 39% of children living in poverty, 72% of them African American. Before COVID, the unemployment rate was over double the national average. Per capita, Mingo County has lost twice as many people to COVID as Monongalia County. These statistics are the social determinants of health in action – illustrating how race, gender and social class affect health outcomes. The Williamson Health and Wellness Center, however, is working to combat this by building clinics for primary care, diabetes treatment and opioid addiction. They are providing the opportunity for a healthier lifestyle through a farmers’ market and events to get people active. These programs are disrupting the negative stigma surrounding rural Appalachia. In partnership with the Office of Global Affairs, I have been taking students to Mingo County to participate in service-learning programs with the Health and Wellness Center. International, West Virginia, and out-of-state students travel to Williamson to learn about the health disparities affecting rural communities through community-driven service projects and listening. We have visited a recovery center, helped a farmer plant her crops, and volunteered at a 5k/10k race. We learn from the locals by hosting a bonfire and going to the local homecoming game and ATV festival. With this funding, costs for the program could be significantly reduced, allowing students of economically diverse backgrounds to be able to join. Students learn from our community partners but also each other. They bring back what they’ve learned and share with others, further helping to reduce stigma and change the conversation about rural communities.