Unique Program Draws Young Talent to West Virginia
With opportunities to work, volunteer and explore, these fellows make a big impact on the state (and many stay after completing the 12-month program)
In spring 2019, Sam Muller was preparing to graduate from Wellesley College in the Boston area when an alumna posted about a fellowship program in West Virginia on the class Facebook page. It piqued Muller’s interest as she was launching her job search and open to moving anywhere for the right professional opportunity (but preferably somewhere with mountains).
So, Muller successfully applied for the Impact Fellowship program, which brings young professionals to the state for 12-month fellowships. Fellows work four days a week and spend one day volunteering in their new communities, plus go on retreats throughout the Mountain State and tap a strong network of professional development support.
“Ultimately, I was also looking for more than a job. I wanted a community, and I wanted to be able to give back to that community, too, so the program’s ‘Volunteer Fridays’ had a huge appeal to me,” says Muller, who was a 2019 fellow. “They ended up being such a great way of meaningfully connecting with my new home.”
After Arriving, Many Choose to Stay
More than 20 companies have participated as host employers, and fellows have volunteered roughly 11,000 hours of community service. Eight in 10 fellows stay in West Virginia after their fellowships.
Now, a few years later, Charleston is home for Muller, who works as a content development lead with 84 Agency, a small communications and consulting firm that assists value-driven organizations working to make a positive impact. She recently became a CASA volunteer, too, a court-appointed special advocate for children. Muller spends her down time training for marathons, checking out breweries, hiking in the Appalachians and wandering around Capitol Market, a year-round farmers market.
The Impact Fellowship is a program run by Generation West Virginia, a statewide nonprofit that has an overarching goal of attracting young talent to the state, and developing and sustaining an active network of professionals.
“I knew very little about West Virginia when I moved to Charleston,” Muller says. “What I’ve been most surprised by is just how people seem to feel such a strong sense of identity and connection to place in West Virginia. I haven’t encountered that to the same degree anywhere else.”
Of course, those famous Appalachian Mountains are a nice perk, too.