Soaring to New Heights

I recently read the Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community survey. Here’s what they found when they questioned 43,000 people in 26 cities: What creates emotional bonds between people and their communities are not jobs and the economy, but rather “physical beauty, opportunities for socializing, and a city’s openness to all people.”

Physical beauty—West Virginia has this in spades. Want to see it from a new perspective? Visit Eastern Soaring Center in Petersburg and get a birds-eye view of this beautiful state (page 67). Or take a trip to the southern part of the state and experience the Hatfield and McCoy trail system (page 55).

Socializing—People want to get out and meet their neighbors, they want to feel connected to their communities, and they want places conducive for connecting with others. We have fabulous restaurants (pages 38 and 41), coffee shops (check out Lori’s Cup of Joe in Hundred on page 36), festivals (Fire and Ice on page 15), local hangouts, and college football games, but could we do a better job at creating environments that encourage more engagement? Probably. Wouldn’t we all like to see more parks, community green spaces, playgrounds, and safe and fun nightlife options?

Openness to all people—This one gave me pause. I try very hard not to share my political or social opinions within the pages of this magazine. However, in light of the recent events involving an elected official who equated the LGBTQ community with the KKK and then implied that if his children were homosexual he’d drown them, and then a hate-mongering poster that was displayed at our State Capitol, I feel compelled to respond. These events made me weep for my beloved state. The firestorm that ensued locally and nationally made me hang my head. We are better than this.

In every issue we showcase the best of West Virginia—and we have so many stories to tell. My team and the publications we produce work very hard to change perceptions of the state. And quite honestly, I dread the first three months of the year because it seems that everything we have done to move the needle is undone during each legislative session. We are better than this.

And I say “we” because we have to stop this negativity, name calling, and hate-spewing—we are all West Virginians. We need to move the pews and not have aisles—with the left on one side and the right on the other. We need to meet in the middle. We need to stop demonizing those who think differently than us. We need to stop reacting to anger with anger. Because when we do, we become what we are fighting against. We are a better than this.

We are all guilty of creating this divisive environment in our state and in our nation. I’m guilty. You are guilty. We need to stop and look in the mirror—who are we becoming? Is this who we want to be? What has happened to public discourse? Why can’t we have different opinions about issues, but discuss them civilly and respectfully? This isn’t a problem for the right or the left. This is our problem. Martin Luther King, Jr., said it best, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” We can be better.

So in that same vein, in every issue we are going to start to highlight “Power Partners”—folks who are helping to create can-do, inclusive cultures in their communities. People who are moving the needle, bringing people together, and building a better state. On page 27, we interview Aaron and Monica Maxwell, a couple who moved to Lewisburg from Fort Lauderdale 15 years ago. Not only did they open a retail business, Harmony Ridge Gallery, but they’ve also been instrumental in helping shape their community for the better. Do you know of more power partners we should feature? If so, please email me.

Another game changer in the state is The Health Plan. It is one of the most thoughtful companies I’ve ever come across. Not only did CEO and West Virginia native Jim Pennington move the company’s headquarters to Wheeling, building the first new stand-alone building in 30 years and helping to spark a renaissance in West Virginia’s most historic city, but he has crafted an incredible company culture. When I stepped off the elevator at The Health Plan, there was a sign prominently displayed with a weekly notice of what fruits and veggies were in season to promote healthy eating. The company offers yoga classes, free bikes for use at lunchtime, and exercise and smoking cessation classes. And if that weren’t enough one quick glance around the lobby, with its impressive display of West Virginia art, made me giddy. Read my story on their corporate art collection (page 84). I hope it inspires others to outfit work environments with pieces created by our state’s talented artists.

We have our heart in art in this issue. On page 71, we feature beautiful bowls by some of our state’s talented potters and ceramic artists. And the next time you are in Martinsburg, check out the banners that hang around town. Designed by area residents, they bring vibrant public art to the streets for everyone to enjoy. To share another one of my favorite quotes, from WVU President Gordon Gee, “The arts, quite simply, nourish the soul. They sustain, comfort, inspire. There is nothing like that exquisite moment when you first discover the beauty of connecting with others in celebration of larger ideals and shared wisdom.”

It is time for us and West Virginia to soar to new heights.


Nikki Bowman, Editor

Nikki Bowman
Written by Nikki Bowman
Nikki Bowman, a West Virginia native, is the founder and owner of New South Media, Inc., which publishes the critically acclaimed WV Living, WV Weddings, West Virginia Focus, Explore, and Morgantown magazines. In January 2015, her company also took over the editorial and design of Wonderful West Virginia magazine. She graduated from West Virginia University and received her master’s degree in Writing from DePaul University in Chicago.