McDowell County is an American story that deserves a new chapter—one filled with promise, with goodwill, with the type of shared commitment that offers solid reasons to believe in a brighter future. Reconnecting McDowell, an unprecedented partnership of public and private groups is helping the citizens write this new chapter. It’s a revision befitting this small Appalachian community, seated deep in the mountains on the southern fringe of West Virginia, where too much of the narrative over the past half-century has been darkened by hardship, isolation and loss.
In the 1960s, the coal industry began pulling out of McDowell County, taking well-paying jobs with them. And while “boom-bust” cycles are common in local economies rooted in natural resources, McDowell County has been stuck on “bust” for 30 years running:
- In 1965, the county boasted more than 120,000 people. Today, barely 22,000 Americans call McDowell County home.
- Almost half the residents receive some form of public assistance.
- Among West Virginia counties, McDowell consistently ranks at or near the bottom in measures of health, income and education.
- The County is the sixth poorest one in the nation
- It leads the nation in the number of overdose deaths from narcotic pain medications
Reconnecting McDowell is a comprehensive, long-term effort to make educational improvement in McDowell County the route to a brighter economic future. Partners from business, foundations, government, nonprofit agencies and labor have committed, in a signed covenant, to seeking solutions to McDowell’s complex problems—poverty, underperforming schools, drug and alcohol abuse, housing shortages, limited medical services, and inadequate access to technology and transportation. Each partner has agreed to provide services, money, products and/or expertise to lift McDowell County’s schools, students and their families.
None of this will be easy or quick; the problems in McDowell County have been decades in the making. But by working together with the amazing people who live there, and by assembling, coordinating and sustaining the educational, social and economic supports they need, we are confident that this resilient community will be on a path to reconnecting its hopes for the future.