What do solar panels, e-sports, and telehealth all have in common? At the community center in Chestnut Ridge, The Epicenter, they all play a role in revitalizing the health and vibrancy of Philippi, WV.
Located in the heart of Appalachia, Barbour County is in northern West Virginia. Philippi has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic’s effects. The community also faces the 11th highest poverty rate of the 55 counties in the state, with the lack of opportunity leading to poor health outcomes for residents. Perhaps the most vulnerable are the youth of the community; many who lack caring mentors and safe spaces to play.
This spring marks the 11th year of operations for New Vision, the local Leadership Foundation of Philippi. A little over a decade ago a group of volunteers, kids, adults and everyone in between came together to install the first solar power panels at the People’s Chapel, a local church. Soon after, the team became New Vision and their vision didn’t stop with solar power.
After years of planning, New Vision launched a bold vision to create a community center to be on the frontlines of fighting these challenges and creating opportunities for the people of Philippi to thrive. They called it “The Epicenter.”
The Epicenter offers a multitude of spaces where youth engage in healthy activities, including robotics, carpentry, sports, videogame competitions, and more.
The goal: prevention and improved outcomes for kids. The Epicenter creates a safe, structured space for youth to play and learn, decreasing the likelihood they will encounter and use substances. They also have the opportunity to form relationships and find community, leading to better mental and physical health outcomes.
“The lack of physical health is connected to the lack of physical play. Much of the cure of isolation and depression is found by creating this neighborhood space that is open, engaging and the place to be,” said Ruston Seaman, Program Director and President of New Vision. Ultimately the community center creates a space for kids to thrive. But the Epicenter’s work doesn’t stop there.
One of the kids most beloved after school activities at the Epicenter is e-sports, or videogame competitions. The kids wanted to start an e-sports league but could not because of the lack of broadband access. But recently the Epicenter was able to invest in a high-speed solution, allowing for more than just e-sports.
Thanks to the new broadband access, Crittenton Services will now house their telehealth clinic in the Epicenter. Crittenton focuses on programs that specialize in providing care for children and families who have experienced violence, substance abuse, trauma, and mental illness. The partnership is another key building block of healing and building healthy families. Supporting families holistically makes communities safer for kids.
The partnership means a lot to the surrounding community. Ruston said, “Telehealth trauma-informed mental health support is huge in a community where poverty and racism and all the ills of a struggling economy plague the healthy development of people.”
Trauma-informed care seeks to acknowledge an individual’s history of trauma and act responsively to promote recovery. The practice improves long-term health outcomes. It offers hope in healing the wounds of poverty and substance abuse.
New Vision began with people coming together to transform their community. As the Epicenter draws in more people, the power of relationships is helping turn the tide of poverty and substance abuse. Philippi is becoming a place where children and families’ flourish. The sound of children playing throughout the Epicenter reminds us of the hope that communities can transform from battlegrounds to playgrounds.