Looking Back on an Unprecedented Year

On Friday, December 18, we marked the end of an unprecedented year with a virtual Coalfield Development Council holiday conference to reflect on our progress, celebrate our team’s personal and professional accomplishments and plan for the future.

Leaders from employment-based enterprises and internal personnel presented their highlights and takeaways from the previous year, as well as any major career and educational milestones they may have reached along the way.

Fairfield WRAPS Crew 

Megan Mounts, of the Fairfield WRAPS crew, spoke to her team’s collective progress as they completed training, learned new skills and put their new skills to use. Through this experience, Megan said, she and the rest of the crew developed ways to communicate more effectively, maintain workplace relationships and hone their abilities to focus and problem solve.

“None of us are who we were upon hire,” Megan said. “Our past does not define us at Coalfield. We’ve learned as individuals to have the courage to change and although some things are only temporary, they deserve your all, all the time.”

Mulching tunnels at West Edge Factory, she said, gave her a renewed sense of purpose — and an opportunity to use a chainsaw for the first time.

“Looking back at the before and after, I’m amazed at how our community created something that brought the community together,” Megan said. “I think we loved a lot of stuff back to life, and it’s been a great overall experience for all of us.”


From SustainU at West Edge Factory, Allen Stapleton reported a “lot of success and bright spots” in 2020, including the recent birth of crew member Barbie Mason’s daughter, Emma, and the introduction of the West Virginia Wall of Fame.

When the coronavirus pandemic began to spread throughout the region, the crew quickly adapted to working from home, where they continued working diligently toward their personal development goals by acquiring new skills and certifications. The West Virginia Wall of Fame, located at West Edge Factory, boasts each member’s recently acquired certifications.

“It’s a big deal to achieve that,” Allen said. “Even though we weren’t [working] in the same room together, we had the same mindset and spirit.”

In Morgantown, Tyler Fetty, director of graphic design and digital sales at SustainU, spoke to the significance of investing in community engagement during an otherwise isolating time.

Chris Yura, SustainU founder, reported that this year, SustainU had been able to forge more strategic partnerships, empower more social entrepreneurs through the seed fund and take on an ambitious $100,000 fundraising goal for this year. By mid-December, Yura reported that the team was less than $2,000 away from reaching their fundraising finish line.

Revitalize Appalachia

At Revitalize, Jeremiah Devote used a slideshow to illustrate progress made in recent undertakings, like in playgrounds and apartments. Crew member Golden Smith, who recently got his GED, will be starting school in January, Jeremiah added.

West Edge Factory

Luke Huffman, property manager of West Edge Factory, reported some of the difficulties encountered this year and highlighted the unexpected progress from fellow crew member, Jaron.

“Jaron, from the very beginning, I hate to say this, but I didn’t think he’d make it through the first couple days, to be honest,” Luke said. “Seeing him flourish at the Cabell County VOTEC and Saw’s Edge, I couldn’t be prouder personally. I’m really proud of Jaron Ekers.”

Saw’s Edge

Jaron Ekers reviewed Saw’s Edge’s handcrafted items placed throughout the community in the Summit Beer Station in downtown Huntington and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. Next year, the crew plans to focus on crafting new prototypes, including standing desks, wall hanging desks and plant stands.

Charleston WestSide WRAPS Crew

Elijah Swain, with our Charleston WRAPS program, reported progress in rehabilitating three homes in his community.  The crew plans to finish demolition, cleaning and rehabilitation to sell in the next three months. This is part of a larger community revitalization plan in collaboration with Keep Your Faith Corporation.

Development Team

Chief Development Officer Marilyn Wrenn reported three new hires, four WRAPS cohorts, including the first out-of-state cohort, managed 16 embedded trainees and transitioned four to crew positions and began working with four new partners through WRAPS.

Marilyn also praised the launch of an online training program that has helped nearly 40 learners earn 440 certifications throughout the year. Since June, the team has also made strides to diversify their staff. 

Marilyn said the team also helped to manage 46 grants that the organization controls and wrote, reviewed and applied for 22 grants, raising over $4 million in the process.

Finance Team

From the Finance team, staff accountant Yang Zhang expressed gratitude for his fellow team members’ efficiency and effectiveness as they navigated through the year with unanticipatedly expanded roles.

“It is a bad year, but we have to keep moving,” Yang said. “So, 2021 is going to be a new year with new challenges, but I think the finance team has the confidence and we’re ready to face all the challenges we’ll have in 2021.”

Revitalize Real Estate Projects

Nick Guertin, design manager of Revitalize Appalachia, applauded the team’s efforts to learn more about property management as they constructed quality homes that local families will soon live in.


Though the coronavirus pandemic initially “took the wind” out of the sails for Coalfield Development’s Conservation efforts, Conservation Coordinator Jacob Hannah said the team accomplished far more than anticipated, including progress with the Black Diamond remediation process, progress in repurposing abandoned mine lands and the interior renovation of the West Edge space.

The installation of solar panels at West Edge Factory, funded by the Alex Honnold Foundation, will also neutralize the building’s energy consumption footprint, Jacob added. Through the ReUse Corridor, he reported 84,850 pounds of resources had been saved and repurposed.

CEO Conclusion

Chief Executive Officer Brandon Dennison spoke to the resilience of the team and their perseverance. In looking back on all of this year’s progress, Brandon said that the team had brought Coalfield Development’s vision to life.

“We have this vision for resilient Appalachian communities with socially, environmentally and financially thriving economies that create community conditions for all kinds of people to unlock their full power, potential and purpose,” Brandon said. “On paper, it sounds beautiful, and it’s a beautiful concept in our hearts and our minds, but it’s really cool to see in the work that you all do with your very own hands, you make it possible,” Brandon said. “It’s a whole new economy that you’re building for Appalachia, and I’m so proud of you.”

Though tactics, projects and personnel may change, he said in closing, the Coalfield Development vision will persist — always guiding us with gumption, grit and grace.

Photos Courtesy of Stand Together

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