It feels impossible that I’ve been Executive Director of Try This for a full year, as I came on in September of 2020. It feels like deja vu as we see this pandemic continue to change the face of what’s possible, and of what’s “normal”. In the past year I’ve worked virtually and met few people face-to-face, and being healthy has been a harder goal to reach in this time of uncertainty. To put it simply, it’s been a challenge, and it looks like that challenge isn’t going away quite yet.
But what I’ve learned in this year - which has been both short and long in so many ways - is how incredibly resilient, creative, and dedicated West Virginians are. From finding ways to “prescribe” movement and healthy food to patients, to pivoting minigrant projects to meet the needs of the community, to learning how to be more equitable in the way we help folks access health, I’m truly in awe of what the projects, partners, and community organizers we work with were able to achieve. I can say that this year has been one of learning for me and for Try This, as we adapt to what the world looks like as it faces new obstacles and new opportunities.
In a year, Try This has accomplished some amazing things in collaboration with other healthy-community organizations and individuals. To name a few, we’ve trained and worked with four incredible AmeriCorps volunteers; organized and hosted four virtual Regional Gatherings; hosted 2 statewide Paddling brainstorms; hosted a total of ten Online Connections events, netting over 6,300 participants and viewers; trained 346 WV educators in mindfulness and yoga practices; granted 9 minigrant projects in October of 2020, and 22 in June of 2022; and developed four Regional Networks. We also organized an incredible Conference, even though we had to make the difficult decision to cancel due to COVID safety concerns. All of that was made possible by our outstanding team, collaborative network, and a ton of hard work.
And with a year of success to reflect on, I’m even more excited to see what the next one brings. As a preview, Try This hopes to build our online presence, continuing to host virtual events and bolstering our new website. We are also adding two new Regional Networks - Southern WV and the Eastern Panhandle - which will allow us to expand our reach, deepen our connection, and help communities learn and grow across county lines. We will be hosting more Regional Gatherings, growing new relationships, and finding ways to get folks healthy in innovative and inspiring ways. And we are continuing to celebrate our successes and reflect on how we can improve, something that has always made Try This an organization that can weather any change, big or small.
And change really is upon us. Try This is currently saying goodbye to our 2020/2021 AmeriCorps, who made my first year unforgettable. Their efforts have built the foundation for the Regional Network structure Try This is continuing to build. We are also saying farewell to Try This founder, former director, and media coordinator Kate Long, who was instrumental in helping me learn the ropes and find my feet in this role, as she leaves our fulltime staff. See her note to you, which is a piece you shouldn't miss. We are endlessly grateful for what Try This is because of her, and excited for what she takes on next - maybe even some future projects for Try This!
These losses feel bittersweet; we’re sending some of our Try This team members into bigger and better things with new skills and relationships, but our weekly meetings won’t be the same without their brilliant minds and positive energy.
But some changes are thrilling for the future of our organization. Try This is also bringing on six new AmeriCorps, who will live and serve in our six Regional Networks. Try This is also hiring a new permanent staff member in the role of Try This Organizer who will help build and maintain the capacity of Try This for the future. With their help, Try This will continue to grow and thrive and adapt to serve communities across the state.
And we need to, because West Virginia still tops too many worst health lists, and there is so much work for all of us to do. I’m humbled at the prospect of directing Try This through these transitions, and I look forward to continuing the work we’ve done and dreaming up new possibilities with the help and input of folks like you. Because Try This is a team beyond our staff and volunteers. It takes each one of us to build healthy communities, and I can’t wait to see what we’ll do next - together.
Try This WV Executive Director
Hello from Try This WV, and happy start-of-school, end-of-summer, almost-autumn time!
What a year!
Spring 2021 note from Brittney Barlett
A few weeks ago, a couple friends and I dug up daffodils in Doddridge County to be used in community projects, thanks to the generosity of Beth Crowder.
On April 18th I delivered some daffodils to JoLynn Powers, Director of Adaland Mansion in Barbour County, and got to see the Alderson Broaddus Rugby Team help Adaland help plant their very own apple orchard! This project was sparked by a Try This minigrant, so it was especially exciting to be able to see it unfold.
Try This funded an orchard, some planting and pruning classes and some take-home seedlings. The Adaland crew also plan to convert a nearby building on the property into cold storage and processing for an apple butter and apple cider operation in collaboration with other local apple orchards. They want to make it a teaching experience for the community, which is something they already do with their historical tours and learning exhibits in the historical mansion and barn.
As part of the Try This minigrant, JoLynn distributed apple trees to the public, partnering with WVU Extension to create an educational video on how to do it yourself. The trees came with a quick run-down by JoLynn, an instructional packet, and a lot of smiles. But it’s not ending there! The folks at Adaland will also be distributing West Virginia apples in the fall with a canning demonstration, teaching folks how to make their very own apple sauce from planting the tree to eating the delicious results!
The thing I heard JoLynn say more than once as she hurried about directing folks, sharing knowledge with every step, was: "This is what it's all about."
She's right. And this often happens with Try This minigrants. A seed is planted, then it just keeps growing.
A community coming together to learn, to create something bigger than themselves, can change lives. People can get healthier and happier. And that's what's happening all across West Virginia right now.
I’m a personal example of this. When I moved to Weston just over six years ago at 24, I had never been involved in a sense of “community”. I’d never volunteered or engaged in organizing efforts. But within my first year, after securing a job as a teacher and finding myself struggling to find friends and meaning in our new home, my husband convinced me to go to a Lewis County First meeting, a local volunteer group focused on making our community better.
Despite dragging my feet about it, I went. And two days later, I was out in the Jane Lew Park drilling together the first of 24 community garden beds for a project I still help manage until this day. And it wasn’t until years later that I discovered that I had helped build a Try This project.
Since then I’ve been involved in two statewide teacher strikes, become an experienced community organizer, managed large community events and projects, volunteered multiple times a week in some capacity, and made connections in every county in West Virginia. Folks come to me now as a leader, and I know that I’m just one story out of 336 minigrant projects since 2014 that have fostered collaboration, created change, and lifted up new leaders who will do great things with the seed Try This has planted.
I can't wait to visit more projects and hear what other projects people are interested in seeing in their area, and I can’t wait to meet the future leaders who will make them happen.
You can contact me at email@example.com.