All Together. Better.

Before I attended a late afternoon meeting of the New River Valley Economic Development Alliance, I volunteered in the early afternoon at a residential facility group meeting.

Every kind of unspeakable personal, mental, educational, and economic hardship has challenged the facility residents. People have individual responsibility for their choices, of course. But, for example, when parents give their substance of choice to children to "see what the baby will do," or to decrease resistance of the child to what they want to do to them, an adult with that kind of background hardly had a sporting chance.

In treatment, the residents receive a chance to change their lives. They’re in the riskiest of positions, however. They have few skills, little education, and no jobs. Nonetheless, in their own ways, they’re contributing to the New River Valley’s economic development by readying themselves for a return to it.

I’m from here, I was gone, I’m back. I learned of the New River Valley Economic Development Alliance while searching online for organizations sharing my passion: local community and economic development. The Alliance’s mission includes the motto "All together. Better."

The Alliance meeting opened with a discussion of The Roanoke Times article on employment in the New River Valley. Business, finance, education, and political leaders with complex backgrounds and experiences probed the issue intently. What I sensed was people of substance and integrity, who didn’t have to do this at all, uniting their knowledge and wisdom for the common good.

They spoke of remedial schooling, high-tech training, support of start-up businesses like those at VT KnowledgeWorks and others, expansion of current businesses, and attraction of new ones. They were looking out for everyone.

In the New River Valley that the Alliance envisions, even the determined facility residents down the road, straining to hold onto hope, have a chance to catch up, move on, get ahead.

I went to two seemingly very different meetings yesterday, both attended by about the same number of people, both within the New River Valley. I felt moved by almost unbearable inspiration after each one.

At the residential facility, one person rubbed temples to ease a painful headache. At the Alliance, one person winced from shifting a knee fresh from surgery.

But they were there. Real people. Courageous ones, doing what it takes to change one life, to change many lives.

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