Appalachian Institute

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Template:Infobox organization The Appalachian Institute at Wheeling Jesuit University is an organization that has since 2002 promoted research, service, and advocacy for and with the people of Appalachia to build healthier, stronger, and more sustainable communities. It is inspired by the Jesuit mission to educate men and women for others,[1] and by the Catholic bishops' two pastoral letters, "This Land Is Home to Me: A Pastoral Letter on Powerlessness in Appalachia" and "At Home in the Web of Life: A Pastoral Message on Sustainable Communities in Appalachia."[2]

A vision articulated

The Institute addresses issues critical to the peoples of Appalachia, including energy and the environment, public health, culture and community development. It facilitates discussion among the people of the region, public forums, workshops, research, advocacy, and immersion experiences for high school and university students, while also animating sustainability programs at Wheeling Jesuit University.[3] The vision behind its work is well expressed by the bishops of the Appalacian region:[4]

The dream of the mountains' struggle, the dream of simplicity and of justice, like so many other repressed visions is, we believe, the voice of the Lord among us. In taking them up, hopefully the Church might once again be known as a center of the Spirit, a place where poetry dares to speak, where the song reigns unchallenged, where art flourishes, where nature is welcome, where in a wilderness of idolatrous destruction, the great voice of God still cries out for life.[5]

The Institute has been supported by 77 collaborators nationwide in promoting the Catholic bishops' "message of hope, a promise that there can be a better way" for the people of Appalachia and for the nation.[6]

Immersion Trips

More than 30 school groups participate in these crash courses intended to leave a lifelong impression after one week's experiences. Evening presentations during the week help participants to understand the situation and the culture of the people. At the end of the week the groups gather together for a call to action, making connections between the situation in Appalachia and their communities back home, learning possibilities for advocacy and action.[7]

Energy immersion

This begins with the presentation of varying perspectives and is followed by a tour. Those presenting are: Chesapeake Energy (involved in Marcellus Shale drilling); Keeper of the Mountains (an activist group concerned about mountaintop removal); WV Coal Association (represents over 90% of West Virginia's coal mining production); Friends of Deckers Creek (acid mine drainage concerns); Downstream Strategies (environmental consulting firm); Mountaineer Wind Energy Center; Center for Coalfield Justice (coordinates efforts for citizens' rights); Whipple Company Store (coal town history tours). Participants learn of the complexity of the issues from the opposing views presented. There is no service component in this experience but participants make excursions from their various living accommodations to see firsthand the beauty of Appalachia and the impact of the mining operations.[8]

Health care immersion

Various immersion opportunities acquaint participants with conditions in the area. Patch 21 – Pre-K and afterschool public health programs; Blood Sugar/Blood Pressure Screening – conduct diabetes testing clinics for rural residents; Rural Clinic and Hospital Shadowing – assist in local clinics; Low-Income Health Care Visits – visit uninsured who have severe health issues; Public Health Programming – interactive presentations by experts on rural health care.[9]

Service immersion

Communication between the participants and local people is facilitated by placement in various service opportunities: Open Door Ministry – preparing, serving, and delivering meals; Housing and Church Rehabilitation – helping with repairs; Catholic Charities – assisting with food pantries, fundraisers, fish fries, and more; Donald Taylor Community Center[10] – building and planting efforts for low-income residents; Long Term Recovery Committees – various programs for victims of disaster; Appalachian Outreach – work in warehouse and loading trucks directed to isolated communities; Head Start – teaching the very young.[11]

Research and advocacy

Research projects facilitated by Appalachian Institute have looked into fracking, sustainability, healthy eating, and economic justice, while the university's own research has covered how manganese in the drinking water might affect the teeth, respiratory effects on children from mountaintop coal mining, coal miners' health care, and the struggle of those living near mountaintop removal sites.[12][13]

The Appalachian Institute's work of education and advocacy has included panel discussions on energy and economic issues,[14] public forums on children's welfare, film screenings on food insecurity, photo exhibits on shale drilling, and cultural celebrations.[15] The Appalachian Institute manages sustainability programs throughout the WJU campus including: The Student Sustainability Club, Campus Garden, Composting, Recycling Initiatives, Campus Energy Challenges, and Reusable Container Initiative.[16]

References

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