John Denver may have been unkind to our ECD brethren in Toledo when he called Saturday nights there “like being nowhere,” but he made some amends with his love song to West Virginia.
I-64 may not be a typical “Country Road” but it takes you home to Charleston, the eagles’ nest of the Appalachians and pinnacle of the PRSA West Virginia chapter.
The chapter was founded in 1979 and serves the entire mountain state. Though the roads are like a rollercoaster ride, they all truly lead to Charleston, where Interstates I-64, I-77, and I-79 converge. Many PR pros find their way there to learn, work, or attend events.
West Virginia is so rich in wilderness that your arrival in Charleston is startling. Nestled between the hills and the Kanawha River is a city of 50,000, the largest in the state and the state capital.
But chapter leadership treats members like a big family, and that means sharing the love. They make a deliberate effort to spread chapter events across the state. Country roads lead to many homes, and after all, West Virginia is the “mountain mama.”
PRSA West Virginia is the ECD Chapter Spotlight for November 2021. Kaylin Staten, APR and chair-elect for the 2022 ECD board, is a member of the PRSA-WV Chapter and a past-president of the former River Cities Chapter.
PRSA West Virginia President Jennifer Goddard provided the Chapter Spotlight survey just as her chapter completed one of its signature events, the Nov. 16, 2021 Hall of Fame Induction ceremony at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media.
The honorees included Cathryn Harris, Joe Gollehon, and former ECD administrator Diane Slaughter, all APR and all PRSA Fellows. Charlie Ryan, APR, was inducted virtually.
“It was a hybrid event planned and executed beautifully by the PRSSA students at West Virginia University and supported by the Marshall and West Virginia State University PRSSA chapters,” said Jennifer.
“Members of our Hall of Fame represent the best of our profession through their career excellence, mentoring of others and community involvement demonstrated over decades,” Jennifer told West Virginia News. “They are the best of the best.”
Our ECD chapters are as individual as their environs. Shine the beam of the Chapter Spotlight on each chapter and the light will bounce back differently. It reflects the culture, personality, and organic innovations of each organization.
For PRSA West Virginia, the Hall of Fame inductions has become an opportunity to connects the wisdom of senior practitioners with the energy and ideas of those early in their careers.
“The Hall of Fame ceremony also supports the next, diverse generation of upcoming PR professionals — those who will follow in our footsteps and need our support and encouragement,” is how the chapter describes the connection.
“PRSSA Chapters at WVU, West Virginia State University and Marshall University are collaborating to raise funds for their chapters to support programming and assistance in membership fees. WVU PR students and their chapters of PRSSA are responsible for our ceremony as part of their capstone project.”
Before we turn to the PRSA West Virginia Spotlight Survey… a few words about this “mountain mama.”
It was country roads only when the Charleston area was settled by pioneers, who moved west after the Revolution. Fort Lee, the first permanent settlement, was built in 1788 by Col. Savannah Clendenin and his company of Virginia Rangers. Daniel Boone was an early resident and a member of the Kanawha County Assembly.
Legend has it that Charleston was first named “Charles Town” after Col. Clendenin’s father, Charles. It was later shortened to “Charleston” to avoid confusion with another Charles Town in the eastern part of the state, which was named after George Washington’s brother, Charles.
As rebrand brainstorming often go, “Chuck Town” never got any traction.
The discovery of salt brines along the Kanawha River, and the first salt well in 1806 created great economic growth.
Charleston, like much of western Virginia, was divided in loyalty and the dispute over slavery between the Union and the Confederacy. West Virginia broke away and became the 35th U.S. state in 1863.
The North wanted West Virginia for economic reasons. Heavy industry, particularly the steel business of the upper Ohio River region, depended on coal. Early in the Civil War, Federal units from Ohio marched into western Virginia solely to capture the coal mines.
A century and a half later, the debate continues about the future of energy, the economy, and the balance of power in a divided government. Just ask Sen. Joe Manchin: you get a pretty good view from the Mountain State. His publicist is of course available to take your questions!
PRSA WEST VIRGINA CHAPTER SPOTLIGHT WITH PRESIDENT JENNIFER GODDARD:
Give us a brief history of your chapter.
Our chapter was founded in 1979 and serves the entire Mountain State. At our peak in the mid-1990s, we had more than 150 members, four PRSSA chapters and more than 20 APRs. We are currently 79 members strong.
Who are your current executive officers?
President: Jennifer Goddard, APR
President-Elect: Jordan Ferrell
Treasurer: Dr. Ali Ziyati
Secretary: Brett White
Describe your membership.
Our membership is quite diverse with many solo practitioners, corporate members, state government communications, non-profits and small businesses.
What is normally your biggest project of the year?
Typically, we have a really strong Crystal Awards program with hundreds of entries, a festive gathering for the awards presentations and engagement across the entire state, involvement of students and professionals.
How has your chapter pivoted with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Like most, we moved programs online and offered free or discounted programs beginning in March of 2020. We quickly shifted a professional development program to all virtual in April.
How is your chapter leaned into Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
We are developing our programs with an eye to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We partner with our Young Professionals and we are engaging students to help us keep all aspects of DEI in our programming, recruitment and membership goals.
What is your chapter’s proudest achievement?
We have developed a Hall of Fame, now in its third year. It celebrates the hard work of our long term members who have contributed to the growth and excellence in our state’s public relations legacy. Not only have we honored some outstanding professionals, we partner with the PRSSA chapters to plan and host the event. This gives students an opportunity to plan an important event, but they act as ambassadors to the honorees. The proceeds from the event are divided by the PRSSA chapters.
Any “little known/fun facts” about your chapter to share?
At one time we had one of the highest percentages of APRs in the country.
What’s your secret to a “happy chapter”?
Listening to our members and making conscious effort to fulfill our status as a statewide chapter. We have been deliberate in hosting events in every region of the state and removed the focus on the capital city.
Do you have a preferred contact email in case other ECD chapters have a question for you? firstname.lastname@example.org