Former WV miner seeks to rebuild life after coal
A former miner from Mingo County says the hardest part of starting a new career in southern West Virginia is believing that you can. Jared Blalock from Williamson turned to the Coalfield Development Corporation after the mining jobs dried up. Coalfield combines paid work with community college and life-skills classes. Blalock says with their help, he’s about to finish a two-year degree, which he may transfer to Marshall University. According to Blalock, there are so few opportunities around Williamson that it’s easy to get depressed and give up – and not doing that was key.
“When I say keeping a positive attitude and gritting it out, toughing it out and really goin’ for something, I mean it,” says Blaylock, “because you have to. That’s what I fight hardest each day, is keeping a positive mindset. So always now, I try to think to myself, ‘stay positive, stay positive, keep going, keep going.”
The Trump administration is convinced that loosening environmental regulations will reopen the mines. Despite that, most economic analysts expect little or no boost to coal jobs in the near term.
West Virginia also has had the worst rate of opioid overdose deaths in the country. And Blalock says when people feel hopeless, it’s a lot easier to turn to drugs than many realize.
“The only thing that separates people is choices,” says Blaylock. “I could make a choice to get on drugs, and it’s easier. People don’t really realize how easy it is to fall in that road when you’re going through depression, and when you feel like ‘there’s nothing I can do’.”
Coalfield Development operates programs making high-end cabinetry and wood products, installing solar-power systems, growing commercial-scale vegetable gardens and remodeling low-cost housing. Employees like Blalock work in one of those areas about 30 hours a week. They also take six semester hours of community college and three hours a week of life-skills training, on topics like budgeting and professionalism.
Thanks to the WV News Service for the information in this story.