Photographer: Kevin Riddell
Future Women of Appalachia co-founders Brittany Wolverton (left) and Shea Daniels (right) participate in a group activity with fellow Appalachian Scholars.
Photographer: Kevin Riddell
Sep 29, 2010
By Alyse Lamparyk
As an Appalachian Scholar, Shea Daniels is no stranger to the conditions of the region. She was raised in Huntington Township, Ohio, and her school district was tied with Trimble for poorest in the state.
Regardless, her family always stressed the importance of education. And eventually, Daniels’ love of reading led her to pursue a creative writing major at Ohio University.
Daniels came to OHIO thinking her educational experience was similar to that of her peers, but soon came to find out that it was not.
“I played catch-up a lot. I studied a lot,” Daniels recalls.
Even the dialect at the University – a far cry from the regional dialect she had grown up with – was difficult to grasp.
Daniels was comforted by similarities among Ohio University’s Appalachian student population, many of whom she met through the Appalachian Scholars program. The program offers scholarships to high school graduates living in the 29 counties that comprise Appalachian Ohio.
Though the program is successful in recruiting Appalachian students, getting to campus is only half the battle, according to Daniels.
“You take a student from a forest, and you bring them here. And, this is like ‘Metropolis, USA’ if you’re from a forest. This is a culture shock,” she explained.
Daniels knows all too well that there are many ways to falter and that an important part of adjustment is finding a group of people to share the experience.
Thinking back to their upbringing, she and fellow Appalachian Scholar Brittany Wolverton realized that many young girls from Appalachia lack the support necessary to sidestep common pitfalls.
On this premise, the two women went on to found Future Women of Appalachia (FWA), whose mission is to help Appalachian girls discover the potential for a bright future.
The inspiration for FWA traces back to winter quarter 2009, when Assistant Director for Educational and Scholastic Programs Mark Skillings charged scholars to create a meaningful service-learning project. Daniels and Wolverton’s idea became a reality in January 2010, when the group was formally recognized as a student organization.
According to Daniels, many of the Appalachian region’s problems stem from a lack of opportunity. She referred to the cyclical poverty often found in Appalachia and the abuse and dysfunction that may result from it.
“Pretty much every girl we meet, no matter how happy and smart and beautiful and talented she is, we know that many of her dreams are not going to come true,” Daniels said.
But that does not stop FWA from trying or continuing to inspire. The group is working toward creating opportunities for young girls in the region, through mentorships and related programming.
Connections with outside groups such as Girl Power, an organization that works with girls in the Trimble school system, and Ohio Management Group, allow FWA to host events that would otherwise be beyond their budget.
The university has also helped FWA in a myriad of ways.
“Every time we went looking for resources on campus, we found them,” Daniels said of needs ranging from establishing connections as a new group to putting together goodie bags for visiting girls.
This fall, FWA is working with the Ohio Management Group to bring ninth through eleventh grade girls from schools in the Appalachian region to Ohio University’s Athens campus for a taste of college life. Last spring, FWA helped host a similar excursion with Girl Power members.
After facilitating the campus visits, the members serve as pen pals to past visitors, fostering mentorships and writing practice.
The organization will also help to promote today’s Appalachian Heritage Day events, a university-wide celebration of the region’s history and culture.
“While our involvement may be small this year, we hope it impacts students and faculty in a way such that Appalachia is given the attention it deserves—applause for its strength and assistance with its weaknesses,” said Wolverton, president of FWA.
Daniels, who currently serves as “Director of Big Ideas” for the group is excited to see how the event will impact the OHIO community. According to Daniels, FWA serves as proof of the university community’s support for the region – support that she hopes to expand.
Though promoting the region is an aim of FWA, its primary focus is helping individuals, according to the organization’s vice president, Shannon Moore.
“Many of the young girls we work with may not think that they can get to college or succeed at what they want to do, and our goal is to reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, you can do what you want to do,’ she said.
For now, FWA is working with other organizations to plan campus visits. One day, they also hope to provide haircuts and shopping trips to young girls who are not used to such treatment, said Daniels.
Additionally, the group is working toward establishing scholarships for young women from Appalachia to attend Ohio University.
Skillings said he is thrilled to see how FWA has developed out of his original assignment.
“I am one who believes in experiential education and more of a constructivist view on the learning process, which can be challenging at times because you give the focus of learning over to the learner,” Skillings said. “But when you have students as committed, creative and passionate as Shea and Brittany, the results can be astounding.”
More information about Future Women of Appalachia (FWA) can be found at http://fwaohio.blogspot.com/ or by contacting the group at FWAOhio@gmail.com.
Meetings are held every other Wednesday in the Women’s Center on the fourth floor of Baker University Center. The next meeting will be held Oct. 13 at 3:30 p.m.