The focus of my research has been on the unincorporated communities of Monongalia County, specifically the Crown, Core, and Arnettsville area. I grew up in the dense suburbs of New Jersey, so researching these rural towns was extremely eye-opening for me. One thing that I found surprising in my initial research was that western Monongalia County only has one combined middle and high school, Clay-Battelle, that serves the entire county west of Morgantown. Students in the communities I was looking into would have to drive about thirty minutes to get to school. I was also surprised at how little coverage these communities get in the news. I was aware coming into the project that we would be covering underserved communities, but the sheer lack of articles in local papers like the Dominion Post was shocking.
As a result of my initial research, I had a decent idea of what to expect when I actually went out to see these communities. However, I don’t think I really understood just how remote it can feel in places like Crown and Arnettsville, despite only being about twenty minutes from an urban area. Just a few miles outside of Morgantown, the entire vibe switches from densely populated urban sprawl to rural farmlands. Having grown up in the heart of the suburbs, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live so far away from anything you would need. I discovered, though, that the people who live in these areas are completely content with their situations–they like the quiet and simplicity of their lives and are willing to sacrifice the commute to the grocery store to maintain it.
The remote feel of these communities is partially how I landed on looking into senior services as my focus. When I was first looking for local contacts, I came across Hagans Christian Church. Churches can often be the tether that ties a community together, and this is definitely true of Hagans Christian Church. In speaking with the lead pastor, Isaac Harmon, I learned about how the church has to step in to fill many gaps that are lacking in this rural area, especially with their senior members. This community is not only far from necessary resources, but it also does not have great mobile reception, which only makes it more isolating. Elderly people who are no longer able to provide for themselves are basically stuck. However, many are still determined to remain in their homes, and therefore rely on the church to help them.
While I felt that this story was an important one, it also proved to be equally difficult. When trying to work with elderly people, it can be difficult to get in touch with them. I had to rely almost entirely on the contacts provided for me by Isaac Harmon, and even then most of them ended up falling through. Further, these are elderly people who have been living in this area for a long time–they like their peace and quiet and don’t want some young journalist snooping around.
These difficulties led me to still having some unanswered questions by the end. One of my biggest questions is how is everyone so unaware of the services that actually are available? In my interviews, people didn’t know of any senior services that would travel far outside of Morgantown. In reality, there are resources that represent the entire county and come at low cost–which was another challenge for elderly people on a fixed income. I began wondering, is this an Internet connection issue? Is it a problem of these services not having enough exposure or advertisement? Or is it just that people don’t know where to look? I was able to find the information about resources easily, which is why it puzzled me how unaware people were, despite the lack of senior services being one of their biggest complaints.