For those I haven’t yet met, please allow me this opportunity to briefly introduce myself. My name is James Shepherd, and I will be serving this year as the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member with the Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton, West Virginia.
I was born near Richmond, Virginia, and have lived in its suburbs for most of my life. However, my family’s roots in Rockbridge County, as well as my own childhood memories growing up among the Blue Ridge of Franklin County, Virginia have instilled a love of Appalachia in me. When my wife Rachel was presented with the opportunity to serve as the pastor of Marlinton Presbyterian Church, I knew that it would feel like home. We have been blessed to find a wonderful sense of community here, and the town boasts the essentials to make us feel not too far-removed from the city life we’d become accustomed to.
Upon our arrival in West Virginia, the Pocahontas County Opera House immediately stood out to us as a bright spot of diverse cultural activity. When I learned how much its Foundation was doing with a limited budget and only one part-time staff member, I resolved to involve myself with this vital organization. I began volunteering in April of 2016, taking to heart the advice a friend offered me while we were still considering the move to Marlinton – that the community here is what you make of it. That is, if I wanted to see the Opera House continue as a vibrant cultural heart in our community, I would have to pitch in and do my part.
As my involvement with the Opera House continued and deepened, we began to explore the possibility of collaborating with another organization to expand my service as an AmeriCorps member. In the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, we found the perfect partner, both for the Opera House in general, and for me in particular. PAWV’s emphasis on community investment, non-profit development, and education via putting historic properties to creative use meshed perfectly with our Foundation’s vision and mission.
My service this year is focused on the preservation and promotion of the Opera House as well as developing community partnership and involvement with the organization. In that capacity, I will be working to recruit and coordinate volunteers, develop community arts and heritage events, and research and present the Opera House’s unique history. I will also be involved in expanding the capacity of expanding our organization’s capacity to host events by working alongside the Town of Marlinton to develop an adjacent lot into an outdoor event space. Additionally, I will be involved in heading our Youth Engagement Initiative, with the goal to develop the young people of our community into stake-holders in this institution.
I trust that my background in history and education – both of which I studied as an undergraduate at Grove City College in western Pennsylvania – will serve me well in this position, as I seek to research and present the history of this unique community space to others. Similarly, as I seek to build the volunteer corps supporting and surrounding the Opera House, I will rely upon my experience with recruiting and leading volunteer teams, most of which was gained through my involvement with church organizations over the years.
On the whole, this is a unique opportunity to serve with a truly outstanding organization and develop partnerships with the wonderful people of Pocahontas County and surrounding areas. It’s a true gift to have such a meaningful place to serve as I seek to integrate and invest in my new home, and I look forward to seeing where the future takes not only myself or the Opera House, but where it takes our wider community. I trust that with shared vision and a willingness to work alongside one another, that future will be as strong and bright as our past – I can’t want to see what it holds.