The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 4, 2013

More speakers give opinions on how to improve West Virginia

By Wendy Holdren
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — Three new videos from the West Virginia Speaks Up speaker series have been uploaded, all featuring an idea that will make West Virginia a better place to live, work and raise families.

Leslie Baker’s idea is to read — “to ourselves, to our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews and in our schools.”

Baker is the director of operations at the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and she brought some alarming statistics to her WV Speaks Up presentation.

“According to the 2012 Kids Count data book, 73 percent of West Virginia’s fourth-graders are not proficient in reading.”

Baker said reading skills are fundamental and are the foundation for all other types of learning.

She encouraged everyone to get involved with Read Aloud West Virginia, a small nonprofit organization seeking to motivate children to want to read.

She said having better readers will lead to having better students, fewer dropouts, less poverty and crime, and an overall better West Virginia.

Rhayne Thomas, an author, singer and film maker, said she would like to see homelessness and uninhabitable living conditions eliminated in West Virginia.

She was born and raised in New York City, but her father was born and raised in West Virginia — “I’m proud to be a part of a West Virginia coal mining family.”

She said her solution is to combine resources from in-state and out-of-state organizations to help West Virginians learn how to rebuild communities through repurposing, recycling, reusing and restoring uninhabitable homes.

“You can rebuild homes that are affordable and low-cost because the materials are already there.”

Not only will this provide low-cost housing, Thomas said, but it will be a greener way of living. This solution will allow West Virginians to have “pride and value” in their communities.

Dr. Fred Simms, pastor at Heart of God Ministries, also joined in the speaker series to share his ideas.

He referenced an idea brought about by former president George W. Bush to make the U.S. “a kinder and gentler nation.”

He spoke about West Virginia being one of the 10 worst states in the nation for teen pregnancy.

“We need to be more aggressive in providing youth training, character building and communication skills.”

He said parents also need to be more aware of their teens’ biological and emotional changes, and they also need to be actively involved with the education of their children.

Churches can also get involved with helping better West Virginia, Simms said.

He suggested having more temporary shelters for young mothers and their babies.

“Homelessness is a national tragedy.”

He said churches can provide child care services for these young mothers while they receive education or work toward employment.

“We need to become who we are inside the church walls outside the church walls.”

The West Virginia Speaks Up speaker series started as part of the Rocket Boys Festival.

To see these videos and learn more, visit

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