More than 300 new and returning students from WVU Tech completed more than 1,000 hours of community service Tuesday in the Beckley area for the annual “Golden Bears Give Back Day of Service.”

The annual event kicks off the start of the academic year for Golden Bears, and on Tuesday alone volunteers served at nearly 20 sites over the course of five hours. Notable projects included cleaning and prepping West Virginia HIVE’s new expansion site at the Beckley Presbyterian Church, cleaning buses and assisting on ride-alongs with the Raleigh County Community Action Association and New River Transit Authority, and trail cleanup at Little Beaver State Park.

West Virginia HIVE serves Beckley, Summersville, Lewisburg, and Hinton and works to connect entrepreneurs with the resources and expertise they need to grow successful companies in the state. The HIVE has a main site on WVU Tech’s campus in Beckley, and is currently looking to open another expansion on the campus.  

The HIVE’s new expansion site is currently under construction in the old YMCA Happy Kids Preschool located along South Kanawha Street, right next to Beckley’s Presbyterian Church. Sandy Olinga, the HIVE’s grant coordinator, said for the Day of Service, students were working prep the space for crew workers to come in and start their work. 

“They’re scraping and wiping down walls, that kind of thing, so the guys can come in here and start drywalling and painting,” Olinga explained. “The students are such a huge help.” 

The HIVE recently received a grant to make the new expansion site a “new business incubator space,” Olinga said, which will allow entrepreneurs to meet and discuss topics of funding, ideas and so much more. 

“It will also have a conference space and a co-working space where people can meet together if they need a daily work space or have meetings, just stuff like that,” she said. 

Beckley Councilwoman Ann Worley got down and dirty with WVU Tech students Tuesday as well, as they were working on a building near and dear to her heart. 

Not only is the old preschool center right next to the Beckley Presbyterian Church which is Worley’s church, it holds historical value she wants to see preserved. 

“We’ve partnered with the HIVE because we want to see the building refurbished for a good cause, but we also want to keep it historically correct,” Worley said. 

While pointing to an old wooden door within the building, she noted golden plates drilled into each door. One plated was etched with words saying, “Furnished by the men’s bible class in memory of former members,” and similar plates were drilled into other doors throughout the building. 

Towards the back of the building, a larger room with windows allowing for natural light to come pouring in sits. Small tiles are plastered to the wall, each with a painted handprinted on it of a student who used to attend the preschool. Names of the former students were etched underneath each handprint. 

Under a tiny handprint, the name “Delaney Wykle” is etched in black paint.

Wykle was one of seven people who passed away earlier this summer in a helicopter crash in the Bahamas. She was a 22-year old Beckley native. 

“That’s something special,” Worley said as she pointed to the tile. “We want to keep all of these tiles here to preserve this history as it gets used for something else.” 

Carley Knuckles, a freshman this year at WVU Tech, was one of the many students who gave their time to work on the HIVE expansion Tuesday. She wore a gold t-shirt with the words “Golden Bears Give Back,” on the back of it, and her bright red hair was pulled back in messy bun atop her head.

Knuckles scraped harshly on the walls, attempting to scrape off any old residue. 

“I’m a nursing student,” she explained. “I like to help and I like to give back.”

The Golden Bears Give Back Day of Service is voluntary, so the students volunteering Tuesday did so on their own free will. According to Knuckles, it’s important to give back to the school you’re attending along with the town its in. 

“It’s just what you’re supposed to do, and when I go home every night I feel better knowing I did something good,” she said. “And it’s cool to be a part of helping bring in something new here, like the HIVE.” 

• • •

The Golden Bears Give Back Day of Service wasn’t the only action the HIVE saw on WVU Tech’s campus Tuesday; It even received a visit from U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Co-Chair Tim Thomas.

Although Capito and Thomas didn’t tour the old preschool site where the expansion will take place, they did tour the HIVE located within the Innovation Building on campus. 

Both were shown around the building, taking note of areas allowing young entrepreneurs to be equipped with the tools they need to be successful including areas of business advising, technical assistance and access to a maker space.

The tour was one of several stops for Capito and Thomas, as they participated in a series of events and roundtable discussions throughout the state Tuesday, focusing on regional economic development.

The ARC, which encompasses all of West Virginia, is one of the HIVE’s investors and is an agency representing a partnership of federal, state, and local government. Capito told The Register-Herald the Beckley area needs more opportunities for funding availability because of economic metrics, and the ARC has assisted largely with that. 

“This area is critical that the ARC has helped in terms of trying to get people back on their feet, and trying to help communities that are distressed economically,” she said. “This was a perfect opportunity for us to get tohether and talk to small business owners and those here at the HIVE and the LaunchLab in terms of launching entrepreneurship and small businesses.” 

Thomas called the HIVE on WVU Tech’s campus one of ARC’s proudest investments. 

“We use that HIVE as an example when we talk about supporting innovation and entrepreneurship broadly across the region,” Thomas said. “We typically reference the HIVE as one of our [ARC] projects that others throughout the state can use as a guide.” 

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH

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