I Completed the Community Leader Internship Program, And This Is What I Learned…

If you’ve never heard of the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, their mission is “to enhance the vibrancy of the Upper Ohio Valley through meaningful charitable actions, strategic and initiative-driven investments, and thoughtful community leadership.” This involves offering scholarships to local students, grants, and programs that help community engagement. One of their programs is a summer Community Leadership Intern Program (CLIP) which places college students at local companies and nonprofit organizations according to their field of study. I was lucky enough to participate in the CLIP program this past summer, and I hope that by sharing my experience, others will be inspired to apply themselves. 

Since I am a finance major, the CFOV placed me at Main Street Bank in Wheeling. Monday through Thursday, I worked at the bank with my coworker, Sarah Heilman, a second-year intern in the program. However, every Friday Sarah and I joined the other interns in the program for various tours and guest speakers in the local area. When CFOV told me I was accepted as one of the interns, I was very glad, but I did not realize then how impactful of an experience it would be. It helped me learn about the importance of Main Street Bank and others like it to the greater community, how new businesses are changing Wheeling for the better, and how my generation can participate in the continued revitalization of Wheeling.

First Impressions

My first point of contact through the CLIP program was Debbie Stanton, program officer of the CFOV, who did a very good job organizing and leading many of our activities. She is devoted to the local community and is proud of the previous students of CLIP who now have successful careers, several of which are in the Ohio Valley. I am grateful for her organization of both my time at the bank as well as which activities we did on Fridays. Susie Nelson, CFOV Executive Director and Nick Muskgrave, CFOV Director of Development, also lent their expertise to the program. I appreciated Nick as an example of a young person choosing to settle in Wheeling and make a life for himself here. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to see the treasure we have in our community. For example, it has been easy for many of my peers to see the difficulties a small town might face and decide to leave, but I have learned that these difficulties might not be problems as much as they are opportunities. The community foundation helped me see that the achievements of larger cities are possible here. It just takes the vision and initiative to see change through.

Gaining Career Experience

My time at Main Street Bank was very educational. As I had not yet taken a course in university on banking, I learned for the first time several of the functions within a bank. In particular, I learned the importance of community banks. My coworker and I shadowed one of Main Street’s credit analysts, Nick Sparachane. We learned about his position as well as his journey from WVU to Main Street Bank. He showed us how to fill out financial information on tax returns and gave us advice from his experience of college life and finding good work. Donnie Sheller, Main Street’s Chief Operating Officer, was Sarah and my main supervisor while at Main Street Bank. He too was a great help in giving us assignments that taught us how the bank processed loans, stock ownership forms, and other financial information. He also generously shared his career experiences and aspects of the various jobs in banking he has had. He made sure Sarah and I were welcome at the bank and gave helpful feedback on whatever task we had completed.

2022 CLIP Cohort.

Sarah and I also worked with Beyond Marketing to create promotional material for some of the bank’s new products and digital features. This was very fun and informative as Sarah and I came to further appreciate the role of marketing within a business. Sarah and I also had the opportunity to meet Main Street Bank’s president, Rich Lucas. He explained how he and the other founders of the bank decided to start Main Street and all the planning it took. He understands that the bank does not function merely as a place for lending and capital maintenance. He explained that the bank is an active and important participant in the community surrounding it. It gives potential to the individuals and businesses which make up the community. All my experience at Main Street showed that finance in its varied forms provides people the ability to live more fully and abundantly.

The Value of Community

Fridays were spent learning more about the community we call home. Our first Friday program was with Debbie Stanton, who had all the interns make individual vision boards. We all cut out scraps from magazines and pasted them onto boards, indicating our desires for our future selves. It was interesting to see the variety of goals and attractions we had. The boards featured family life, favorite foods, career paths, personal characteristics, favorite musicians and sports players, fashion styles, and religious affiliations. Through this activity, I saw in our group the great potential to affect change in each of our hometowns, for the CFOV draws interns from several counties in the Ohio Valley. 

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One common theme that I noticed among several of the Friday gues speakers was that young people sometimes have greater opportunities available to them in a smaller city like Wheeling than some of the larger ones they choose instead. Many of Wheeling’s senior-level professionals are relatively close to retirement. They are looking for reliable and competent replacements when they decide to step down. Unfortunately, many of the would-be candidates for such work have left the area. In a situation like this, younger professionals may be able to make a larger impact on their community far sooner than they would make that same impact in a larger city, if they even got to make it there.

One of our Friday programs early into the summer was a tour of Touchstone Research Laboratory by its CEO, Brian Joseph. He opened the tour with a presentation on Wheeling and its rich history of innovation and manufacturing. He pointed out that we ought to have far greater esteem for the city considering what it has accomplished before. He discussed the Suspension Bridge as a marvel of its time and impressive for its endurance. He went through a list of manufacturing methods and practices which originated in Wheeling, as well as several patents which started here

Brian Joseph showed us that we can have very successful careers here and how we can start something new if it is not already here. He then toured us around some of the various parts of the facility. He showed us the production and storage of C-Foam, one of their most significant inventions, as well as the many large machines and forms of equipment used to make such materials. 

We also learned from business leaders of all varieties, including The Health Plan, The Bridge Tavern, Good Mansion, and Grow Ohio Valley. We also got to meet with city leaders, including Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott. Mayor Elliott shared with us his own example of making his way back to Wheeling after starting a career outside of the area. I realized through this example how Wheeling is full of undervalued opportunities.

In addition to learning about all of the business successes in Wheeling, we also got to experience Wheeling’s growing arts and recreation scene. One afternoon we took a public art walking tour with Nick Musgrave, where we learned about all of the interesting murals and monuments around town and the people who created them. Walking through town, we passed Towngate Theater, which itself is a great source of art and culture to the local area. 

On another Friday, Debbie took us to Grand Vue Park and had us go on the zip line, ride their giant swing, and pass through their obstacle course. It was very fun both doing these things and witnessing the reactions of my fellow interns to them. We did not even get to see the other features of Grand Vue or go to Oglebay Park as a group. Oglebay and its contribution to the local area were discussed, though. A friend of mine from Ohio has remarked several times to me how impressive Oglebay park is, especially for a town of our size. 

Ziplining at Grand Vue Park.

Above all else, we learned firsthand that there are things to do in the area. There are several ways to have fun and enjoy the resources available to us. Sometimes that takes some extra initiative and community engagement on our part, but what we find is well worth it. There is much to enjoy here.

Building a Brighter Future At Home

It is my hope that more people of my generation and those that come after us realize the beauty and necessity of community. Especially after COVID, so many people have lived apart from each other, with many relationships seeming disconnected or lacking the intimacy they once had. As humans, we are built for relationships. We need each other to survive. We certainly need each other to thrive. And for those of us from the area, it is good to be near your family and other familiar faces. Having such people around you can bring a strong sense of stability in an otherwise unstable world. I understand why so many people leave small towns like Wheeling: specific career paths not available to them there, wanting to see more of the world, desire for the resources of a larger city, wanting to build new networks, etc. I too have thought this way before. In finance, as long as I do well in school and pursue opportunities, I could find work wherever there are financial resources to work with. But maybe the elements I desire in other places can be made manifest here. Maybe the characteristics you desire elsewhere are already here, and you just haven’t found them yet. Perhaps the desires of our hearts can be satisfied by returning to the communities that shaped them and improving those communities with the gifts they gave us. 

My experience with the CFOV CLIP program gave me a fresh perspective on the opportunities that exist in my own backyard. It was a transformative experience that I hope other college students get to experience for themselves. If you or someone you know would be interested in the CFOV, visit their website at https://www.cfov.org/. They are currently accepting applications for the CLIP program through January 31. Lear more about the CLIP program and apply online at at www.cfov.org/community-leader/

• Adam Marquart was born and raised in Wheeling, WV where he attended Wheeling Park High school. He has been very involved in local theater and enjoys learning more about his hometown. He also enjoys reading, writing, singing, painting, talking with friends and family, and managing the Confraternity of St. Nicholas. He is currently a student of Finance at West Virginia University.