Regardless of how much you love our city, I’m sure at one time or another you’ve either heard about or had a discussion with someone about our area’s declining and aging population.

From a statewide perspective, West Virginia is the only state in the nation with a declining population. While that’s all true, it doesn’t necessarily paint an accurate picture of the impact that motivated young people are having on our community.

One such group that I’ve had the honor of being a part of is Generation Wheeling, formerly known as OVConnect. Generation Wheeling is a volunteer board of young people who are committed to providing opportunities for others to feel connected to our community.

NEW NAME, SAME MISSION

Generation Wheeling is one of the newest local affiliates of Generation West Virginia, a statewide organization dedicated to attracting, retaining and advancing young talent in the Mountain State. Generation Wheeling is currently made up of the board members who previously operated OVConnect, a non-profit volunteer board founded by Justin Seibert in 2007. OVConnect’s mission was to allow young professionals to network, give back and develop as individuals — while having fun.

As a volunteer board, we found it increasingly challenging to stay consistent in what we offered our community and were spending a lot of time on the administrative tasks of managing the non-profit. Joining Generation West Virginia has given us the support and structure we needed to ensure longevity. We officially announced this new affiliation in November.

FRESH FACES

One of the most exciting things we’ve witnessed since becoming Generation West Virginia is the surge of new people showing up at events and wanting to learn more about getting involved.

Current and prospective board members met at Generations Restaurant and Pub on Dec. 9 to discuss the future of the organization and their hopes for Wheeling.

We recently put out an open call for new board members and quicky heard back from over 10 people with impressive and diverse backgrounds wanting to join us! What’s been even more amazing than the response rate is learning the reasons for wanting to get involved.

In fact, more people than I expected did not originally grow up here and have chosen Wheeling as their home. To hear non-Wheeling natives talk about what drew them to the area really makes you think about your hometown in a whole new light and appreciate certain things that you might overlook.

Generation Wheeling hosted a Friendsgiving Happy Hour on Nov. 13 as its first Generation Wheeling event. There were posters placed around the bar prompting attendees to share thoughts about living in West Virginia.

GET INVOLVED

So, what’s next for us? Only time will tell.

We’re in the process of bringing on a new group of board members who will help us create a strategic plan for 2020. However, we will structure our events around the three pillars of Generation West Virginia — live, work and give.

A group of volunteers helped wrap gifts at Wheeling Heritage’s Handmade Holiday event on Dec. 7. Pictured, from left, are Brandi Hinebaugh, Brandi Cyndel, Alex Panas, Robert Felton and Casey Gilbert. All of the money raised from the donation-based service was donated to the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley.

These are the three factors that are crucial for keeping young people in the area. We want to explore the Mountain State in new ways, have well-paying fulfilling careers and create positive change in our community.

We hope for Generation Wheeling to be the hub for young leaders to reimagine and redefine what it means to be a West Virginian.

LET’S CELEBRATE

We’ve already received such a great reception since we announced this transition — and this is just the beginning!

To start off the new year and this new endeavor on the right note, we’re roaring into the ‘20s with a New Year’s Eve bash!

From 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 31, everyone is invited to dress their best and join us at The Capitol Ballroom for a night of dancing, drinks and fun!

The $50 ticket includes appetizers, drinks, a photobooth and live entertainment from Hit Play. Designated drivers and non-drinkers can join the fun for $35. We hope to see even more new faces and look forward to a bright year ahead!

Alex Panas is a marketing and public relations specialist at Wheeling Hospital. She earned an undergraduate degree in health communication from Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and a master of arts in communication studies from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Since moving back to the Ohio Valley, Alex has been involved in a variety of organizations dedicated to revitalizing Wheeling, including the Wheeling Young Preservationists, Generation Wheeling and the United Way. A self-proclaimed cat lady, Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her two cats, Zoey and Millie, and her husband, Aaron Moore.

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