What started as a small volunteer group for Wheeling Heritage has blossomed into a city-wide effort to revitalize Wheeling. Volunteer Wheeling is a group of citizens who take on small-scale beautification projects in Downtown Wheeling and surrounding neighborhoods.
The group’s most recent and successful project took place in Woodsdale on Chicken Neck Hill. This stretch of National Road, which receives a fair amount of foot traffic from walkers and joggers, was overrun with weeds, dirt and debris and in need of some TLC. On a Thursday evening, twelve volunteers met with gardening tools and trash bags and got to work. In just a few short hours the overgrown sidewalk was suddenly clear and easily accessible. The group even received some well-timed help from mother nature when a rainstorm began just as their work was wrapping up – the storm washed away any leftover sediment, leaving behind a completely cleared sidewalk.
Partnering with Local Leaders
The group even received some help from Wheeling City Council members Ty Thorngate, Jerry Sklavounakis and David Palmer. For Ward 4 City Council Representative Jerry Sklavounakis, the cleanup day could not have come at a better time. Sklavounakis said that just days before learning about the project, he had received some calls from concerned citizens regarding the state of Chicken Neck Hill, which had been neglected due to unfilled seasonal groundskeeping positions. Once he learned about the cleanup opportunity, he grabbed his weed eater and shovel and pitched in to get the job done.
“It’s great to see groups like Volunteer Wheeling coming together to take action and provide their time to the greater good – that’s what makes us the Friendly City,” said Sklavounakis. “I look forward to working with them in the future.”
Volunteer Wheeling has since teamed up with Ward 3 City Council Representative Rosemary Ketchum to lend a hand at several cleanup days she has scheduled throughout the month of October. (Click here to learn more.)
Building a Beautiful Community
Ellen Gano, Volunteer Wheeling organizer, has used volunteerism as a way to build community and connect with like-minded people since her return to her hometown. “What I love is that people are giving just one or two hours of their week, but collectively we are able to complete a big project that makes something prettier or function better,” said Gano. She hopes that as the volunteer pool for the group grows, so will the friendships and types of projects they can take on together.
At a time when it’s easy to feel disconnected and divided from our neighbors, groups like Volunteer Wheeling remind us of the powerful positive effect of giving back. “I know that there are people in Wheeling who, just like me, want to see their communities thrive and to do something about it,” said Gano. “Our work has a resounding effect, too. Often when we are working on projects people will honk and wave at us as they drive by or share some encouraging words. It’s been such a positive experience for everyone involved.”
Establishing a Following
While Volunteer Wheeling has been working together on several projects throughout the last few years, the group was mostly limited to its original members and people who learned of them through word-of-mouth. Thanks to Volunteer Wheeling member Natalie Hamilton, the group has been able to expand its membership and engagement through Facebook. In just a short amount of time, the group’s page has received over 200 “likes” and dozens of messages from folks asking how they can get involved.
“What I love most about being involved in this group is the immediate impact we are able to make,” said Hamilton. “Even something as simple as picking up litter has an immediate impact on how people see the city.”
Natalie is also impressed by the types of people who are drawn to Volunteer Wheeling. “So many people in our group are people who have lived elsewhere and moved back to the city with an intention to create positive change. It’s great to see that people are bringing ideas from the things they’ve seen work elsewhere and making them happen here in Wheeling.”
Volunteer Wheeling is an inclusive group open to anyone interested in lending a hand to better our community. They are also open to ideas for new projects to take on. To learn more about Volunteer Wheeling or to get involved, follow them on Facebook or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Alex Panas is the Program Manager for Wheeling Heritage, where she works with artists, small business owners, and community stakeholders to provide technical assistance and create meaningful programs that enhance Wheeling. She also serves as the managing editor for Weelunk. Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her husband where they raise four cats and four spunky backyard chickens.