Members of the 2016 Civic Leaders Fellowship Program

Young Leaders Make Impact on Valley

Twenty college students spent seven weeks of their summer learning, working, earning a paycheck and developing a new view of themselves and the opportunities in the Ohio Valley.  Not a bad deal, but why did it happen and how?

The Civic Leaders Fellowship Program (CLFP) is a leadership initiative of the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley (CFOV).  The program matches students with participating host businesses and organizations to create a paid internship paired with personal and professional development programming.

Students apply to participate and are chosen through a competitive selection process.  The Civic Leaders Fellowship Program is designed to enhance personal skills, expose avenues to employment in the Ohio Valley after graduation and expand networking connections with peers, employers and local professionals.

CFOV adopted the program to bring a unique retention tool to the area and to encourage business and community leaders to welcome the next generation.  The program started in 2013 with seven students.  Fast forward to 2016, and 20 interns joined the working ranks across all sectors of employment.  The growth in the program indicates a need for continued experiential learning opportunities.  CFOV believes this program and related opportunities are vital when considering what’s next for the Ohio Valley.

Susie Nelson, executive director of CFOV, worked closely with peers at the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation to bring the unique fellowship program to our area.  A similar program had been adopted in the Mid-Ohio Valley and Nelson knew it had potential to succeed here, too.

“College students are faced with the decision to return home after graduation or seek what they perceive to be greater opportunities in larger, more urban communities.  This program is designed to help sway that decision more toward returning to the Ohio Valley by helping students make valuable professional connections while also showcasing our area’s wonderful quality of life.”

Once accepted, students can participate in the program for three years.  This model allows for a diverse range of interest based internships and strategic developmental content.  The 2016 class of civic leaders featured 10 first year students, nine second year students and one third year student.  All students work at host sites Monday-Thursday and spend Fridays engaged in programming.  First-year fellows take part in tours of local attractions and developments, cultural and historic points of interest and participate in group discussions featuring business and community leaders.  Second-year students spend Fridays immersed in the local nonprofit scene and ultimately write a competitive grant as a result of their experiences.  Third-year students split Fridays with their host sites and networking meetings with established professionals in their field.

“The Friday programming is well designed to increase awareness of opportunities in the Ohio Valley, both in professional careers as well as arts/culture and entertainment of our area.  Several interns have stated they didn’t realize how much was going on right here in their hometown,” shared Debbie Bloomfield, CFOV grants and special projects coordinator.

The fellows visited the former West Virginia Penitentiary and took part in the new escape room attraction. Opportunities like these help to build teamwork and group communication skills.
The fellows visited the former West Virginia Penitentiary and took part in the new escape room attraction. Opportunities like these help to build teamwork and group communication skills.

An endeavor like this has many layers and requires a tremendous amount of collaboration.  The independent selection committee, host businesses and organizations, program speakers and team at CFOV work to create meaningful content to expose students to as much as possible in a short period of time.  Significant financial support is extended from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, local private foundations and community partners.  The investments made in the program are not limited to monetary contributions.  The time, mentorship and expertise shared by those involved combine with essential financial resources to create a significant investment in the preparation of future leaders.

Dr. H. Lawrence Jones, a well-known Ohio Valley education professional and CFOV board member, provides a Friday program that focuses on birth order and its relation to personality traits and leadership tendencies.  His topic helps guide the fellows through their leadership development.

“Working with some of the best and brightest products of the Valley, as they pursue their collegiate dreams, has been very rewarding for me.  They have the potential to contribute to the Valley continuing to be a special place to live and work,” Jones shared.

This class of civic leaders represented a wide array of academic interests, which resulted in diverse placements on both sides of the river.  The following businesses participated as hosts: Ohio Valley Medical Center/East Ohio Regional Hospital, Family Connections, Wellspring Family Services, Family Court Judge Joyce Chernenko, Wheeling Heritage, King’s Daughters Child Care Center, Premier Bank & Trust, Oglebay Institute Mansion Museum, Main Street Bank, SP Financial Strategies, Gabriel Project, Steptoe & Johnson, Wheeling News-Register, Beyond Marketing, Wheeling Nailers, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Touchstone Research Laboratory.

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Casey Wilson is from Wheeling and a current junior at West Virginia University.  He is majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering and just completed his second year as a civic leader.  Touchstone Research Laboratory has served as his host site for both years and has given him the opportunity to experience all angles of his interest areas without needing to leave home.

Casey Wilson working on a project at Touchstone Research Laboratory
Casey Wilson working on a project at Touchstone Research Laboratory

“The program not only furthered my career development by facilitating an internship at Touchstone Research Laboratory, but has also allowed me to grow as a young adult in the Ohio Valley.  My first summer shed light on the history, contemporary culture and the future while demonstrating some of the excellent opportunities our area holds for aspiring professionals.  My second summer built upon those experiences and introduced a collaborative opportunity within the development of a grant proposal.  The fellowship I have had with CFOV has been invaluable and will surely be an aid in my future endeavors,” Wilson said.

Host organizations like the program, too, and having an intern at no cost to them is just one of many benefits.  Jake Dougherty, executive director of Wheeling Heritage, believes the Civic Leaders Fellowship Program is worthwhile.

“The Civic Leaders program has been a great experience for us as host.  We’ve had three different interns over the past three years, and each has done an incredible job giving our organization the capacity to do more through the summer.  It’s wonderful to work with young people who are interested in living in the Ohio Valley after college and want to contribute to its betterment,” Dougherty said.

The program continues to evolve, and the curriculum will change in response to evaluations from students, hosts and supporters.  And while more time is needed to see the long term impact of the program, the short term results are encouraging.

Students complete a pre-program survey that measures individual awareness, community perceptions and community knowledge.  Discussion of those opinions occurs throughout the program and are revisited at the program’s conclusion.  The survey results indicate exposure to diverse and relevant opportunities does make a difference.  Debbie Bloomfield serves as the CLFP coordinator and enjoys watching those opinions shift.

“The participants have learned of many opportunities for them to engage in both professionally as well as socially.  They are networking with other like-minded peers and individuals at their host sites.  The ripple effect of their experiences will continue to produce gainful results throughout their careers,” Bloomfield said.

Nelson also said the CLFP has served as an exploratory adventure for some students, something that has proven to be an unexpected benefit.

“The program has also helped these students solidify their career path or, in some cases, help them realize what they thought they wanted to do is maybe not quite right for them.  This experience helps them to shift the focus or dive deeper for the betterment of their education and ultimately their career.”

Students in the second year program work on a competitive grant for the benefit of a local nonprofit. This year, the SMART Center received a $5,000 grant from a proposal written by a group of civic leaders.
Students in the second year program work on a competitive grant for the benefit of a local nonprofit. This year, the SMART Center received a $5,000 grant from a proposal written by a group of civic leaders.

There is a refreshed energy buzzing around Wheeling and neighboring communities.  This energy is being used to cultivate new opportunities and enhance what already exists.  The Civic Leaders Fellowship Program has the potential to play an even larger role as additional strategies are developed by collaborative partners.

Glenn Elliott, Wheeling’s mayor, has served as a CLFP speaker and feels the opportunities presented through the program can yield great things for participants, businesses and the community.

“For too many local high school children, going to college is the first step in a one-way journey out of the Ohio Valley.  But the Civic Leaders Fellowship Program provides an alternative.  By introducing aspiring young professionals to employment and civic-engagement opportunities in our community during their college years, this program opens doors for that all-too-important return trip home,” Elliott shared.

“If Wheeling is going to thrive in the decades ahead, it needs to do a better job of retaining its home-grown talent, and the Civic Leaders Fellowship Program represents an important piece of that equation.”

2017 will mark the fifth year of the Civic Leaders Fellowship Program and CFOV looks forward to introducing more students to the program and welcoming new partners.  The Community Foundation embraces the opportunity to help shift the mindset of the Ohio Valley.  Let us know if your business can host an intern, provide a professional development program or link us to potential funding sources.  It’s a new legacy we can build together and there’s plenty of room – join us!

(To learn more about the Civic Leaders Fellowship Program, please call CFOV at 304-242-3144 or visit