Empowering those who live in Appalachia is a major key to the success of the area, and the members of the Mingo-Pike Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) are working to empower the future generations of their home.
In their mission towards empowerment, the Mingo-Pike branch of the AAUW operates on the following statement: “Breaking through Barriers for Women and Girls Throughout West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Beyond for over 65 years.”
Education as a Form of Empowerment
One of the major barriers for young women in our area surrounds the idea of higher education for Appalachian women. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, the rate of college-going high school graduates is only 35 to 55 percent compared to the nationwide rate of 63.3 percent. Due to socio-economic influences in the area, it is likely that the rate of Appalachian females who attend college is even lower. The Mingo-Pike Branch of the AAUW is working to break that statistical barrier through numerous means of community involvement.
A major barrier for any student considering college is the cost. In order to act as a resource for young women seeking to overcome the financial barrier, the Mingo-Pike branch offers an annual $500 scholarship for one exceptional senior girl from either of the two counties that the branch serves. Jada Hunter, president of AAUW Mingo-Pike branch and West Virginia State AAUW, said, “People often say ‘I pulled myself up by my bootstraps’, and some young women don’t have those bootstraps. We are the bootstraps for those women.”
Aside from the cost, college brings along many other hurdles. Some of those hurdles are purely academic, and the local branch of the AAUW also addresses this issue by hosting college preparation workshops for those students at Mingo Central high school. However, some of the challenges of going to college come from a lack of confidence and self-empowerment. Dr. Gail Hall, branch treasurer, witnessed this sad truth numerous times throughout her teaching career. She recalled experiences where young girls would long for marriage after high school simply to escape their home lives, never considering education as an option. This seems to be rooted in the Appalachian stereotype of women as housewives. The Mingo-Pike branch of the AAUW is working hard to break through this stereotype. One of their next projects is targeted specifically towards this goal, and it is known as Mingo County Strong. Based on East KY Strong, a similar program in Pikeville KY, all junior girls from Mingo Central high school and Tug Valley high school will attend a day-long event at Southern Community and Technical College. It’s full of empowering workshops based around issues that today’s teen girls face. When asked about the goal of the branch’s programs and Mingo County Strong, long-time member Dee Kapourales said, “[We] get them to develop themselves as much as they can.”
Breaking More Barriers
The Mingo-Pike branch of the AAUW also tackles other issues facing women in the area. They have hosted numerous workshops on topics such as tips for job interviews and information on women-focused health issues. They also act as a sponsor for some community events including local Board of Education debates. They also take on current events and issues in their involvement with the community. One of the most recent and successful examples of this is their forum on human trafficking. They presented information on the issue to anyone in the community who was willing to listen. “ The eye-opening part is showing people it’s happening in West Virginia and right here in Mingo County,” said Hunter. They also work on shared goals with the national office. Next, they plan to tackle the shared goal of voting awareness in women. This comes as next year is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, the amendment that granted women the right to vote. Hunter said this issue is something the branch plans to take the lead on with a possibility and hope for a state-wide project.
Empowered Women, Empower Women
This organization isn’t only a help to the community, but also a help to the members themselves. “For me, it’s kind of a safe place,” said longtime member Teresa McCune. It is a tight-knit group of women who share goals and ambitions for the community. Through monthly meetings and club get-togethers, the women build a camaraderie that shows in the work they do. This camaraderie extends beyond the local branch with regional and national conventions. This provides unique opportunities for women from all backgrounds to gather in a common goal.
If you’re interested in becoming a part of this organization and making an impact on both the community and yourself, you can find the membership application here!