Welcome to CouncilCast, a podcast from Coalfield Development, where we highlight moments from our monthly gathering, Coalfield Council Day. It's a time for reflection, team building, and celebrating the personal and professional developments of our Crew Members.
This is Episode Five, highlighting our Council Day on Friday, September 23, 2022.
After a monumental month, the Coalfield Development crew returned to our West Edge Factory headquarters for our monthly Council Day gathering. CEO Brandon Dennison kicked off the event with a welcome message and initiated a crew-wide conversation about our recent grant news.
Earlier this month, the ACT Now Coalition, for which Coalfield was the lead applicant, was selected as one of 21 recipients of the U.S Department of Commerce’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant. The $62.8 million grant will support climate technologies in southern West Virginia.
It's really about just doing very genuine community engagement. So, as we're trying to build this new cluster, we want to do it in a way that the community believes in and feels a part of and is honored by, so we don't want to tell people what their new economy is going to look like. We want to engage communities very genuinely so that we're building a new economy together. I think we really have a chance to truly improve our, our economy and our quality of living. I think a lot of us in our communities, it's been such hard times for so long, we're really questioning like, is my community going to survive? And this is an opportunity to say, we are going to survive, we're actually going to thrive. That we do have assets, we do have skills, we do have gumption, we do have grit, we do have grace. And the rest of the world is going to get to see it now — and it's going to be on our terms.
Dreama Buck, professional and academic development coordinator, inquired about Coalfield’s plans to sustain the grant’s momentum after the four-year grant period ended.
I love this question. This is why the social enterprise model is so crucial. So, for Mountain Mindful, having sales with customers, not just gran ts from donors, but sales with customers, like a Bridge Day, it's critical because that's a sustainable revenue flow. I've talked a lot about environmental sustainability, we also need to be talking about financial sustainability.
We've got a major investment. It bought us a little bit of time to find the right strategies, but we got to stay disciplined as social enterprises to truly provide great products and great services that can have a sustainable financial income stream for this organization. I will say too that we're not going to stop fundraising from other sources, too. So, it's really raised our profile as an organization. I've been getting more calls than ever from interested donors, interested foundations, and so I think we will continue to diversify our fundraising stream too, but the only true sustainability we have is as a social enterprise with sales and contracts.
The Build Back Better news was announced by President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a virtual press conference during our Council Day. Secretary Raimondo said the department anticipated the 21 grants would create or save 100,000 jobs across the country. Ashley Cain, a long-time crew member at Coalfield, asked if the ACT Now Coalition partnerships would provide opportunities for crew members to further their careers after graduating.
Awesome question. Are these partnerships an opportunity for current crew members to further their career once their time at Coalfield is finished? Yes, just leading this event before we won doubled the size of our employer network. So a company that we'd never interacted with is now very familiar with what we do, and all of them are very interested, you know, saying if you can send me a well trained person who's dependable, who works hard, who has a good attitude, who knows how to be safe, I've got positions. So that's an emphatic yes, and we've dramatically expanded placement opportunities just as a result of being a part of this even before we won it.
Following Brandon’s morning address, Ashley expanded on her inquiry, noting that the Build Back Better grant could pave the way for graduates’ continued employment at Coalfield.
I know there's a lot of people that have graduated, became a Coalfield champion, and they've went through the whole program, obtained their degree, and they're kind of in limbo right now and like the next step on their career. So I just thought that all these new opportunities coming about that this would give opportunities to people like that, that they'd have a guaranteed career opportunity once they left here.
Ashley has been with Coalfield since April 2021. Right now, she’s still working on her degree and has about a year and a half until she graduates. Though it’s still a ways away, she said she’d be thrilled to have a permanent role on the crew after she completed her program.
Yes, I am personally interested in furthering my career opportunities with Coalfield through a partnership with them after I've graduated with my Coalfield Champion title.
After morning announcements, we were joined by Brian Anderson, co-owner of LeeMax Safety Solutions, to analyze our own workplace safety protocols and discuss ways we can enhance them. Over the last few years, Brian has worked with Coalfield as a safety consultant.
Going through your program, you know, you've come a long way in two years now that we've been working with your team. The safety program is not about us. We're here to help guide you, and get you to where you want to be. But ultimately, employee input, management input, these two collaborations are what creates a better program, and without the buy-in of the totality of the team, the program doesn't work as well as we need it to. So my question to you is: Where do you feel your safety program is today? What can we do to enhance the program that we have?
During his presentation, Brian addressed common misconceptions about safety in the workplace and answered various questions from the Coalfield team, including Josiah Hannah, personal development coordinator.
I'm guilty of seeing a sign that says hardhat required in this section. Walking through the hallway itself, it's like okay, I'm walking back and forth to go check on people or I'm walking down to Mountain Mindful, and I do not have the hardhat with me currently. And I think those types of like dissonance. If I do that enough times then I kind of numb myself to that that sort of nagging voice of there's a you know, there's something here telling me I'm supposed to be doing something I'm not doing doing it. And I don't want to be numb to that. I don't want to like ignore that. I don't know if that's a system thing that we have to adjust, or if I just need to carry a hardhat with me.
I feel like we need to make sure that we're wearing a hard hat in those areas. It becomes, you know, now that the signs are up, if a signs up and says it's a hardhat area, we've created a scenario where you need a hard hat in that area. If one person goes through the area without a hardhat, and not anyone says anything to the person, it shows it's acceptable. It shows the sign doesn't mean a whole lot. If you see anything that's unsafe, somebody's not wearing a hardhat using that as an example, in these areas, please, you know, bring that to their attention. And then when this individual comes to me and said, hey, you need a hardhat in this area, I need to thank them. Not be frustrated at all, 'Oh now I gotta go get a hardhat.' We have to be able to thank these individuals, and understand that this is the epitome of our culture.
Carrie Sias, Human Resources Coordinator, has had previous experience leading safety teams. Recording near-misses, she said, could be tremendously helpful for future prevention.
Something that could move us forward would be encouraging reporting of near misses, because that's how we reduce the amount of recordable by knowing what is maybe not safe around us potential hazards so that we can, you know, let other team members know and that kind of thing.
If we have a near miss, even though no one gets hurt. And we report that and find out what the scenario is, we can start mitigating those issues on the front end, be proactive so that we do not have injuries. The ultimate goal is to make sure that everyone goes home in the same manner that they showed up on site that day.
Joseph Duncan, who works at the Highwall site, then asked Brian about the accessibility of safety gear education for those who aren’t already familiar with it.
Do y'all offer classes here that teach people? Like I took OSHA 10. Do y'all do that here anything where you have to learn how to even tell if a hard hats good to wear? Because I mean, you got to you got to know how to check out hard hat to see if it's right for you. See if it has any cracks if it has not been inspected in so long that hard hat’s no longer any good to use. And that goes for all the safety equipment, like you've got your tag and your tag outs or your scaffolding and all that, like, it's very important to know that the equipment around you you're using is a good piece of equipment.
Those are great comments. And it's funny that you bring up hard hats. Typically, you know, hard hat and that you've got to understand that, you know, the different manufacturers have different rules, regulations, but typically a hard hat usually good for about five years. But again, if you see any stresses in it, or new good look at it, see their stresses, it is no good. But uniquely, most hardhat liners are only good for a year. So again, there's there's certain things that we're going to really focus on. Site inspections, audits, those types of things will help enforce that those things are being continued and, you know, take the inspections or site inspections and audits and then have the safety committee review them. You know, that'd be another process, create checklist on job sites or setting up an emergency response action plan, a site specific safety plan.
Carrie Sias suggested creating brief training processes and allocating equipment for site visitors.
Previously, whenever I lead safety teams, we came up with a training program for visitors and contractors. We would have a set of safety gear for those individuals to wear just for visitors that were walking around viewing, say their own hard hats, vests, that kind of thing. But that's something the safety team can come up with, and it can be a short training, and it can be five to 10 minutes for each visiting group or each contracting group. And it's really beneficial because they know the expectations before they ever walk up into our full facility.
Those are, those are all great ideas. And I do believe that as a team committee could help enhance, you know, where, where we take that, and where where would be necessary, where what. The other thing but, you know, the safe team committee, I think the safety committee would allow everybody to be more approachable. It’s all a collaboration.
As the conversation came to a close, Josiah Hannah, personal development coordinator, expressed his gratitude for Brian’s clarification on safety gear and applicability.
Very helpful for me and the takeaways are this thing about complacency, and you know, the the mindset, because I have been issued a hardhat I have it at my office. And it's it's totally on me. And I own that in a moment of not understanding there are people I can clarify that with.
I appreciate that input. You know, I want this, this organization to really realize that we want to set the standard, we want everyone to look at our team and use us as an example of how they should be doing their work, how they should be doing their projects, that they want to be like Coalfield.
Kelli Crabtree, Chief Human Development Officer, thanked Brian for his time and opened the floor for everyone to celebrate their personal and professional developments. Several crew members announced engagements and pregnancies, personal progress on the job, and their excitement about the Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant. At Coalfield, crew and staff members receive color-coordinated hats to symbolize their role in the organization.
Kelli recognized several new faces to the Coalfield crew and presented brown hats to Ethan Chandler and Max Nibert in the woodshop; Erica Thompson in apparel; Kayla Secrest in Refresh; and Americorps member Sarah Fox. Joseph Duncan and James Dameron were also given green hats, which is reserved for those who demonstrate extraordinary leadership.
James and Joe, today you earned the honor of becoming a green hat. You have received this honor, because you have earned the respect of your peers and your supervisors. And to keep this distinction you must keep this respect. Becoming a green hat is a big responsibility, but it's also a big opportunity — an opportunity to move closer to your full potential power and purpose. Congratulations on this achievement. We're proud of you and we believe in you.
Joseph Duncan, who works at Highwall in Mingo County, said it felt great to be recognized. Joseph spent the last year working at the Highwall location, where the crew has recultivated an abandoned mine land into an agricultural operation, complete with crops and livestock. Prior to working there, he’d spent almost two years working at another Coalfield location.
Whenever I found out I was getting it, it was just - it felt, it felt awesome that I was getting appreciated and honored for my hard work.
Fellow green hat Joe Mitchell, who works in shipping and receiving, said he was so proud of his friend and fellow Joe for his major accomplishment.
I'd just like to give it up to my guy right here getting his green hat. It's been a long time coming.
After getting his own green hat, Joe Mitchell said the distinction gave him confidence and access to leadership opportunities he’d never had or sought out before.
It was basically like me just learning how to be a leader, you know, because, me, me growing up, I was always quick to do what somebody else did. You know, trying to fit in and all that. So, me learning how to lead — and now I have followers — I'm honored to have them follow me in the right way instead of a negative way.
Will Leach, who just graduated from the WRAPS program last month and moved forward to become a crew member, said he agreed with Joe Mitchell about the abundance of leadership and personal development opportunities at Coalfield.
I want to say it's an amazing feeling, being able to come in and do your six months and just get familiar with the place and your role. And just being able to like, go further and educate yourself and others. Like what you were saying, just having a better opportunity for others — what you didn't have, and I can definitely be behind that because like, I was kind of the same way and, like kind of knowing that I can come here and be comfortable, uncomfortable. It's like it's a great feeling.
Early in the afternoon, Coalfield’s Artist in Residence Sassa Wilkes invited the group to participate in a creative project. First, they pointed to the newly-installed art on the back wall, which they created from a massive canvas the crew painted during a previous Council Day exercise. Sassa’s art workshop attendees helped bring the snake artwork to life.
So this one behind me, this, this snake, if you're not familiar with the concept of like animal symbolism, snakes absolutely symbolizes healing and transformation. I really liked the idea of like, a piece of art that hundreds of people have, have put their work into and can look at and be like, That's my part, I did that part. So I really wanted this feeling of tiles. And the scales just lend themselves really well to that. So this is the result of all the workshops. I want it to be something from far away that's really engaging, and immediately you know what it is, but you have to get up close to really appreciate it.
In contrast to our previous art project, where we each had a paintbrush and unique addition, today’s exercise revolved around what we’re capable of creating as a group.
The people in this room, this is a really awesome community. Like, it's incredibly diverse and interesting, and I've not I mean, the the time that I've spent with this group of people even just in the last Coalfield Council days was like one of the most interesting days I've experienced, ever, like super, super cool stories that people were swapping and really interesting walks of life.
Sassa prompted everyone to consider their current and long-term stresses. Then, they asked us what wounds we’ve been trying to heal from during our time here. With a pen and paper, the crew took time to write anonymous responses.
What you all do in this next hour, will absolutely 100% influence this sculpture that's going outside of this building, it will be based on what we do in here completely, like, as much as I can take words from other people, and turn them into visual art, that's what's going to happen. And I love that as an artist, I think that's like the coolest challenge ever. This part doesn't have to feel like poetry at all. Similar to how you did not have to be an a rtist to contribute to a really cool piece of art, you don't have to be a poet to make a cool poem with other people. That's why working in groups is kind of cool.
The prompts were then condensed into six-word sentences, and the crew divided into groups of five. With five pieces of yellow paper, five strips of white paper, and a glue stick, we were encouraged to arrange each group member’s six-word phrase into a cohesive, meaningful narrative.
Gina Milum, West Edge Outreach and Operations Coordinator; Apparel WRAPS trainees Alyssa Jones and Jennifer Pudder; and Green Hats crew members Amanda Whitlock and Megan Mounts, both of Mountain Mindful, grouped together for the exercise. Together, they took the paper strips and arranged them on the table.
Yeah, maybe that one needs to go here…
“Become a truer version of oneself,
Celebrate diversity and accomplishments with love.
Benefiting others doing what I love.
We can and will do it ourselves.
My story does not end here.
You know, if we ever have like, a type of competition ever, I think this is the group right here. Yeah, we just killed that.
We're powerhouse. Yeah.
Then, the groups took turns sharing their finished poems with the rest of the Coalfield team.
Why do I keep punishing myself?
I feel like that Invisible Man.
Blade of grass in the wind.
Depression will silently kill all people.
Existence has meaning in the present.
Become a mature version of oneself.
Celebrate diversity and accomplishments with love.
Benefiting others doing what I love.
We can and will do it ourselves.
My story does not end here… The last line is James Corden.
I don't know who I am.
What am I capable of becoming?
Learning different things has helped myself.
Healing is present all around me.
I can help and serve others.
Security, change, balance, self doubt.
Be the person you want the world to know.
Everyone deserves a second chance again.
My battery needs to be charged.
The food here has been spectacular every time
I don't feel like I'm worthy.
Rejecting my worth to the world.
What is lost can be found.
Find you, find love, find life.
I can make some lives better.
Sharing my life with someone special.
Time goes by way too fast.
Mindset will move you past struggles.
If I Coalfield, I can anything.
Unimaginable opportunities, growth, renewal, and environment.
Culture of oppression, hearts of expression.
Learning to live unapologetically as myself.
Broken objects can be built again.
Why am I never good enough?
When I'm here I am me.
I feel lost without my mom.
Having a job that betters my life.
An identity built on broken memories will be my legacy.
(Mountain Mindful table)
I feel lost when I'm here.
The child wants to be free.
I wonder if they miss me.
I have no clue what we're doing.
I'm imperfect. I'm under pressure, defeated.
I got the keys to be successful.
I can do so much more.
Together we can make a difference.
Life will always keep getting better.
As the poetry presentations came to an end, Sassa said our responses today were unbelievably heartfelt and special.
Those are so so good. So I'm like trying not to cry. Those are so awesome. Thank you all for being real, like being real enough to write that stuff but being real enough to read it without making it like that. I mean, that was just felt real. That was really nice.
Sassa said the poems will now help shape their sculpture outside West Edge Factory.
Thank you so much. And thank you to everybody that gave me the stuff you wrote, I will keep that in total confidence that will not be put anywhere, I'll read it and throw it away. I just wanted to know it. I just wanted to know, like people's feelings, I just really, really appreciate that. And I feel like all of those thoughts and all those words will absolutely make their way into the sculpture that's out front because I want that piece to be... I don't even know what it'll look like yet, but I want it to be hopeful. I want it to be something that is like a beacon that's like, this is the feeling that you get when you're here like this is what's happening here. So I want it to be not just like a decoration for a building, but a sculpture that really symbolizes what is happening here and what the people here are doing.
After lunch, the crew took time to host discussions about our personal and professional growth. One group kicked off with an icebreaker about where everyone grew up and went to high school. Kayla Secrest chimed in, with Kayla noting how her high school FFA passion led to her interest in Coalfield.
That was kind of what really made me want to get into this position because I learned a lot like I was in FFA and I was doing like nursery landscape stuff through FFA. And, I don't know, there was just like a lot of education about agriculture and things like that. So that's really where my passion started.
Ethan Chandler, a new Coalfield hier, said he was raised in Lewisburg, West Virginia, until age 14 and has lived in multiple states across the country.
I was raised in Lewisburg till I was 14. And then my family, my adopted family, moved down to Texas, and I moved out when I was 17. And I started a band, then moved to Vegas. Had my first son, and then moved to Arkansas and then up here because my son's mother is originally from Chesapeake. So kind of been like everywhere.
As a recent Coalfield hire, Ethan said he appreciates that his colleagues all come from different places, backgrounds, and walks of life.
I like the cultural diversity. It's pretty cool that they can have a company that, you know, is unlike other companies that, you know, are real restrictive. But it's, it's like anybody and everybody from all different types of backgrounds, you know, come together and are working toward one main goal. And that's really refreshing to see, especially in this part of the United States, I guess you would say?
Then, the group discussed everyones’ plans for the future. Kavon Treleven said he’d prefer to be working for Coalfield long-term.
If we could stay on as a crew member, that would probably be more ideal because I have no idea what kind of direction I have for my life. So just to give me more time to figure that out, it'd be cool to have this really good company with a good vision and mission
Despite being new, Kayla Secrest could already tell Coalfield was a good fit for her.
I would really like to continue in this company like I think it's... I was blown away by like the amazing things that they were doing here. So if I get the opportunity to stay on as a crew member here, I would love to do that for the next three years before I figure out where I'm gonna go from there because I have no idea what I want to do with my future.
Sara Fox, the new AmeriCorps volunteer, said she also liked the idea of working with Coalfield if a position were more permanent.
I want to see myself like in a more secure spot and to, you know, have that security and confidence. I'm with you [Kayla]. Like, Coalfield seems so awesome and welcoming. Like, I've literally only been here for like three days and so far, it's like, oh my god, this is amazing.
Max Nibert, another recent addition to the Coalfield team, said he envisioned himself working in a creative field.
I feel like if I don't end up doing something kind of creative, I'm not going to be happy. So it's something along those lines, man.
As group reflections came to a close, so did this month’s Council Day at West Edge Factory in Westmoreland. We look forward to meeting again soon to reflect on our growth, development, and everything in between.
Thanks for listening to CouncilCast, a monthly podcast from Coalfield Development. This series is hosted and produced by JJN Multimedia.
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Thanks for joining us today. We’ll see you next month.