I’ve always been someone who loves birthdays: mine, my family’s, friends’, everyone’s. So, I must admit, I was slightly disappointed when I realized my friends would not be surrounding me for my last birthday spent in Morgantown Instead, I spent my birthday in Point Pleasant with my teammates and citizens I had yet to meet. I was worried it would feel unfamiliar, but the fact is everything with BrandJRNY feels unfamiliar, and I’ve been learning to embrace that. The Community Branding Kickoff Event was the perfect start to this journey.
My expectations for the Kickoff event were 50 people or so, sitting silently waiting for further instruction from our team. Boy, was I wrong. The event itself brought an energy that fueled my passion further for this project. The room was packed – people standing against the wall, using their thighs as a makeshift table as they filled out our consent forms. There were excited conversations and people catching up with their fellow neighbors throughout the space. As the residents spoke about their town, I could see and feel their love for Point Pleasant. The way they described the place, the look in their eyes as they spoke with passion, it all hit me hard. In this moment, I felt like this was exactly where I was supposed to be. Here, with my fellow West Virginians, we wanted the absolute best for Point Pleasant. My role that evening was to take notes about everything said. I tried desperately to keep up as I record the conversation. My fingers flew across the keys and my ears strained trying to catch every word. Luckily, my team and I managed to capture every moment. This event exceeded my expectations and I now have a clear vision for the rest of the semester. The team will also conduct additional research, such as the Community Roundtables that will not only help the project now, but will benefit the town for years to come. The roundtables offer a deeper community insight and the residents’ ideas and opinions, which will help guide our branding plan.
My 22nd birthday was the most rewarding birthday I have experienced. I felt welcome in a room packed full of strangers, and I’m convinced no West Virginian will let you feel like a stranger for more than five minutes. Dr. Colistra let me have the honor of giving away our prizes at the end of the event, with an announcement that I’m from Parkersburg and spending my birthday here. The smiles and quick “Happy birthdays!” I received were more fulfilling than any night could have been in Morgantown. One man came up to tell me how happy he was that I, and my team, were there. He asked about my hometown, Parkersburg, and explained how his town needed us. After our conversation, I gained clarity about how my degree would empower me to help others, specifically my fellow West Virginians. I’m thankful I got to spend by birthday surrounded by people who are just as excited about BrandJRNY as I am!
My name is Chelsea Harper. I am one of the Research Directors for BrandJRNY’s Point Pleasant project. The love of my life is my 100-pound dog, Olive. Follow me through our journey, and unreasonable amounts of dog pics --- @chelseaharperrr