By Jack “Alex” White III, columnist ~ “Small towns, big potential”
Last month, Page County’s citizens won a major fight against powerful entities that were trying to thwart the will of the people. In doing so, they demonstrated the good that can come when everyday people speak up, get involved, and organize for change in their communities.
It would be a mistake to ignore that lesson by retreating back into our personal bubbles. Instead, I hope that people realize their power and continue to speak out, organize, and advocate to address more important issues. That should include some of the following causes:
Notwithstanding recent progress, Page County needs affordable housing. Our astounding success with rental cabins — for wealthy visitors — has not always translated to quality affordable housing for the working families who actually live here.
Neither is mutually exclusive, and there is no reason why Virginia’s “Cabin Capital” can’t have room for its own people. Unfortunately, any “affordable” development that we do see is rarely enough to meet the need (which existed long before the current bonanza in housing costs).
Despite being a rural area, we are in no way immune to the need for affordable housing — a demand that I see first-hand working with Page One. When our county doesn’t meet that need, charitable organizations like Page One and Arise are left scrambling to help the homeless.
My work with Page One has also exposed me to another issue: the profound needs of local nonprofits. Their work is vital to those who live on the margins. Whether it means helping places like Choices and Living Legacy or addressing the need for a homeless shelter, it is clear that we must roll up our sleeves and support the work of our local nonprofits.
Nothing makes life better than a good, stable, high-paying job in the place you call “home.” Coincidentally, nothing comes up more when I ask people about their priorities.
The current wage bump is encouraging, but history tells us that it will not be a long term development. Truly sustainable growth means encouraging local investment in good-paying jobs right here at home—the kinds of jobs that can outlast “boom and bust” cycles. There are real obstacles to bringing those opportunities to our county, but it is far from impossible.
Education is key to achieving much of the above, and yet our county chronically undervalues its public school system. The resulting neglect hurts our young people by jeopardizing their ability to grow up in a place where they can live, work, and build a family.
I have heard all of the reasons that those things (and more) cannot be addressed, but I only care about one thing: the voices of our working people. They have spoken loud and clear.
Recent events have shown the difference that we can make when we come together to identify a problem and focus on a solution. Now is the time for all of us to continue doing that.
Jack “Alex” White III is the Executive Director of the Rural Leadership Initiative and the District 1 Representative on the Page County Economic Development Authority — where he was reported to have been “Virginia’s youngest government official” at the time of his appointment.
Alex is a lifelong native of Page County, a graduate of Luray High School
and is currently enrolled at Harvard University.
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