CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state’s minority office sets off on a tour across the Mountain State for a few months to meet people in those minorities where they are and listen to concerns regarding issues they may have.

The West Virginia Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs plans to again host a series of listening tours within different communities around the state until October.

The initiative aims to engage community members in those areas through meaningful dialogue on issues that specifically affect the state’s minority population.

The statewide tour kicked off in Montgomery Wednesday. It will continue throughout the next coming months in Mount Hope, Parkersburg and Welch.

WVHHOMA Executive Director Jill Upson told MetroNews that these listening tours have traditionally been conducted by the office as part of the enacting legislation that created it.

Jill Upson

“Part of it was to go out and create a conversation, provide resources and to partner underserved populations with state resources that they can tap into, and that’s basically what this listening tour is,” Upson said.

She said they initially held the American Rescue Plan listening tour in 2021, but as it was still right during the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the tour took on a new face for a while, talking primarily about issues relating to the pandemic.

However, Upson said they are now back to what they have always done as part of the listening tours– meeting people where they are and talking about whatever they want to talk about.

As HHOMA provides communities with a forum for discussion, Upson said they encourage the members of those communities to provide the feedback.

She said it’s one of the only opportunities often given to people where a government office is made fully accessible to them and to address issues they may have right on the spot.

“If you’ve ever tried to make a phone call into a state agency or some other government entity and you’re not quite sure who to speak with, you may have to speak with three or four or five other people before you get to the right person, but this way, we are putting partner agencies, myself, people on government staff right in front of them at the moment,” she said.

According to the agency’s press release, feedback regarding issues raised during the tour will be addressed to partner agencies and policy recommendations will be made to the legislature based on the feedback they receive.

Upson said the focus of this particular listening tour is to really visit communities in Southern West Virginia. She said during the Rescue Plan tour they were unable to make it to all 55 counties, so now, they are picking up from where they left off after only getting to visit 27 counties during those two years of that tour.

Upson said often times during that tour, she would be told by people that she was the first representative from state government to ever visit. She said while West Virginia may be spread out population-wise, she feels more of an effort should be made by state representatives to get out to the more underserved areas whenever they can as that’s often where the real issues are taking place.

“Especially those smaller towns where it’s not a huge population, a lot of times people don’t go to those locations, and so I was happy to make the American Rescue Plan tour in all 55 counties where we were going into places that wouldn’t normally see a representative from state government,” said Upson.

On Wednesday morning, the minority affair’s office paid a visit to the Montgomery Rehab and Nursing facility. Upson said a number of the issues that were raised there pertained to healthcare and social security benefits.

When thinking about minorities in West Virginia, Upson said often times the misconception is that the minorities may only relate to the African American or Hispanic communities, but she said it’s a lot more broad than that with issues covering a wide spectrum of topics.

“West Virginia has quite a few underserved or historically marginalized groups in it and whether or not you’re talking about racial and ethnic minorities, you may also be talking about people who are living in abject poverty, you may be talking about people who are struggling with addiction,” said Upson.

HHOMA was set to also visit the Montgomery Community Center Wednesday to hold a forum for the general public from 5:30 until 7:30.

The next stops on the listening tour include the following:

. Aug. 6 — Mount Hope, Fayette County

. Sept. 9 — Parkersburg, Wood County

. Oct. 10 — Welch, McDowell County

People can visit HHOMA online to find out more about the listening tours.

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