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Former Coal Miner: “Fighting Through the Struggle” to Change Careers

Former miner Jared Blalock is 12 weeks from finishing a two-year degree he says he may transfer to Marshall University. (Dan Heyman)
Former miner Jared Blalock is 12 weeks from finishing a two-year degree he says he may transfer to Marshall University. (Dan Heyman)
September 4, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A former miner from Mingo County says the hardest part of starting a new career in southern West Virginia is believing that you can. But one organization is helping bridge that gap for local workers.

Jared Blalock from Williamson turned to the Coalfield Development Corporation after the mining jobs dried up. Coalfield combines paid work with community college and life-skills classes.

Blalock said with their help, he's about to finish a two-year degree, which he may transfer to Marshall University. According to Blalock, there are so few opportunities around Williamson that it's easy to get depressed and give up - but not doing that was the key.

"When I say keeping a positive attitude and gritting it out, toughing it out and really goin' for something, I mean it. Because you have to,” Blalock said. “That's what I fight hardest each day, is keeping a positive mindset. So always now, I try to think to myself, 'Stay positive, stay positive. Keep going, keep going.'"

The Trump administration has argued that loosening environmental regulations will reopen mines. But most economic analysts predict that little or no boost to coal jobs will come in the near term.

West Virginia also has had the worst rate of opioid overdose deaths in the country. And Blalock said when people feel hopeless, it's a lot easier to turn to drugs than many realize.

"The only thing that separates people is choices. I could make a choice to get on drugs,” he said. “And it's easy. People don't really realize how easy it is to fall in that road when you're going through depression, and when you feel like, 'There's nothing I can do.'"

Coalfield Development Coorporation operates programs making high-end cabinetry and wood products, installing solar power systems, growing commercial-scale vegetable gardens and remodeling low-cost housing. Employees like Blalock work in one of those areas about 30 hours a week. They also take six semester hours at community college and three hours a week of life-skills training on topics like budgeting and professionalism.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV