Appalachia, West Virginia

Positive Outcomes: Improving Public Health with Outdoor Recreation

Elaine McMillion Sheldon


In a powerful short documentary film, Elaine McMillion Sheldon addresses public health in West Virginia through the story of grant-funded youth programs that temporarily provide short-term after-school activities for kids.

Featuring interviews with former participants as well as the recent long-term work of researcher Alfgeir Kristjansson in Wood, Fayette, and Wyoming Counties, the film paints a picture of communities left behind when public funding and short-term programs cannot meet their needs.

Highlighting the natural beauty and outdoor recreational assets available across the state, McMillion Sheldon’s work advocates for sustained investment in structured outdoor recreation in order to dramatically improve public health and reduce drug use across the state. —Nina Chase, Appalachia Rising report editor

Throughout the summer of 2020, current and former West Virginians were invited to shape alternative narratives for the state by writing letters to future family members residing in the state in the year 2120. These speculative futures offer glimpses into the collective hopes and dreams for West Virginia.

“To my dear great-granddaughter . . . our West Virginian predecessors would encourage you to always remember the central foundational value that has driven your family for decades: consider people in your community first . . . I encourage you to keep in mind that a society is measured by how it values the most disadvantaged. I encourage you to devote your work to helping others. Value your home and your community, but never limit your perspective. Remember: Mountaineers, each one of us, are always free.”

—Savannah Sims, 25, Morgantown, WV


Elaine McMillion Sheldon

is an Academy Award-nominated, Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker and a native of West Virginia. She is the director of two Netflix Original Documentaries: Heroin(e) and Recovery Boys. Both explore America’s opioid crisis with a focus on West Virginians who are providing hopeful examples of community-building across the state.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.