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Save Our Towns wins national Best Community Affairs communications award

March 4, 2016

miner Comer and student Samlall in mine
Raymond Comer, a 40-year veteran of the coal mines, points out a petrified tree in a darkened mine in Pocahontas, Virginia, to student and Save Our Towns field reporter Hannah Samlall of Warrenton, Virginia, a senior majoring in communications.

Virginia Tech's Save Our Towns, an online video series released in monthly episodes, has won first place in Best Community Affairs in PR Daily-Ragan’s 2015 worldwide Corporate Social Responsibility Awards competition.

Ragan Communications provides conferences and online training to public relations, media relations, and other communications professionals.

Virginia Tech and other award winners produced "incredible initiatives that rocked the world with transformative change," judges said. Runners-up in the Best Community Affairs category included a project by MasterCard that paired science-and-technology mentors with hundreds of schoolgirls around the world.

Winners in other categories included Ketchum, one of the world's largest public relations agencies, with a ConAgra Foods-sponsored project involving children against hunger; and Teva Pharmaceuticals for its three-year partnership with Volunteers in Medicine to offer free medical care to the uninsured.

Launched by Virginia Tech's Outreach and International Affairs in 2014, Save Our Towns soon became a project designed to guide and inspire leaders working hard in Appalachia to improve their towns. The program's second season wraps up this spring and includes an upcoming bonus episode on Flint, Michigan's struggles with lead-tainted water.

Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs, says: "The judges noted that few resources are available for the leaders of struggling small towns seeking to reinvent, revitalize, and recover from difficult economic situations. Save Our Towns is a high expression of Virginia Tech's land-grant mission and shines light on Appalachian towns in our region and offers crucial connections and vital tools to town leaders."

In past episodes, all of which can be viewed online, stories include:

  • a look at Saltville's natural history museum
  • secrets of a Galax grant writer who brings millions of dollars into her small town
  • an extraordinary consensus of like-minded community partners in Haysi
  • a coal-mine tour in Pocahontas with a 40-year veteran of the trade

Expert tips, compiled in Q-and-A transcripts, include lessons on how to achieve community organizing, apply for infrastructure grants, and identify a town's most marketable asset.

Save Our Towns connects mayors and town managers with each other, in the process generating more than 8,000 views on YouTube and almost 20,000 page views on the Save Our Towns website. Virginia Tech faculty and staff projects in Appalachia as well as projects by Virginia Cooperative Extension agents are also featured on the website. 

The program's footprint is Virginia's Appalachian region as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission, encompassing 25 counties and 80 towns and independent cites in the commonwealth.

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