( CNN ) Straddling US Route 52 as it puffs through the mountains of southern West Virginia, Iaeger is a town of really 350 occupants.

For most of his life, Cody DeLong has been one of them .

“McDowell County is the hometown that you see in all those high school football movies, ” announced DeLong, 22. “It’s two-lane superhighways . … We have one stoplight in the whole province. And the people are the greatest parties you’ll ever filled in your life.”
A graduate of Concord University, DeLong mentioned McDowell County was a good locate to grow up.
But as he prepares to leader to pharmacy institution in the fail, he’s not sure whether the home that shaped him — and contributed him his love for hunting and fishing — will be a part of his future .

The state, and such regions including with regard to, has been hit particularly hard — from lessened is asking for coal, long the fiscal bedrock of individual regions, to the opioid crisis controlling countless rural cities .

Most questionable for McDowell County’s future: People are leaving and not going to come back .

The loss of coal mining chores has accelerated in recent years. In the fourth quarter of 2011, coal filled 26,000 West Virginians. By the second largest part of 2016, that quantity had plummeted to merely 12,000.
In 1950, McDowell County had nearly 100,000 occupants, many of whom acted in the area’s coal quarries. Today, McDowell is one of “the worlds poorest” counties in the country, with median household income under $25,000 and simply over 20,000 beings in the district.
West Virginia high school grads go to college at a lower pace than their American peers, with 55% enrollment, compared to 64% nationally.
With the future of southern West Virginia unsure, we expected recent graduates from the region: Do they plan to stay in West Virginia to build a life and busines, or do they feel the is a requirement to get out to succeed?
All the students we spoke with will enroll in college or had now been graduated. Here’s what six of them said about their own future — and that of their home .

From the coalfields to Cambridge

Grace Bannister, 17
This fall, Logan County’s Grace Bannister is heading to a lieu world away from where she grew up: Harvard University.
“I think there’s a very large divergence in the quality of life between where I’m from and where I’m extending, ” she read .

Bannister has lost family members to medication overdoses and envisioned her father’s mining ply corporation forecast tough times be left in business. She’s worried about the future of her home .

“I almost feel like it’ll become like a phantom municipality because most of the population at this point is older, ” she told .

At Harvard, Bannister plans to major in authority or anthropology. Unlike some other recent graduates we spoke to, Bannister wants to be a part of the change she says her dwelling necessities.

“I hope to someday come back and either try to make a difference operating in the law sphere to help people get their lives on track, or I’d really like to someday run for public bureau — maybe Senate or governor to try to help on a national level.”

‘They just want to jump on the bandwagon to make fun’

Cody DeLong, 22
His father, friend, uncles and various cousins have worked in south West Virginia’s coal ours, but Cody DeLong plans to take a different footpath .

This fall, DeLong will begin his first time at Marshall University’s School of Pharmacy. When he finishes academy, he doesn’t think he’ll return home but he plans to settle somewhere in rural Appalachia.

Growing up in McDowell County and watching the fee that drug abuse took on numerous homes preceded him to discover his life’s announcing .

“There are a lot of doctors and pharmacists that — you can’t certainly blame everything there is on them — but they truly contribute to the big epidemic of opioid abuse that we have.”
He doesn’t deny their own problems fronting McDowell County — “The facts are the facts” — but is critical of how the mainstream media has encompassed his home .

“They don’t truly find any of the success tales, ” he suggested. “They just want to jump on the bandwagon to make fun.”

‘We mostly had to start over from nothing’

Joseph Hayes, 17
In 2001, as deadly floods swept through McDowell County, Joseph Hayes’ mother retrieved him from day care in a panic before find his father and fleeing to higher anchor .

By the time the sprays subsided, the family’s residence, hounds and nearly everything they owned was disappear .

“We basically had to start over from good-for-nothing, ” Hayes enunciated .

With FEMA’s assistance, Hayes and their own families relocated to a trailer park near Welch, West Virginia, where “hes spent” much of his childhood.
Despite the hardship, Hayes outdid in the classroom and on the football field. This die, he will play football at Glenville State College. If his NFL dreams don’t pan out, he’d like to pursue a occupation in physical regiman. And though he mentions it’s unlikely, he remains open to the idea of returning to McDowell County .

“I hope happens picking back up and do well, but the future right now isn’t seeming the best, ” he did. “I want to come back, but I don’t want to come back with nothing. I want to come back with something to help the people here.”

The ‘tree hugger’ who is pro-mining

Daniel Buchanan, 18
In Gilbert, West Virginia, where the mascot of nearby Mingo Central High School is the “Miners, ” coal mining is a profoundly entrenched way of life — one that Daniel Buchanan knows well. “His fathers” invested lots of their own lives operating in the excavations .

So when Buchanan says he wants to major in biology or environmental science, the potential conflicts between the livelihood of his hometown and his own future are obvious. But Buchanan doesn’t see it that way. He says you can am worried about the natural world and likewise said he hoped that coal returns to its onetime glorification .

“A lot of people ask me the issues to, ‘What are you going to do when you get older? ‘ I tell them that I want to do something with the environment, and the first thing they think is, ‘Oh, so that means you’re a tree hugger.’ But in reality, I am all for the coal pits, ” Buchanan pronounced .

Buchanan is open to the idea of returning to Mingo County after college, but feels that staking the hopes of the region on a rebounding coal manufacture is high-risk.
“I think it would be awesome if coal came back to where it was, suppose, 10 or 15 years ago. But we still need to alter, ” he enunciated. “We is necessary other options other than coal, because coal is not going to be around forever — it’s simple-minded science.”

Looking for ‘somewhere a little more progressive’

Emma Pino, 18
Emma Pino lost her father to cancer when she was only 13, but her period growing up with him in Oak Hill, West Virginia, inspired her to haunt a job helping others.
Pino says her father strove with mental disorders for years, but obtained success with treatment. And though he didn’t finish college, he pushed his daughter to glow academically .

After graduating among the priorities of her class this spring, Pino will attend West Virginia University in Morgantown, where she plans to major in psychology and work with beings like her parent.
“‘[ Psychological medication] facilitated him change their own lives around, so I would really love to do that for somebody else, ” she alleged .

Pino isn’t sure this is right she’ll settle to start her busines but says it probably won’t be in West Virginia .

“For me privately, I thoughts I need to go somewhere a little more progressive, ” she pronounced. “It’s just sort of pathetic to watch beings so hopeful for even the current president to fixture all the problems that we have here, and I don’t see it happening.”

‘ … A close-knit category , no matter the race’

Nadia Johnson, 18
Growing up in a town with fewer than 200 residents, Nadia Johnson replies she cherished all levels of society where she was raised .

Johnson is African-American, and though McDowell County is practically 90% lily-white, she enunciates she never knowledge racism or discrimination.
“When I first started going to school, my best friend was of a different race, and we are still best friends to this day, ” she remarked. “We are a close-knit pedigree , no matter the race.”
Lately, occupants of all hastens have knowledge sorrow. Over the course of her 18 years, Johnson has accompanied businesses and jobs flee the domain. Last-place year, a Walmart supercenter — one of the few grocery suppliers adjacent — closed its doorways .

“There are other convenience store we are in a position shop at, and thankfully, I live close enough to the circumventing counties so I can easily depart … but for other beings, they have to travel 45 instants to an hour only to get to Walmart, ” Johnson suggested .

Others in their own families have gone to college, but Johnson — who finished at the top of her class and plans to study chemistry at Concord University — is aiming to become the first to end a higher degree. If she supersedes, she doesn’t study she’ll be getting back in McDowell County.
“I plan to come back to visit … but coming back and time living here all “peoples lives”? I don’t recall I’ll do that.”

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