Submission: An Open Letter from the Girl Who Tried to Stay

Dear Community Leaders, State Representatives, Congressmen and Influencers:

I did all I could.

I was born a white female in Barboursville, West Virginia to a middle-class family, in 1989. I went to public schools, graduated high school on time and with high honors, and was accepted to my local, state university with the PROMISE Scholarship. I started college at Marshall University with several credits earned in high school, making it easy to graduate in four years with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations; you guessed it, with honors.

I had great relationships with my professors, who wrote glowing recommendations to graduate schools and employers. I was accepted into the Conference Services team at the Greenbrier Resort as an intern in June 2011. I was paid well, worked grueling hours and “paid my dues,” as they say. Unfortunately for me - and even more unfortunate for several full-time employees with families, homes and bills to pay – a company-wide layoff occurred in January to account for the “slow season” of the hotel. Goodbye Greenbrier, hello Mom and Dad’s house.

I was out-of-work for three months, thankfully living in my parents’ home, and I was applying to jobs in the area – which are few and far between if you’re trying to make more than minimum wage. I finally found a job at Pullman Plaza Hotel, and was paid less than I was as an intern, but it was a job. I had income, I had an apartment, and I had a good life. After a year at Pullman I was offered a position with Marshall University Foundation, Inc. I was the Building and Event Operations Manager making less than $40,000 a year as a college graduate with experience in my field. It was more than Pullman Plaza paid – not hard considering the wages – and had benefits, so I accepted. I also loved the idea of working for my alma mater.

More than four years later, I have brought in more event revenues than the Foundation Hall has seen since its opening. I have built great relationships within the University, as well as the community surrounding campus. I enjoy many of my co-workers, and the employees and vendors I work with are incredible. So, why can I not move up in this organization? Why can I not get hired within the University? Why can I not find my next step up in West Virginia?

I write this letter, not to complain or whine, but to give you my truth. I did everything I could to be a positive, involved, contributor to Huntington and West Virginia as a whole. I enjoy living close to my family, frequenting local restaurants and stores, I support small businesses and I love traveling to the natural wonders in our state. I am the girl who tried to stay, but I can’t anymore.

I have applied a couple of times a year to the jobs that I am qualified for, only to get beaten by someone with several years more experience than me going for the same entry-level, to mid-level positions. That’s not always the case; sometimes I’m “too expensive,” or “overqualified.” It has been an exhausting and confidence-crushing experience. I even applied to my inner-rival – West Virginia University – only to see that the job had been cut, along with our higher education budgets.

I write this letter to say that I am someone who fiercely loves her state and hometown. I watched Huntington win “America’s Best Community,” at a local bar, with my peers who also love this place that has given so much. It’s not enough. I finally swallowed my West Virginia pride and started looking in Philadelphia – where I have friends who have also moved from Huntington, WV. In the span of one week I applied for more than 60 jobs that I was qualified for. I participated in interviews with four major universities, and ultimately accepted a job with Penn State.

More than a job hunt, this was a confidence re-builder; it was validation that my resume means something, my degree means something and I am good at what I do. I had several offers for interviews, offers for employment and I got to choose my career, and my future. I wish I could have done this in my hometown.

Now I’ll move to Philadelphia. I’ll pay rent to a property company owned in Pennsylvania. My tax dollars will go to Pennsylvania. I will support Philadelphia’s local businesses and frequent its restaurants and shops. One more person doing this – emphasis on more – should be unacceptable to the people who are trying to make a positive impact on this state and its people.

I write this letter to say that I have every hope that West Virginia will “see the light,” and start investing in a real future – the emphasis here is on real. I want to see my hometown and my state thrive. I want to see my friends get jobs they deserve. I want to see my family succeed in the place that has given us so much.

My name is Kristen Footo. I am 28 years old as of February 2017. I had fantastic teachers at Barboursville Elementary School, Barboursville Middle School and Cabell Midland High School that went above and beyond their pay grade to ensure that I had a solid future. I attended Marshall University – preceded by my grandmother, my father and my aunt – for free thanks to the PROMISE Scholarship and the A. Michael Perry Scholarship. I received an excellent education from a faculty that knows my name, not my ID number, and still congratulate my successes. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and I have a full-time job, with benefits.

West Virginia has given me so much; it has built my foundation. I urge you to make sure that future students and young professionals can go beyond a foundation and build a life. I am the future, and I am too ambitious to stand still.

My name is Kristen Footo, and I tried to stay