Over her desk at the Disney Parks studio in Los Angeles, production coordinator Jillian Howell has a West Virginia flag.
“I get attached to places really easily. So I definitely love Los Angeles — but I always say that I’m a West Virginian,” she said.
“When you’re out of state, you often become, like, the ambassador for the state just by talking about it and trying to support it. And so I think that’s just really important for the way that others perceive us, but also the way that we perceive ourselves.”
But in the earliest days of her career, there didn’t seem to be many others near her home in Putnam County, West Virginia, doing the kind of work she wanted to do.
Except, there were.
Like podcasters Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy, the three Huntington brothers behind “My Brother, My Brother and Me.”
“People would be impressed that I knew them in L.A., but people here didn’t know that they were successful,” she lamented.
Another example was Zaiver Sinnett, a Ritchie County native who works with “Grey’s Anatomy” and writes for the ABC show “Station 19.”
Slowly, Howell developed a vision of West Virginians — and particularly, creative types — supporting and lifting each other.
“I knew that I wanted to do something for West Virginians in the creative fields. I just wanted to create easier access to the arts. … There’s so much hidden talent here. And I didn’t want it to be hidden anymore,” she said.
With that, she launch Shine On, WV, a nonprofit umbrella designed to provide a platform for collecting and highlighting the creative work of West Virginians.
“My hope is threefold: that people here will see this and know that an artistic career is possible; if you’re just an average, everyday citizen of West Virginia, I want you to be able to enjoy these videos and be proud of the people that come from our state; and then if you’re outside the state, seeing that the narrative of what West Virginians look like is different than what you might think,” she explained.
“And it seems to be working. The video that we have on Justin McElroy, someone commented and said, ‘The McElroys single-handedly changed my opinion of West Virginia.’”
Shine On, WV is in its infancy. Howell donates her own time but pays videographers to shoot stories about successful, creative West Virginians — nine so far, with another three in the editing phase.
“When you see somebody with the same background as you doing something, it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s possible. I can do that.’ That’s how I felt about seeing (filmmaker) Elaine McMillion Sheldon,” best known for “Heroin(e),” the Academy Award-nominated documentary she produced along with husband Kerrin Sheldon.
“I was actually at the Oscars on the red carpet. I was in the fan bleachers. And I saw them and I started crying because it’s like, ‘Whoa, like, those people are from Huntington. Like, that is possible.’ And, of course, like, my husband and I started cheering for them and people were like, ‘Who is that?’ And I was like, ‘They’re West Virginians.’ And it’s like, ‘They’re famous to me.’”
Shine On, WV, she said, “really does open the eyes of what is possible, being right here.”
For more information, visit the Shine On, WV Facebook page or contact Howell via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.