Hilary Kinney wasn’t kidding when she named her 2017 platform for Miss WV, “Watch Me Lead.” The 22-year-old is already a force to be reckoned with when it comes to leading community efforts, and her newest venture is only further testament to her tenacious spirit and drive.
Kinney is the creator of a new podcast titled Holler: Voices of West Virginia Women—which debuted in September of this year. The podcast highlights the accomplishments of women-identified residents in the Mountain State.
“Growing up, I didn’t realize a lot of the challenges and obstacles women face,” she explained. “I’ve become really interested and invested in learning more about women in different professions and their success stories, especially in my home state of West Virginia.”
Born and raised in Moundsville (WV), Kinney is a success story herself. The recent West Virginia University (WVU) graduate has a passion for both politics and philanthropy, which led her to start a student organization during her college career called the Food Recovery Network (FRN). The FRN works to reduce food waste on WVU’s campus and in the community, in addition to providing food to charities in the Morgantown area.
She’s also involved with the Miss WV Scholarship Organization. In June, Kinney placed fourth runner-up at Miss WV, and is currently the titleholder for Miss Rhododendron 2017. In this role, she regularly visits local schools, reading books and leading games with students that teach them about the U.S. democratic process and government.
“This interest led to my current job as regional coordinator with Inspire WV, a nonpartisan nonprofit providing support to high school students in West Virginia to host voter-registration drives in their schools and interact with elected officials in their communities,” she explained.
With so many residents struggling to stay in West Virginia, Kinney is using both her position at Inspire WV and her new podcast to bring awareness to the opportunities available locally—not only by encouraging civic engagement, but by elevating the voices of those who live and work here.
“I always thought I wanted to leave West Virginia and I wouldn’t find a career here that would make me happy,” she admitted. “I found a fulfilling job, but I realized how many young people leave West Virginia because of this mindset. Perhaps they truly can’t find what they’re looking for, or perhaps they don’t know it exists here.”
Her hope is that the Holler podcast will show women, in particular, that there is a thriving future for them here in the Mountain State, and entice them to stay.
“I wanted to really elevate women in this state. When outside attention is drawn to West Virginia, it always seems to be negative,” she remarked. “I wanted to create a positive outlet that celebrates and features West Virginia women from all walks of life and backgrounds, so that other women can learn about their stories and relate to other women in their state.”
Checking the Pulse
Looking to gauge interest for her podcast, Kinney created an online form through Google where the public could recommend themselves or others as potential features for the show. After only two days, Kinney had accumulated over 100 guest suggestions from friends and strangers.
“This made me realize the demand for this type of project, and I decided to move forward from there, knowing I would have plenty of listeners,” she noted.
So, she jumped right in. Over the summer, she began collecting interviews for the show, and officially launched on September 27. Holler releases a new episode online each week—on Wednesday mornings. Kinney’s goal is to feature women of all ages, professions, backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures living in West Virginia.
“So far, we’ve featured Rosalie Haizlett, a West Virginia artist, and Emily Calandrelli, a famous West Virginia native and WVU alum who is a huge advocate for women in STEM, and is a correspondent for Bill Nye Saves the World,” she affirmed. “I’ve interviewed women who are activists, business owners, and involved in different industries in the state, and I’m looking forward to releasing these episodes each week.”
Kinney believes women in West Virginia are a unique population.
“The state has its fair share of struggles, and some of these women have persevered in order to make the impact they are making in the state today,” she pointed out. “Holler is here to show anyone who listens that we are scientists, farmers, lawyers, artists, leaders, mothers, daughters, and so much more.”
The podcast is gaining ground quickly, and to Kinney’s surprise, she’s finding that her listeners are not just West Virginia women. As a result, she sees the growing and diverse audience as a symbol of opportunity for those who may know little about West Virginia to modify their perceptions of the state as they witness the incredible talents, expertise, and positions of women leaders.
“I feel very honored to have women and men, from West Virginia and beyond, taking the time to listen to these stories,” she emphasized.
— Holler: Voices of West Virginia Women is available for free in the Apple iTunes podcast store, SoundCloud, GooglePlay, and Overcast. To learn more, visit the www.hollerpodcast.com. From these locations, listeners can recommend future features for the show, see upcoming episodes, and browse Holler’s musical guests.
— Kristyn is a freelance writer living in Charles Town, WV.