Last week the committee was briefed on the Reconnecting McDowell program that aims to improve opportunities in McDowell County, one of the state's most impoverished regions.
McDowell County leads the state by wide margins in teen pregnancy rates and prescription drug abuse. The county has lost more than 80 percent of its population since 1965 as many of its coal mines have either shut down or shed jobs because of mechanization. More than 70 percent of children in McDowell County live in a house that does not have an adult with a job.
Reconnecting McDowell is in year two of a five-year plan.
"At what point will we have developed a template that can be replicated?'' asked Sen. William Laird, D-Fayette. "Because there's not a lot of difference between being the worst [county] and the second to worst.''
Bob Brown, the coordinator of Reconnecting McDowell, said that they absolutely hope to develop a model that can be used throughout rural counties not only in West Virginia but all over the country.
But the sheer scope and ambition of the program -- it has 110 partners, including corporations such as Cisco, Verizon and VH-1 -- could make it difficult to replicate.
"For whatever reason, the stars lined up on this and a lot of national partners stepped up to the plate,'' Brown said. "A lot of that is because it is being led by two national figures, [American Federation of Teachers head] Randi Weingarten and Gayle Manchin," wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.
Even with established programs like Reconnecting McDowell, and no shortage of nonprofits eager to advise and help, the task of fighting child poverty in the state is daunting.
"In the weeks that we've been meeting we've identified a lot of problems,'' said Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph. "I can only speak for myself, but I'm probably more confused now on how to achieve solutions.''