The empty coal train creaking its way through Madison, W.Va., captured the attention of residents on the streets of the once-prosperous community. Located in Boone County, the heart of coal country, townspeople hoped it was a sign that a coal mine was reopening — somewhere.
Devastated by the opioid epidemic and loss of good-paying jobs, Madison once supported three department stores. But that was a while ago. Now it is a shell of its former self.
Since then, it has struggled like many communities that have lost their economic base. Various federal aid programs have made funds available to rebuild devastated counties like it. Boone is one of 10 counties in the state that qualified for federal grant money through the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or Gear Up.
One of its beneficiaries is James (Ikie) Brooks, 21. His parents are representative of the economic woes in Madison. His father died after years of substance abuse, and his mother suffered for many years from drug addiction.