Jonah Kone has committed a year of service to help the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic at WVU Law apply economic policy research to its community development efforts across the state.
The Boulder, Colorado, native joined the LUSD clinic as an Americorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) in August 2019. He will work with the clinic until August 2020 and potentially beyond.
The goal of an Americorps VISTA is to support work that alleviates poverty and advances communities. Kone meets that goal by conducting economic and social policy research for the LUSD clinic that is not specifically law-related, but that helps influence the clinic’s legal decisions and recommendations for its clients.
The LUSD clinic works with local governments in towns and counties across West Virginia to create and implement comprehensive plans that support future development. During the comprehensive planning process, a community addresses long-term strategies relating to issues like land use, historic preservation, recreation, infrastructure, transportation and economic advancement.
“By working with the Land Use clinic in rural West Virginia communities, I have been able to pinpoint how in my professional career I can help create meaningful change on a local level, as opposed to taking part in a more large-scale national policy conversation,” Kone said.
During the fall 2019 semester, the LUSD clinic has worked on comprehensive plans for two counties in West Virginia’s Ohio Valley region, and Kone has contributed meaningful research to help address food deserts in those areas. In addition to attending conferences and public meetings, Kone has met with other entities at WVU, like the Department of Geology and Geography, to gather insights on this topic.
Food deserts are large geographic areas that do not have grocery stores—a result of factors like socio-economics, access to transportation and location.
According to Kone, he was inspired to become a VISTA after he read a book about the Mountain State during his senior year of college.
“The book portrayed West Virginia as a victim of a traumatic transition from subsistence agriculture towards coal mining,” he said. “It peaked my interests in West Virginia and in other areas of the United States that could be perceived to share economic trends with less developed countries and what could be done to address that.”
Kone graduated from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, with a bachelor’s degree in International Political Economy and a minor in Environmental Policy with an emphasis on Latin America. He studied abroad in Mexico and Argentina before coming to West Virginia to work with the LUSD clinic.