BIG STONE GAP — For the last six years, The Origin Project has helped students find their voices and pen the stories of their Appalachian upbringing.

Earlier this year, the program was awarded $10,000 for its efforts by Dominion Energy, which recognizes arts organizations in Virginia that advance the synergy between arts and education in the community.

Called the Shining Star Award, the grant is given in each of the five Virginia regions to one organization with a qualifying arts and education program and an annual budget of less than $1 million.

About the program

Based in Big Stone Gap, The Origin Project is a nonprofit organization co-founded by friends Nancy Bolmeier Fisher and author Adriana Trigiani, a Big Stone Gap native. After starting out in one school with about 40 students, it has now expanded to include about 1,500 students in 17 schools and after-school programs.

Open to students in grades 2-12, the program is designed to be integrated in each school’s English curriculum. The students are encouraged to write about their origins as they apply the Standards of Learning required by the state.

Students also participate in workshops, go on field trips and meet published authors as part of the program. At the end of each school year, an anthology of all the students’ work is created, and each student receives a copy.

“They do interviews with their grandparents, some of them research their history, and some schools have old-fashioned days and festivals to talk about their past, and the students write about that,” said Linda Woodward, program director.

Participating schools for the 2018-19 school year are Eastside High School, Flatwoods Elementary School, Greendale Elementary School, the Henderson School of Appalachian Arts, John I. Burton High School, Jonesville Middle School, Lee High School, Mo’MAGIC Summer Reading Program, Morrison School, Norton Elementary School, Peter Paul Development Center, St. Charles Elementary School, St. Paul Elementary School, Stonewall Jackson High School, Woodbridge High School, Union Middle School and Virginia High School.

Grant funds

Because the program has expanded so significantly, Fisher said outside funding is “urgently needed” to keep it going. Fisher said the $10,000 grant will be used to offer more field trips for the students. In the past, students have taken trips to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and the Library of Virginia.

“The bulk of this money is going to go to field trips to expose our kids to exhibits that help them see things that they would not necessarily be able to see when it’s funded in public schools,” Fisher said. “So we’re trying to help them venture out to educational and cultural experiences.”

How to get involved

Fisher said there are currently “well over 5,000 people” from across Virginia on the waiting list to participate in The Origin Project, but more funding is needed for the program to take on more schools.

Donations can be made online at For more information or to be put on the waiting list, contact Fisher at