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- Middletown grad J.D. Vance hopes to influence community leaders, policy-makers.
The life of Middletown native J.D. Vance has been a whirlwind of interviews and speeches since his New York Times best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” was published last summer.
Vance’s depiction of life growing up in the steel mill city and in Appalachia took a close look at America’s working class and revealed, many political pundits said, the appeal of now-President Donald Trump to a struggling white working class.
“I think whether you are just interested in this issue or you’re just an office holder, I think the issues that I write about are issues that many different groups of people care about,” he said in an interview Tuesday with the Journal-News.
Now, Vance is moving to be an agent of change, though he’s not interested in entering politics. He said he’s sticking with helping influence policy concerning social issues.
Vance recently moved back to Ohio from California to launch a non-profit.
Though he’ll still be a principle at a California-based investment firm, he’s now living in Columbus and is in the process of launching a non-profit called Ohio Renewal.
Vance says the non-profit will be a hybrid of a think tank and an issues organization that will tackle many of the problems addressed in “Hillbilly Elegy,” including the opioid and heroin epidemic and many of the reasons behind poverty, most notably a lack of job training and the deterioration of community churches.
“We’re going to try to make that difference,” Vance said. “Hopefully we can make some difference.”
He said a website will be launched to identify some of the specific issues “that will give us our marching orders.”
Butler County Treasurer Nancy Nix, a family friend of Vance’s aunt and uncle, said “Hillbilly Elegy” is on point in explaining the issues communities face.
“People are suffering,” said Nix, who said she read Vance’s book three times. “It’s one of those feel-good stories, and it just makes just so much sense.”
Vance is also researching for a new book about the decline of community churches.
“It’s something I’m very interested in, personally and intellectually, which is the role that community churches have to play to help make some of these (social) problems better,” he said.
On Thursday, Vance will be the featured speaker at Miami University Regionals’ annual Alex and Lena Casper Memorial Lecture in Middletown. The event is sold out.
Vance will also be one of two featured speakers Saturday at the Butler County GOP’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner, which also includes Congressman Warren Davidson, R-Troy.
He will also deliver this May his first-ever high school commencement speech at his alma mater, Middletown High School.
“I’m looking forward to being home and spending a few days talking to people,” said Vance, a 2003 Middletown High School graduate. “It’s always really fascinating hearing what people have to say at some of these speaking events.”
While he hopes to inspire folks at Miami on Thursday and the next generation at Middletown’s graduation ceremony, he said events like Saturday’s Lincoln Day dinner — where policy-makers and community influencers will be in attendance — are where he can most influence change for many social ills, including the heroin epidemic and difficulties with upward mobility.
“Some of the folks in that room (at the Lincoln Day dinner) have some of the influence of impacting the people I talk about in my book,” Vance said. “They have some power to make a difference.”