If you're ever in Wilmington, N.C., and end up with a flier on your car about a West Virginia reunion, it's probably the work of Bill Facello and his team of Mountain State natives.
The yearly event is open to anyone who used to live in West Virginia or attended college here. It started as a way for state natives to reconnect and celebrate their home.
This year will mark the 26th anniversary for the reunion, which has ballooned to an average of 250 to 300 people and doesn't show signs of shrinking.
"I've gotten to know hundreds of people," said Facello, who directs the reunion. "People ask me when West Virginia Day is."
The reunion is held on a Saturday near the official West Virginia Day and has been at Winter Park Baptist Church for the last several years. This year's event, however, will be July 13 because of the church's 100th anniversary in June.
Coordinating a 'family' of 300
Preparation for the reunion begins in March of every year, when an eight-member committee meets to start organizing. Meetings continue through April, May and June.
"Everybody has a job to do," Facello said.
Facello keeps an email list of more than 470 addresses of people who have expressed interest in attending. He starts emailing those people a few months out, giving notice about the latest reunion. The reunion committee also will post announcements around the Wilmington area.
The Monday before the reunion, Facello and a few volunteers hang four or five large banners around the community advertising the reunion at the end of the week. Facello said the banners have added to the number of people who attend, including one man who called Facello asking for information before all of the banners were up.
The reunion itself starts about 11 a.m. on the designated day and lasts about three hours. Everyone attending is asked to bring some sort of food to share, and a local catering company owned by a former West Virginian provides larger amounts of popular side dishes like pinto beans, ramps and corn.
"Everyone brings a dish," Facello said. "They just lay out food and eat."
Donations are collected and used for beverages, decorations, place settings and rental fees.
"We always end up with enough money for next year," he said.
Over the years, other activities have been added, like guests playing traditional West Virginia music, a Mountain State trivia game and the singing of "West Virginia Hills" and "Country Roads."
There are also ways for people to connect with their old neighbors. On one wall of the room where the reunion is held, the committee hangs 55 posters - one for each county. Attendees "sign in" on the poster for their respective counties and list the number of the table where they are sitting, making it easy for people to find one another. In recent years, posters have been added for graduates of West Virginia colleges as well.
In some cases, people who lived near one another in West Virginia have met others they didn't know but who have similar geographic backgrounds.