community service

20 Years of Raising Awareness in Randolph County with the Cultural Awarness and Enrichment Group.

For twenty years the members of the Cultural Awareness and Enrichment Group in Elkins, West Virginia have worked to educate Randolph County community members about diversity issues. The group continues to sponsor the Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration and marked its 20th anniversary planning the event January 14th of 2018.

It was just after this anniversary that I sat down with the founding members of the group to talk about the celebration and the current state of our community’s cultural awareness. The members shared how the group was formed as a grassroots effort to support a multi-racial, multi-cultural, diverse community that is free of racism and bigotry. At the time of the formation of CAEG, surrounding counties harbored hate groups like “The National Alliance” that were putting on rallies and publishing hate documents. It was an unsettling time for the community and people were naturally drawn together to stand against the spread of hate propaganda. It was after a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in 1998 organized by Ann Kingsolver and Catherine Fygan at the Davis and Elkins College that the group formed said Margo Belvin Denton.

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Pictured above: Jane Birdsong, Carrie Kline, Mary Alice Milnes, Margo Blevin Denton and Melvin Marks, Founding members of teh Cultural Awarness and Enrichment Group 2018. 

The group brought attention to local issues like acts of racism in the Elkins area and attention to the Riverside School Association, the group who worked to preserve the African American regional high school. They held meetings every two months and brought guest speakers to meetings like Paul Sheridan, Former Deputy Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office to talk about the “Not in Our Town” program, Jerry Dale spoke about the white supremacist group “The National Alliance”, and Karla Schantiger from Women’s Aide in Crisis spoke about domestic abuse.

In late 1999 the group heard that a local group of Ku Klux Klan members were planning a rally at the Harrison County Court house. The members of CAEG banded together to attend a counter rally the same day. The “Let’s Get Real Rally” countered the KKK members in downtown Clarksburg and in a peaceful yet strong way. The non-KKK protesters made it clear that the community was not going to stand by and watch the KKK be the only voice herd that day. The amount of community members who attended the “Let’s Get Real Rally” outnumbered the few Klan’s men at the Harrison County Court House. The counter rally was viewed a great success for groups like CAEG and the State’s program “Not in My Town”.  The energy from these events propelled the group forward for years and its annual Martin Luther King Jr. day celebration has remained a staple downtown Elkins event for the past twenty years.

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Community members inculding Elkins Mayor Van Broughton gather for the Commemorative MLK JR. March Jan. 2018. 

The goal of the CAEG has always been “to raise awareness” said co-leader of this year’s MLK day celebration Jane Birdsong. The group with help from community members, AmeriCorps service members and students from Davis and Elkins College, shared music, dance, poetry, prayers and a monolog written by Coretta Scott King about the legacy of her husband. The closing song of the celebration had everyone on their feet holding hands singing together about unity and love before a community pot luck began.

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Guests fill the sanctuary of the Woodford Memorial United Methodist Church during the MLK Day celebrations in Elkins 2018.

Also during the program a call to action was announced by Barbra Weaner. Emotionally Mrs. Weaner declared that with the current leadership in Washington, D.C. and acts of racism in Elkins that community needed to reinvigorate the Cultural Awareness and Enrichment Group once again. She said the issues of intolerance were just as relevant today as 20 years ago and we must not allow hate to reign again.

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Kyle Pajorito walks hand in hand with a unknown woman at the MLK Jr. Day celebrations 2018. 

After twenty years I was looking into the same faces that had stood up to racism, hatred and violence in Randolph County. The members have aged but continue to teach, share and love just like the first day they worked together. The goal of Cultural Awarness and Enrichment Group is still the same: “Make Elkins and Randolph County a climate for tolerance in a world of intolerance.”

 

 

Link for the KU KLUX Klan Clarksburg, WV rally:  http://americancityandcounty.com/features/government_one

Link for Paul Sheridan:    https://www.niot.org/category/niot/paul-sheridan

 

 

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Categories: Appalachina Mountains, community service, Elkins West Virginia, Fairs and Festivals, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial, Non-violence, Randolph County, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warm Feet for Winter Project was a Meaningful Success.

 

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pile of my families mismatched socks

Today was a beautiful West Virginia early winter day. The temperature was 50 degrees, the sun was shining, and my car was loaded with donations to the local homeless shelter. 60 pairs of new socks overflowed into the seat of my little station wagon. I was able to collect them from my co-volunteers at our annual holiday dinner.With each donation my friends said “This was so much better than buying a gift for each other.” That they were happy to help in this collection drive, and things like “I picked theses socks for a woman who needs them much more than I do.” Today I  was happy to drop off the donation and I am filled with  the spirit of what Christmas means to me.

As you can see below I created a graphic to share with my friends and co-volunteers from the Appalachin Forest Hertiage Area, AmeriCorps program. I wanted everyone I work with to have the opportunity to do something different with their money for the holiday days.

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I took my lunch hour  the fallowing day to drive downtown to drop off the socks. As I drove the large shopping bag and box to the local homeless shelter, I had no idea what to expect. I thought I would walk into a house with an office with basic amenities where I would drop off the socks. Then an administration person would hand them out and make sure everyone in the shelter would get their fair share.

What happened instead at the homeless shelter was enlightening. I parked at the front of the building only to find a note on the front door to go around the house to the back,  go up to an office on the second floor. Before I could get my foot on the wooden steps to the second floor, a door opened, a woman leaned our of a doorway and asked if she could help me. She must have seen me coming around the house. I told her about dropping off the donation and she said she would send a couple of people out the front door to help carry everything in. So I headed back to the street and popped the hatch of my car.

What appeared out of the front door of the blue Victorian house was sad for me. Two men, one my husband’s age (in his mid fifties) and the other maybe 35. The older was weathered from years of smoking. He wore a faded coat issued by the US Army and had only a T-shirt under his coat. The other younger man was taller, thinner and darker. He asked if he could help me with the box and I passed it to him out of the hatchback. I smiled and said “thank you” to the tall, thin man. He responded with a smile of  broken teeth of a meth addict. The older man took the large bag and spoke very quietly to me. He hoped that my friends and I  knew how much these sock would mean to them and the others who would not get off the street this winter. He reached into the bag and pulled out a pair of heavy thermal socks. He rubbed his wrinkled, dry hand over the bundle of two socks and said” hummmmm these will be so warm.” The younger man turned and walked up the steps to opened the door to the house.  I watched the older man in his green army coat step away from my car and up to the porch. Holding the heavy bag in one hand, he raised it as if in victory, with the other hand he waved saying “Thank you so much, have a Merry Christmas.” I returned his wave and would spend the rest of my afternoon thinking about him and the 11 other residents of this shelter.

I have known and loved some poor people in my life. I have seen men bundle two and three socks together to make a decent pair of socks to cover the wholes in each pair. I have seen the ravages of alcohol, meth and heroin addiction in my own family. It is never easy to look into the eyes  of a person who is struggling, when you are not. But when we take time to see them, talk to them and be kind to them we raise them up. It also raises us up, together we can share in something meaningful even if it is just warm feet for winter.

I challenge you or your work place to do something kind for someone who needs it more than you do over the holidays. It was an uplifting experience for me and my friends. It could be life changing for a person who is on the street and could get not get shelter over the winter. Even a pair of socks can made a difference and I was happy to be part of the Warm Feet For Winter Project.

 

 

 

Categories: AmeriCorps, Appalachian Mountains, Appalachin Forrest Heritage Area, Christmas, community service, Helping the homless | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

A year after the 1,000 year flood in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

Having the opportunity to travel to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia a year after the 1,000 year flood,the 3rd most deadly flood in the state’s history was eye-opening. The resolve of the people who call this area home, the love and compassion they have and the amount of work that has been done since that day in June 2016 is amazing.

These are the images the country had seen for days in the wake of the flooding in Southern West Virginia. This YouTube Video shows the complete devastation one family experienced as their home not only was flooded but floated away while on fire. The small stream the usually quietly trickles water through downtown that day became a rushing raging deadly river.

 

These are photos taken that same day in different location in the downtown.

 

The flood almost wiped the town from our memory that day. The famous Greenbrier Hotel  resort became the main shelter for many of the effected residence. Rooms that often cost $ 600.00 dollars a night  or more became home for over 200 people for about two months while crews worked to do clean up. Many of my work friends became FEMA volunteers and coordinators helping to dig out privet homes where the nation guard was unable work.

These are the photos I took less than 14 months later.

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a pole sign the greets everyone on main street near the memorial park.

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The white gazebos that sits at the entry to the memorial park from the street.

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memorial informational sign

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Stone memorial wall left side with names of those who were lost to the flood waters. Eight names and markers 4 on each side were recessed into a grass covered mound in the small downtown park.

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Christopher and Tom walk over the bridge at Howard’s Creek. This bridge was under 5′  of water during the flood. Christopher would have been completely underwater.

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Howard’s Creek the stream that  flooded the town of White Sulphur Springs June of 2016.

 

As my family walked the quite downtown. It was true that many of the shops are still closed.That many of the stores did not have insurance and were wiped out, but today you see these wonderful signs of hope, strength and courage. This place is ready for a renewal, ready to come back to life again. Every thing is clean, every place has taken on what they can to make their town look beautiful. The streets are lined with flowers, benches and trash cans have fresh paint and patio umbrellas dot the sidewalks to eat under.  We felt welcome and wanted in their downtown.

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Alfredo’s Italian & Greek Family Restaurant on main street White Sulphur Springs.

You can not tell the story of White Sulphur Springs without showing  the Greenbrier Hotel. Many come to the area just to visit the historic building circa 1778. It is one of West Virginia true treasures and I was over joyed to be able to spend some time visiting at the hotel.

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Flower beds in the entry parking area of the Greenbrier Hotel Resort 2017

The main flooding to the property was on the hotels golf course so the main build and the rooms of the hotel were free from damage. The 1778 hotel sits high enough on hill at the edge of town to escape the flooding. Making the owner Governor Jim Justice a hero to many who lost everything and were able to have a safe place to stay for a month or two while clean up and recover efforts were underway.

Some outsiders say “if it was not for the Greenbrier the town would have never recovered fully , they are a rich town”… I can’t disagree more. The people of White Sulphur Springs are why the town is slowly rebounding. It is apparent that they want their town back and are willing to work very hard to have the town to thrive again. It takes more than one hotel to get the schools back up and running, it takes more then just tossing money at a mud puddle to clean up block after block of flooded stores, it takes more then a Governor to declare his business a shelter to build a park and make memorials to those who died that day.

White Sulphur Springs is also home to my friends at The Barnwood Builders T.V. show. So just in case you were wondering… Yes, they have their showroom on main street it is called  Barnwood Living. Yes, they are doing all they can to help the town with their business and the donation of a log structure that will be used at a pick nick pavilion for the whole community to enjoy. They also helped do some construction at Hope Village, a community owned and planned subdivision that was built to move families out of the flood plain of the White Sulphur Springs up on a hill where they will always be safe.  They are proud of their home and are working for its successful future. I remain a fan of the show and loved shopping in their store.

White Sulphur Springs is an example of West Virginians commitment to community, family and hard work.The old saying, “she could make a silk purse from a sows ear” might be fitting. Some how the people have taken the worst of a situation and made something better for everyone. My only hope is to return to see what they do to improve in the next year!

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Barnwood Builders, community service, Country life, Flooding, Greenbier Hotel, historic locations, Uncategorized, White Sulphur Springs | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Why a Life of Service is not a Job, But a Life Style

With my second term as  an AmeriCorps  Service member half over and me reflecting on what my career plan should be. I have come to the conclusion  that I want to keep in the service industry and hope to work for a nonprofit. I have committed to a life style not a job.

I have spent most of my adult life living on other peoples terms… go to college, get married, get a job, and have a family. Not that these ideals are bad, they just seemed to be a little boring. I have always been rebellious, adventurous with a love for life. I want a passion filled life, with travel, new people and getting dirty trying new things. I want something more than the 9 to 5 with benefits that colleges promise. I want more from life than punching a time clock allows. Deep inside I want to make a difference in the world.

So at the complete worst time in my adult life after a surgery, heartbroken about a personal loss, and feeling unqualified to do much with a Fine Arts Degree, I started looking for work. A writer friend inspired me stop looking for a JOB and start looking for a life style. A life style that reflected what I really wanted. She helped me to see that what I was looking for was career fulfillment, not career advancement. How eye-opening that moment was for me.

In our visit she shared with me her Year of Service Story and introduced me to AmeriCorps, the Citizen Conservation Corps of WV (more often known as the three C’s) and Peace Corps. After our conversation I realized that my skills and passions could all make a difference right here in West Virginia, the place I love most.

I have been fortunate to serve as an AmeriCorps Member in Elkins, West Virginia for the last 18 months where I work with AFHA (Appalachian Forest Heritage Area), a regional initiative to promote heritage tourism, conservation and education based on forest heritage. AFHA, AmeriCorps is funded in part by Volunteer West Virginia, the state’s Commission for National and Community Service and by the Corporation for National and Community Service.  As a service member for AmeriCorps I have had opportunities to meet, work with, and learn from some of the most interesting people in the state.  My Site, Elkins Main Street, is deeply committed to working with local and state government officials on projects that help to bring jobs, investment, growth and prosperity to our community.

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First Lady Joanne Tomblin and Elkins Main Street Director Karen Carper

At my Elkins Main Street site I work with community volunteers on making public art projects that preserve Appalachian culture and inspire people to take pride in their community. Working side by side with community groups like the Riverside School Association, we celebrate ethnic and social diversity, and cultural differences like at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Day celebration.

Mrs Chisum at the MLK event. 2016

Riverside School Ass. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration 2017

Also as part of my AmeriCorps duties, I am asked to take time regularly to see and experience the culture and history of the community where I serve. A person cannot begin to make significant changes to the future of a community without first understanding its past and present. We are encouraged to see a wide range of locations in our service area, from the mountains, to the largest cities and oldest historic landmarks. For example, I traveled to the West Virginia Capital Complex to speak with Volunteer West Virginia about the role of the National Main Street Program.

 

Christopher runs the up the steps or the WV state Capitol 3-18

Dominic and the AFHA team in the rain at Beaver Creek Mill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left side: AmeriCorps members from AFHA touring historic Bear Creek Grist Mill cir. 1840, Summersville, WV.  Right side: West Virginia State Capital Complex, Charleston, WV.

AmeriCorps members are a team banded together over large expanses, doing the work of preserving and protecting the local environment, the history and culture of a people and encouraging travel and education about our unique locations.  AmeriCorps is a force for good in places where times are a little harder and people need a helping hand to building on their strengths. I am proud to say that I choose everyday to be a AmeriCorps Service member, because I want  something more than a job , I want  a lifestyle making a difference.

Highlands trail clean up spring 2017

 

Appalachian Highlands Trail trash pickup day 2017. Members of AFHA AmeriCorps collected 16 bags of trash for the trail foundation.

Categories: AmeriCorps, Appalachian Mountains, community service, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elkins Main Street, Elkins West Virginia, Monongahela National Forest, volunteering | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Serving AmeriCorps and AFHA the Second Time Around

 

Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 
― 
Fred Rogers, Methodist Minister and Host of the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

As my first year of AmeriCorps service at the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area was quickly coming to a close I found myself feeling like my work in Randolph County, West Virginia was not complete. That I had just started to see the impact of my service and I was not willing to walk away. I was not willing to end the project I was working on and was not willing to leave the many people who I was serving every day. In my heart I knew I was helping and making a difference and just did not want to stop making this community a better place.

So by September of 2016, I signed up for another year of service to AFHA, AmeriCorps, Elkins Main Street and the Community of Elkins West Virginia. It was the same day that a new group of AmeriCorps members were sworn into the program. The day was filled with speeches, group photos and getting to know the other volunteers who would join me in the Appalachian Mountains and small towns. It was also the day that I knew that I would never leave the life of service that I had been building for the last 12 months.director-of-volunteer-west-virginia-2016

Executive Director of: Volunteer West Virginia Heather Foster speaking to new enrollees.

I know that many who join AmeriCorps come for the education awards and the on the job training. Some come to explore job possibilities and some come for the travel to a new place with pay. I on the other hand came because I love the state of West Virginia. I understand my states weaknesses and challenges because for 27 years this is where I called home. I understand its proud nature, where her people do not want a hand out, but a hand up. They want an equal chance at raising a family; have steady work and a chance to live in warm safe homes. West Virginians prefer to do it on their own, on their own terms, and if you want to join them in a battle of any kind, they bless you for fighting alongside them. Together they battle to make things better for everyone.I serve next to them so can add my skill, education, strength and love to help bring a brighter future to a mountain community.

I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”― Kahlil Gibran

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Members of AFHA, AmeriCorps enrolling for the 2016-2017  year Morgantown, West Virginia.Sign says “Volunteer West Virginia the state’s Commission for National Community Service. AmeriCorps West Virginia.”

I believe that the AmeriCorps program achieves what it sets out to do. It brings together caring, helpful, educated people who want to make a difference in a location where there is need for support. With guidance, service members do the work in areas of our state that most are not willing or able to do. We aid in making a positive change in the communities doing all kinds of work from preservation and redevelopment of historic buildings, tracking trout populations to building non-profit websites and giving historical tours at local sites. We are here to serve the people and enhance their communities and make them stronger.hands-on-team-working-to-reglaze-and-paint-windows-at-the-historic-darden-house-elkins-west-virginia

AFHA, Hands on team members re-glazing windows on the historic Darden house Elkins, West Virginia.

Being an AmeriCorps member over the last year has opened my life up to new people, new opportunities, and the joy of service. I look forward to my second year of service with Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, AmeriCorps and with the people of Elkins, West Virginia. I can only hope to give them back what they have already given to me. A fresh new outlook on what I can do for the people and places that I love.Thank you AFHA, AmeriCorps and Elkins Main Street for the best job this 48 year old has ever had.

Categories: About me, Appalachina Mountains, community service, Elkins Main Street, Elkins West Virginia, Nonprofit, Randolph County | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Elkins Main Street Creates a Heritage Quilt Block Trail

Following in the same tradition as Barn Quilt Trails of other rural counties, Elkins Main Street begins the process of creating their own Heritage Quilt Block Trail. Located within the downtown historic district of Elkins, West Virginia, community groups come together to support public art and beautification.

With guidance from the Pocahontas County Arts Counsel, The Pen2Paper.org web site “How to Make a Barn Quilt” and many local artist and supporters, we have gathered the best information possible on how to build our own quilt block murals. The four large 8X8 foot painted panels represent 4 traditional quilt patterns used in Appalachian quilts of the area. The large panels will be mounted on the outside of downtown buildings, have an interpretive  map made up of other quilt blocks locations and tell the story of the historical significance of each pattern when all four are completed.

The patterns painted on the blocks represent things that are commonly found in West Virginia and bring to mind the beauty and tradition of quilt making in our local history. The first pattern that is now finished is the “Maple Leaf” pattern.  This brightly colored quilt block will be the first to be installed in the downtown. It will be proudly displayed on the brickwork of the Elkins YMCA. Working on these panels we have members of the local Generation Randolph business development group, service members from AmeriCorps,  Mountain Arts District members and a team from Youthbuild who all work together to prepare and paint the 8 foot X 8 foot panels.AmeriCrops working on Hertiage Quilt Block Panels

Service Members of AmeriCorps: Dominic Piacentini, Molly Greenhouse, Kate Sammons and JoLynn Powers

The second pattern is the traditional pattern of the “Log Cabin”, with the center being bright red to symbolize the heart of every home. It is the most common pattern of all the ones we are making for the trail.

The Third pattern is the Pine Tree that students at Youth Build, a local technical school, are taking on a large portion of the painting as part of their training.

The fourth and final pattern is the “West Virginia Star” with bold Blue and Gold Coloring.

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Mountain Arts District members Anne Beardslee, Josie Cuda, Frank Cuda and Dominic Piacentini

The Heritage Quilt Block Trail of Elkins will add a warm, friendly feel to downtown that will encourage people to spend more time in the area.The trail is also a way for the public to get involved in making the town more beautiful, remind the public of our unique history and enjoy art in a public setting.

As the project finishes up and the murals are mounted on buildings around downtown, I hope to document their final placement.I hope to do a presentation with photos and Powerpoint about what we have learned, what we did right and wrong, and how it affects the people of Elkins. Maybe making a small statement about the power of art and how it can bring a community together.

Categories: AmeriCorps, Art, community service, DIY projects, Elkins Main Street, Elkins West Virginia, public art, quilts | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

West Virginia Flood waters of Change 2016

 

It has been a very long hard couple of days for friends and family all over my beloved state. It seems as if God opened the floodgates of destruction on some of the most fragile and isolated communities of Southern West Virginia. If they had little before the flood waters rushed into homes and businesses last Thursday, then there is nothing left at all today.

As volunteers, Red Cross, National Guard units and Department of Highways workers rush to the southern portion of West Virginia the reports of loss get larger and harder to hear. The reality is starting to sink in that tomorrow will not be easier than today. That home is no longer home and never will be. That this historic flood was not just a single stream overflowing or even a town that got several street full of water but, county after county is destroyed…. whole towns have been wiped from the maps or our lives.

I am sure that when all the information is totaled this will be listed as the third most deadly flood in our state’s history and the 2nd most deadly caused by nature. Worst on the list is the Buffalo Creek Flood in Logan County, Feb. 26, 1972. The flood was caused by Pittston Coal Company’s coal slurry impoundment dam #3 when it gave way after several inches of rain fell along Buffalo Creek Hollow killing 125 and covering 16 small coal towns in black sludge water.

 

 

Then followed by the Election Day Flood Nov. 1985. The flood was concentrated in northern mountainous portion of the state around the area where I have lived for the last 20 years. The flood was storm related and killed 47 West Virginians. My family was lucky to not suffer damage to property during the flood but spent several days trapped due to high water.

It seems to me that flooding is just part of living in West Virginia. You can not have our high mountains and low hollows without the water to carve them. You can not live with the lush green hardwoods without the water that falls year round. So it is our plight to constantly keep an eye on the river and her course. We all in West Virginia know her power and know that the flooding is a small price to pay to remain within her mountains and hollows. Rebuilding is not a question, it is when that is the issue that hundred face in West Virginia today.

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Change, community service, Flooding, historic locations, history, rural life, Travel, weather, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | 17 Comments

AFHA AmeriCorps, Who We Are, What We Do, Who We Serve.

My friends and I  in AmeriCorps serve my state in so many ways I thought I would let you explore some of the interesting things about, “Who We Are, What We Do, and Who We Serve in the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area in collaboration with AmeriCorps.

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia circa 1903

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia circa 1903

The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area is a regional initiative to promote, conserve and educate the public about our Appalachian heritage sites and forests within West Virginia and western Maryland. We work on a variety of community projects relating to heritage development,conservation,historic preservation and economic revitalization. AFHA AmeriCorps is funded in part by Volunteer West Virginia and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Each year our regional AFHA AmeriCorps service members have a meeting with some of the community members we serve. AFHA,held its Annual Stakeholders Meeting in May in the small town of Philippi, in Barbour County, West Virginia. Philippi is a town of about 2900 people with a rich history that centers around the Civil War and its role as the location of the first land battle of the war.

panorama of Downtown Philippi West Virginia... Wikipedia

Panorama of downtown Philippi, West Virginia… Wikipedia

During these meetings we share information about the projects we are working on within the communities we serve. We give community leaders information about what we really achieve while spending our year with them as service members. It was stated at the annual meeting, by Alison Thornton, Assistant to the Director of AFHA, that “a total of 920 community volunteers who serve in 16 counties have put in 10,076 Appalachian Forest Heritage Area service hours so far this year, with 44,683 beneficiaries of our work. Thrity eight service members have improved or treated 643.60 acres of public land with in our counties and AmeriCorps has over all  39,775.75 hours of service this year.” The impact of those 10,076 hours have in West Virginia is huge. Making the time AHFA members serve worth more than $150,000.00 in  man-hours to our state economy for the first half of the fiscal year.

Many of the positions that AFHA AmeriCorps fill are tough physical jobs in very isolated locations making their positions hard to fill. My fellow members work with the Forest Service and other conservation agencies repairing trails, clearing invasive species and fighting forest fires. Some members spend time working with the Arts, in tourism, and at historic locations doing preservation and giving tours. Some serve in rural communities working on economic revitalization.Some spend only a few hours a month in their office, instead working at construction and demolition sites, where  buildings are being redeveloped and updated. Yet, we all serve with this motto in mind “Getting Things Done.”

So when you get us all together it is a wonderful educational opportunity not only for the public but for us as members also. We see and hear about other members projects and the impact they are making for the better. We hear from speakers, who like us, are trying to make a difference in their area of expertise.We are also encouraged to explore the communities where we serve to get a deeper understanding of the area’s history and needs.

AFHA AmeriCorps members listing to Barbour County Circuit Clerk explaining about community history and the courthouse.

AFHA AmeriCorps members listing to Barbour County Circuit Clerk explaining about community history and the courthouse.

This by far is the most important part of our meetings from a member standpoint. We talk with local leaders about the successes and failures of our program. We see first hand what our service is doing in these communities. It is a time to see that our efforts are real and tangible.So with cooperation from the city of Philippi we were able to tour the town, see historical locations and see some of the physical evidence of our work. It gives all of us a chance to understand the area where we serve better and leaves each of us with a feeling of pride as we share in each other’s positive impact.

AmeriCorps listen to Dustin from Woodlands Development Group about redevelopment work done on the Sunnyside building with the help of AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps listen to Dustin Smith from Woodlands Development Group about redevelopment work done on the Sunshine building with the help of AmeriCorps.

Alex Thomas discusses the challanges of historic Preservation and redevelopment of the Sunnyside building with another AmeriCorps member

Alex Thomas discusses the challenges of historic preservation and redevelopment of the Sunshine building with another AmeriCorps member.

Alex Thomas serves as a AFHA AmeriCorps project manager for Woodlands Development Group  ( a local non-profit housing developer) on this main street building in Philippi. The building was almost a total loss for redevelopment in a town of this size but with many community groups working together and funding coming from grants the future looks brighter for this building. When finished the building will have retail space and two modern upstairs apartments for people who work in the downtown area. It is this collaboration between local officials, AmeriCorps service members,non-profits, the State and Federal Government that we begin to see what is possible. Every AmeriCorps wants to be part of the solution for our communities problems.

Store Front of Sunshine building before repairs begin

Store Front of Sunshine building before repairs begin photo courtesy of Alex Thomas

Hands on crew members inside the Sunshine building doing restoration work to the punched tin ceiling

Hands on crew members inside the Sunshine building doing restoration work to the punched tin ceiling photo courtesy of Alex Thomas

In the end AFHA and AmeriCorps is all about the people and communities we serve. In Philippi we were lucky to have the opportunity to see one of the largest covered bridges still in use in the United States. Seeing the bridges long historic arches puts all of our efforts into perspective about what is important about this region and its history. We serve as AFHA AmeriCorps to remind the world that we have a proud and long history that deserves to be protected, preserved, developed and cherished. As AmeriCorps members we make a difference in little communities just like this one all over West Virginia, so that the future of this region will be brighter, our communities will be stronger and our history will never be lost.

Barbour County, West Virginia, Philippi Covered Bridge

Barbour County, West Virginia, Philippi Covered Bridge 2016

It is my pleasure to serve the people as an AFHA AmeriCorps in rural West Virginia!! For more information about AmeriCorps and where they serve follow this link, National Service AmeriCorps, or visit http://www.appalachianforest.us/americorps.htm, and think about joining us.

AFHAlogo2013

Americorp logo

Categories: AmeriCorps, Appalachian Mountains, Barbour County, Civil War, community service, Friendship, historic locations, Nonprofit, rural life, Travel, West Virginia, Woodlands Development Group | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Foraging spring greens and weeds

A friend sent this to me on Face Book just a few days ago. It makes me wonder how many of us really understand how foraging can help control evasive plants. It also made me want to share this with any one who likes foraging for greens. Wild Garlic Mustard is found growing almost everywhere in the Eastern US and can be cooked and eaten like any other bitter green. Another green that is problematic in our area and across the south is Stinging Nettle.  Hardy and fast spreading by seed if given the right  growing conditions these plants crowed out natural flowers and plants . Animals do not like the smell or taste of the Garlic Mustard or Stinging Nettle so they are not controlled by the environmental conditions .

Garlic Mustard Pull flyer

Forest Service Garlic Mustard flyer

 

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Wild Mustard in Bloom

If you are in the West Virginia area and have time to help with this problem and enjoy the outdoors and cooking free wild food we could use your help. My family hopes to attend one of these pulling dates and make a nice side dish of Garlic Mustard Cakes when we get home.A dish made from boiled greens drained to remove bitterness, eggs for a binder and Italian bread crumbs fried in brown butter.

April and May is prime pulling time before the plants start to seed and West Virginia could use all the pickers we can find. We are allowed to take home as much of the Garlic Mustard as we wish but they would love for us to remove some of the plants also. For ideas on how to cook the wild greens  follow this link Cooking Mustard Garlic. Hope to see you in the woods picking this spring.

 

 

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, community service, country cooking, Foraging, Monongahela National Forest, organic food, regional food, Uncategorized, West Virginia, wild greens | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Secret of West Virginia Nonprofits :Collaboration

As a member of the West Virginia community I was totally unaware of the impact that non-profits have. I joined AmeriCorps, a federally funded volunteer program to help communities in my state who are struggling. I, like many others, understand the work that non-Profits like the United Way and Churches do in our communities. The work that these organizations do is important, but is only the tip of a large mountain of volunteers and directors who work silently behind the scenes in our cities and towns to benefit us all.

Elkins Main Street Logo

Elkins Main Street Logo

As an outsider who spent almost 20 years working in the retail market doing everything from selling furniture to doing customer service at a private bank, I was trained to think about corporate profits before community service. In every position that I held before AmeriCorps, I was always in competition with the neighboring business.  We spied on the competition, tried to advertise more and work longer hours to get the corporate edge on the competition. Costumer service was important but always a struggle because we only focused on what we could get from a costumer—more accounts, more money, and more of their time. Nonprofits do not work in this way and I was overwhelmed with the difference in how they see their role in the business world.

Through my involvement with AmeriCorps I was invited to serve two small nonprofits in Elkins, W.Va. I am giving my time to Elkins Main Street and the Woodlands Development Group, both who work to improve downtown Elkins and Randolph County. These organizations are not corporations, they work every day with one idea in mind—how to serve and improve the quality of life for residents of our area.  That is a distinct difference when looking at the attitude of how a business works. In this case it means putting people and communities first, that the needs of the many outweigh the needs and profits of a few.  What a refreshing way of looking at things for a burned out sales lady.

People who work or volunteer to support non-profits are people who envision a better life for everyone and tackle everyday problems that are missed by big business. The two non-profits I serve are taking on the challenges of how to make historic buildings and homes part of a vital downtown. They work to make sure the buildings are safe, affordable and useful in the revitalization of downtown Elkins. The Elkins Main Street Program works to give businesses the tools and ideas on how to promote and advertise their goods and services. They offer guidance on how to keep the historic feel of the downtown area, from the design of new signage to how to clean historic facades. Elkins Main Street facilitates conversations about the struggles that all business owners have about everything from street repairs and blockages, to encouraging growth in the historic downtown area. They are the local tie that binds all of downtown together acting as a sponsor for activities that draw crowds to downtown Elkins like the monthly First Friday events and this year’s Entrepreneurship Summit. Their work is to unite everyone in one vision of a successful, profitable, and friendly downtown neighborhood where everyone can contribute.

Darden House copy

Darden House copy

The Woodlands Development Group is a housing developer that takes many of the problem buildings in our area and redevelops them into affordable, sustainable business and home locations. Woodlands works with Elkins Main Street, other non-profits like YouthBuild and financers to make valuable additions to our communities. Many nonprofit volunteers work with Woodlands spending thousands of volunteer hours doing demolition, historic restorations, construction upgrades and repairs for businesses and homeowners our areas. One of the many programs that they take part in is in helping downtown building owners rehabilitate the upper stories of historic buildings so that they can be used as quality residential or rental properties again. Woodlands can even provide them with property management of those rental units to make being a landlord easier and more profitable.

Together with hardworking business owners, residents and volunteers we can restore the look and vitality of downtown Elkins. With support from organizations like the Woodlands Development Group, Elkins Main Street  and AmeriCorps, we are striving to have a community where “Mountains Beckon, Artists Gather and History Lives,” the slogan of Elkins Main Street. It is these collaborations that are the secret behind the success of revitalization efforts in our downtown and communities. It is with pleasure that I am serving and get to be part of a better future for us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: AmeriCorps, community service, Elkins Main Street, Elkins West Virginia, Nonprofit, Woodlands Development Group | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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