May 16, 2018
AmeriCorps teams working to make a difference
AmeriCorps members have been working in conjunction with the Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL), housed in the Mullens Opportunity Center, for several years. The members have completed numerous projects at the center during that time, making a difference for the community.
The RAIL/AmeriCorps partnership is a winning combination, resulting in completed community projects and AmeriCorps members learning a variety of marketable skills.
“AmeriCorps is providing on the job training and community service that can help introduce new businesses into the coalfields,” according to Dewey Houck, president of RAIL.
In a partnership with Citizens Conservation Corps West Virginia (CCCWV) and Corporation for National and Community Service, four AmeriCorps members are performing community service work in Wyoming County.
The four AmeriCorps workers are assigned to RAIL and headquartered at the Mullens Opportunity Center.
In addition to maintaining RAIL projects that include the MOC, Guyandotte River Park, assisting at the area food bank, and numerous other community enhancement projects, the AmeriCorps members are learning a trade and exploring opportunities based on local attributes, Houck explained.
The team has removed the former steam heating system and is replacing it with an individual gas and electric heating system that will dramatically decrease the utilities cost at the Mullens Opportunity Center.
The MOC building, the former Mullens Grade School facility, is now almost 70 years old and keeping the plumbing, heating, and electrical system operational is an almost daily task, Houck noted.
“This kind of experience works well to prepare the team for starting a demolition and restoration business,” he said.
With no budget for maintenance, the work is completed at the MOC by volunteers and staff.
“That said, the entrepreneurial spirit is present and the AmeriCorps team continues to look at building business, based on the area’s natural resources, that will help build a new economic base,” Houck said.
Currently, timber is being taken out of Wyoming County that can jump start an industry of processing logs into authentic 17th century log home kits, Houck noted.
“A benefactor is providing the logs as well as specialized tools and equipment to build at least two prototype log houses
“The erected kits will be used to develop a cost/profit analyses and marketing program,” Houck said.
“All important in the training is to have volunteers such as Gary Runion, Reece Neely, Bobby Davis, and others provide professional guidance and expertise necessary to keep the MOC operational while finding other ways to improve their community,” Houck emphasized.
“Theresa McGraw, from Business Solutions, is very ably providing advice on how to start and maintain a business,” Houck said. “The AmeriCorps team is already setting aside funds to begin a business.”
At this point, the AmeriCorps team is made up of Chris Hicks, Ariel Martin, Ian Halsey, and Chris Trent.
The AmeriCorps term is six months with an option of serving an additional six months with approval of the sponsoring organization. AmeriCorps provides health insurance, a college education award of $2,907 after six months of service, as well as a living allowance of $490 on the first and 15th of each month.
Anyone interested in an AmeriCorps position is urged to phone Charlene Cook, MOC director, at 304-294-6188.
“RAIL is most proud to be affiliated with the AmeriCorps program and CCC WV,” Houck emphasized.
Citizens Conservation Corps West Virginia has an allocation of 12 AmeriCorps members, with eight assigned to the Twin Branch Recreational Facility in McDowell County and four assigned to the MOC in Wyoming County.
Apr 25, 2018
Mullens Spring Festival set May 9-12
By Mary Catherine Brooks WYOMING COUNTY BUREAU CHIEF
The Avalons, family-oriented entertainers who perform rock-n-roll oldies, will headline the second annual Mullens Spring Festival.
Fallen Rock, a well-known Mullens area band, will be the featured performers Friday from 8 until 10 p.m.
The Spring Festival is scheduled May 9-12, Wednesday-Saturday, featuring carnival rides, by Myers Amusements, on the former Ray Wells Preowned Auto property.
Returning favorites include the Mullens Fire Department’s hot dog sale, Mullens Idol contest, Spaghetti Eating contest, among numerous popular activities, along with a variety of vendors.
Concerts and other events will be held at the Mullens Opportunity Center (MOC), the former Mullens Grade School building, across from the carnival.
The Avalons, formerly Sh-Boom of Ohio, are a nationally-known band that performs music from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s along with comedic antics and audience participation. They will take the stage Saturday at 8 p.m.
The Avalons have shared the stage with such well-known artists as the Beach Boys, America, Four Tops, Temptations, Smothers Brothers, Vogues, Mamas and Papas, among numerous other stars.
Myers Amusements provided rides and other carnival activities for last year’s festival and, in previous years, for the Dogwood Festival, Dewey Houck, one of the organizers, explained.
“The Spring Festival is a feature, orchestrated by the City of Mullens, that is designed to have something for every member of the family – young and old,” Houck emphasized.
❖ On Wednesday, vendors will set up at 9 a.m. along with registration for the E.B. And Janet Weaver Memorial Art and Photography contest, sponsored by BJW Printing, in the MOC gym. Divisions include kindergarten through fourth grade, fifth to eighth grades, and ninth grade to adult. There is a three-item limit.
The fire department’s hot dog sale will begin at 5 p.m. in the MOC gym.
Myers Amusements will be open from 6 until 10 p.m., with a $20 hand-stamp special.
❖ On Thursday, vendors will open at 10 a.m. along with E.B. And Janet Weaver Memorial Art and Photography contest registration in the MOC gym.
The fire department’s hot dog sale will begin at noon in the MOC gym. Carnival rides will be open from 6 until 10 p.m., again with a $20 hand-stamp special.
Registration for the Mullens Idol contest, sponsored by KISS FM, will be conducted from 6 until 7 p.m. Prizes will be awarded to first, second and third place winners.
❖ On Friday, vendors again open at 10 a.m. along with the E.B. And Janet Weaver Memorial Art and Photography contest registration.
The fire department’s hot dog sale will begin at noon in the MOC gym.
The Dogwood Tree Planting Memorial ceremony, sponsored by Tankersley Funeral Home, will be conducted at 4 p.m. on the MOC stage.
Carnival rides will be open from 6 until 11 p.m., again with a $20 hand-stamp special.
Fallen Rock will be the featured performers from 8 until 10 p.m.
❖ On Saturday, Sidewalk Chalk, sponsored by Butch McNeely’s State Farm Insurance, is scheduled from 9 a.m. until noon.
Vendors will again open at 10 a.m. with judging for the art and photo contest.
The Kids Cake Championship, sponsored by Christy’s Creative Confections, is scheduled at noon for 8- to 12-year-olds and 13- to 16-year-olds. Prizes will be awarded for first place and runners-up along with certificates of participation for all those entered.
Myers Amusements rides will be open from 1 until 5 p.m. with a $20 hand-stamp special; then, re-open from 6 until 11 p.m. with a $20 hand-stamp special.
The Spaghetti Eating contest, sponsored by Second Street Station, is scheduled at 2 p.m. in front of the MOC stage for children ages 6 to 9 and 10 to 13. A $50 prize will be awarded to the winner of each age category.
Stoney Trent will perform as Elvis on stage at 4 p.m.
At 7 p.m., contest winners will be announced on stage.
The festival will culminate with The Avalons at 8 p.m. on the MOC stage.
Sep 24, 2017
Houck working to create opportunities for his community
By Mary Catherine Brooks
WYOMING COUNTY BUREAU CHIEF
Dewey Houck, RAIL president, stands on a handicap access deck to the Guyandotte River that was built by the Boys Scouts during the 2013 Jamboree. (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)
Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald
Dewey Houck has worked hard all his life. Today, at the age of 82, he is still working, but now as a volunteer and community leader.
After retiring from the railroad at the age of 55 in 1989, he went to work to give back to his beloved community.
Today, nearly three decades later, he is president of the Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL) which has built a very successful community center in the former Mullens Grade School building. Known as the Mullens Opportunity Center, or MOC, the center houses a variety of activities, and opportunities, for residents.
You currently reside where?
I have a house in Roanoke, Va., that I share with my daughter. I am making my primary residence in Pierpont, in a house built especially for me by my friends. I also have a room at the MOC where I have lived since my wife died about a year ago.
How many children?
I have two children that I am very proud of. My son, who was born at the Mullens General Hospital in 1956, just retired from Boeing as a senior vice president. My daughter, born in Bluefield, is a medical doctor and Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
I graduated from Mullens High School in 1955 and married fellow classmate Sheila Snyder. We joined in marriage that same year and began attending Concord College. After a year and half at Concord, I took a job with the Virginian Railroad in Mullens that was much better suited to my upbringing and educational capacity.
Where did you grow up?
Dewey Houck, RAIL president, look over corn they are growing at the RAIL office in Mulleins. (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)
Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald
Share a story that best typifies your childhood.
Like many youth of my culture, I quit high school in the ninth grade. Going from a small school, such as Maben, where many of the teachers taught two classes in the same room, I was not properly prepared for high school. The high school teachers taught the brightest and those of us who could not keep up were quickly getting failing grades.
Rather than being embarrassed, I took the easiest way out. I tried coal mining and truck driving, but pressure to get me back into high school, from my parents and other family, did not cease.
The best thing that ever happened to me was going back to high school where I met Miss Sheila Snyder.
The second try at high school presented no problems with grades, it was some of the best years of my life. I graduated the oldest in my class.
Who, or what, has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
My life began with a loving mother and father that were role models and taught me the value of family and community.
My wife instilled in me that we are all God’s children and we must do good for all and not discriminate.
My church (Presbyterian) taught me to witness by doing good for others.
I was fortunate to take a job with the Virginian Railroad in 1957. My career, with the railroad, that I felt was honest and well managed, supported my modest family lifestyle and now retirement.
All these influences shaped my life and prepared me to give back to the society that had given me a good life.
How would you best describe your work ethic?
I believe in, and practice doing, the best I can at whatever I attempt.
You were retired from the railroad, then organized RAIL; is that right?
I retired from the Norfolk Southern Railroad in Atlanta, Ga., in 1989 at the age of 55. The first 10 years of retirement were spent volunteering on projects that were meaningful, but had little effect on the society that had provided a good life for me and my family.
My health was good and I had a modest pension that would allow me to return to my favorite place in the world to spend a couple years doing community service in Wyoming County. I have spent most of my time here ever since and I hope to spend as much of my remaining years as possible here.
Dewey Houck, RAIL president, left, and Chris Hicks, Americorps, use a portable saw mill setup at the RAIL office in Mulleins. (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)
Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald
How long ago was that?
In April 2001, I went to a Mullens City Commission meeting and offered to volunteer to do whatever I could to help the city. They gave me a recently completed, high quality Community Design Team plan and supported efforts to build the Rural Appalachian Improvement League, Inc. (RAIL).
The 2001 flood occurred before we could get the plan under way and I spent almost two years assisting with the flood cleanup.
You now drive from Roanoke, Va., to Mullens, W.Va., almost daily to essentially volunteer through RAIL. Why have you decided to do that?
When I first came back to Mullens, I lived with my brother Terry and his wife Bobbie during the week and returned to Roanoke for the weekend.
My wife was not in good health and we decided to continue living in Roanoke because of better medical facilities. Since my wife’s death last August, I have spent almost all of my time in Mullens.
What other types of jobs have you had?
I spent my 18th birthday working in a pony mine at Josephine, W.Va., earning $10 per day. My job was to derail runaway coal cars being pulled by a team of ponies to keep them from meeting head-on and killing or crippling each other.
I returned to a mechanized coal mine at Itmann while in college, working on the track for one summer. Had it not been for a family member working on the railroad, who had the influence to get a job for me, I would probably have gone back into the mines.
What did you hope to accomplish when you created RAIL?
My initial interest in volunteering was to find ways to help improve life quality for families living in the coalfields, with a strong interest on environment. My interest was not to demonstrate, but to take what we had and treat our mine-scarred lands as a resource.
One of my goals was to start a watershed association. With the efforts and guidance of RAIL AmeriCorps VISTA Kelly Jo Drey, a very successful and active watershed association (Upper Guyandotte Watershed Association) was founded as a non-profit corporation. When Kelly Jo left, UGWA floundered for several years and finally discontinued operation this year.
RAIL did a study to bring Groundwork USA, a federal program similar to RAIL, to Wyoming County. Although Groundwork was well funded, I did not feel it fit the needs of Wyoming County. Additionally, Groundwork would have to replace RAIL.
RAIL had made a good case to bring Groundwork to Wyoming County, but decided not give up its mission for Groundwork and abandoned its own efforts. Proponents at the federal and local level decided to take on the responsibility of establishing Groundwork in Wyoming County.
Now Groundwork, UGWA, and a dozen or so other similar startups in Wyoming County have failed since the 2001 flood with little visibility of their efforts.
After 16 years of service, RAIL is now more active than ever.
I feel like we have gone beyond what I had hoped for when RAIL was created in 2001.
Hopefully, what has been accomplished by RAIL will convince those that have resources to support its continued efforts.
Dewey Houck, RAIL president, looks over a repliica of a Virginian train in the museum of the RAIL office in Mulleins. (Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)
Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald
What do you enjoy most about it?
For me, it is most enjoyable to work with the wonderful and loyal staff and volunteers. Charlene Cook does a very good job managing the Mullens Opportunity Center (MOC) which was the former Mullens Grade School. Her assistants include Joey Ashley, Tim McGraw, and Brenda Tilley.
The structures that surround the MOC would not be there without volunteer leader Gary Runion, who also is the first one that gets a call when the electricity or plumbing is malfunctioning.
The RAIL/CCCWV AmeriCorps team – which includes Chris Hicks, Matt Sink, and Wyatt Smith – are all important to maintaining the RAIL facilities and building parks and recreation facilities along the Coal Heritage Trail.
Ruby Ingram is doing an excellent job managing a garden startup program through a Berea College program.
And it is always exciting to work with college spring and fall break teams. University of Kentucky and William and Mary will be visiting in October.
Utilizing the 10,000 hours of volunteer service RAIL receives each year to build sustainable projects is very satisfying and educational for the staff.
For the 2018 spring break, Baltimore University and Delaware University will be here in March. Baltimore has spent their spring break for the past three years establishing an orchard on a nearby abandoned mountain farm.
A friend has provided RAIL a portable sawmill.
A friend has agreed to provide RAIL logs sufficient to build a 17th century hand-hewed log cabin at the former mountain farm orchard.
RAIL volunteers, staff, and AmeriCorps will bring all these resources together, with help from the spring break teams, and leave another tangible asset in Wyoming County.
Not only do we have an authentic mountain hand-hewed cabin, but we are hopeful that one or more of the AmeriCorps will start a business of building and marketing hand-hewed mountain cabins.
Building and marketing cabins meets one of RAIL’s goals of using local products in West Virginia to produce jobs.
I firmly believe that people living in the coalfields must solve their social and economic problems. And the best place to start solving those problems is with the young people.
Not much of this can be accomplished without sound management and the best leadership possible.
What frustrates you, or maybe limits you, as president of RAIL?
I will readily admit I am frustrated and disappointed that I am not able to accomplish as much as can be achieved based on available resources. I did not have the education, training, and had only limited energy and intellect which is essential to building a successful business. Perhaps attempting to start a new kind of business at the age of 67 limited my ability to do more.
I firmly believe that if we had a professional person equipped with energy, creativity, intellect, and the desire to help build a new economic base in the coalfields, RAIL would be a much more successful and sustainable organization.
Our local agencies are doing their job and can well use the versatility that a non-profit has to offer in helping build a new and prosperous social order.
The fact that I take no compensation for my labor and work long hours has allowed RAIL to operate somewhat successfully for the past 16 years.
At 82 years old, time, energy, intellect, and an old folk’s memory are taking a toll. I would like to have been and should have been gone from RAIL long ago, but finding someone that will work for nothing is difficult.
Sadly, and probably with good reason, funders do not like to fund operating costs which includes people, utilities, and other costs associated with running a business. Not much can happen without a business and I feel like our limited staff and volunteers have built a business worthy of support from agencies and foundations.
So I am frustrated that I cannot compete with other entities that have highly trained and educated grant writers.
How big a difference do you believe RAIL has made for Mullens?
I feel like RAIL has had a positive effect on Mullens. On a national, state, and local level, RAIL is small. Those of us that put our sweat and best efforts into building and maintaining RAIL programs and projects feel our results are effective.
Perhaps giving a synopsis of RAIL’s accomplishments in Mullens is in order. A good place to start is with salvaging and taking ownership of the former Mullens Grade School Complex, now called Mullens Opportunity Center (MOC).
The facilities are open to the public and used extensively as a community center. A healthy lifestyle and diabetes prevention and support are offered to the public as a service.
Volunteers have constructed a mini museum/information center patterned after a Virginian outlying telegraph office, concrete handicap access to river, high tunnel, garden complex, and outdoor theater.
Inside the MOC is a railroad museum, excellent fitness center, computer center, gym, two kitchens, and 22 rooms available for a host of uses.
Do you believe you can make a difference in Wyoming County through RAIL? How?
Yes, I think RAIL can help make a positive difference in Wyoming County – socially and economically.
Thanks to CCC WV, RAIL has an AmeriCorps program that not only is a powerful workforce, but it is preparing our young people to become leaders and assist them in starting businesses.
Thanks to the generosity of Pocahontas Land, RAIL now owns the former Itmann Grade School and has established a well-used roadside park along the Coal Heritage Trail.
The mission of RAIL is to help improve life quality for all families in the coalfields, focusing on Wyoming County needs and opportunities.
I would like to emphasize RAIL can only help solve the problems that exist in the coalfields. It takes us all working together to build a new and sustainable economic base.
You’ve been a proponent of saving the historic buildings in Mullens. Why? And, have you been successful in that?
I feel we need to save historic buildings to preserve their history and also to give local citizens a sense of pride in their community.
It is hard to feel good about your location when you are surrounded by decaying buildings.
In addition, the restoration provides needed jobs and is an excellent opportunity to teach our youth marketable skills.
What do you believe are the attributes of a successful leader? How do you incorporate these attributes as president of RAIL?
Leaders must have capacity to see positive possibilities where others see only negativity. Then leaders turn their dreams into workable plans. They find ways to share their plans that entice, and welcome, others to become involved in implementing the plans.
As RAIL president, I devote hours assessing needs and possibilities; then I work to pair each volunteer, and each employee, with the task for which they are best suited.
How do you want to be remembered after you’ve left RAIL?
If I am remembered as a man who cared for people, and the environment, and then put that caring into action to work for a better world, then I would feel my life was meaningful.
Anything you want to add?
I think of RAIL as people coming together to improve life quality for all families living in the southern coalfields of West Virginia. Without these people that have worked hard to better conditions in the coalfields, I would have nothing to write about.
Boy Scouts unearth ‘buried treasure’ in Wyoming County
By Mary Catherine Brooks WYOMING COUNTY BUREAU CHIEF
Staff photos by Mary Catherine Brooks (2)Boy Scouts working in New Richmond Tuesday morning unearthed a large wooden box containing numerous items, including tarnished metals, colorful beads, campaign buttons from the early 1900s, old coins and paper money, among other items. A faded letter said the bounty belonged to the finders.
NEW RICHMOND — While Boy Scout Troops from across the nation have participated in community service projects across southern West Virginia, it was a West Virginia Troop that uncovered what appeared to be buried treasure Tuesday morning in Wyoming County.
Thirty-one Boy Scouts from the Huntington area, along with two more Scouts from Colorado, unearthed a large wooden box while constructing a foot bridge in Guyandotte Park, near Wyoming County East High School.
“We’re rich! We’re rich!” the Scouts chanted as four boys pulled their discovery from the ground.
Wrapped in a deteriorating cloth, there was a key to unlock the large weathered box. However, in the excitement and with Scouts pushing in to get a closer look, the key was lost in the dirt.
The lock was broken with the nearby digging tools to reveal pearls, colorful beads, jewelry, tarnishing metals, campaign buttons from the early 1900s, along with old coins and paper money.
Afterward, pandemonium ensued with Scouts and local volunteers wanting to get a closer look at the discovery.
With one Scout commanding all the items be placed back onto a rug where the new found wealth was laid out, the onlookers were much too curious to follow the instructions.
Some of the Scouts, however, doubted the authenticity of the discovery, wondering about the age of the items included in the weathered box and the gluey remains of a vanished sticker on the bottom of a small statue.
A faded letter instructed the “finders to keep” the treasure and Dewey Houck, president of Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL), said as far as he is concerned, that is exactly what will happen.
“The letter said it belonged to the finders,” Houck said.
“They found it; they should take it with them as far as I’m concerned.”
As to who buried the treasure, or when it was placed in the ground, or from where the loot could have come may be a mystery that is never solved.
- • •
Under the direction of Houck and the RAIL staff, the Scouts were making improvements to the small roadside park on the Guyandotte, including new signage, improved walking paths, a river access point and a new foot bridge.
Much of the work on the park thus far has been completed with college students who participated in service projects during their spring breaks.
The park is one of several tourism projects Houck is coordinating to lure more visitors to the area.
— Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
July 22, 2017
Boy Scout public service enhances Wyoming County, WV tourism development
The Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL) has selected the Guyandotte River Park to hold a news conference on July 25 at 10:00 AM to demonstrate what can be accomplished and what it takes to get the best benefits from the Boy Scout community service initiative. RAIL, that operates out of Mullens, WV, will be constructing two walk bridges, a sign for the park, a boat ramp for launching small river craft, and a PVC raft that will be used to clean up trash and fallen trees along the river. This public park, owned and operated by RAIL, is situated on the Coal Heritage Trail (Route 16) between Wyoming East High School and New Richmond. David Sebastiao, of Baltimore University, will be videoing the scouts’ work as an integral part of his documentary of the RAIL Guyandotte River projects.
Although RAIL is spearheading four days of Boy Scout initiatives it would not be possible without wide cooperation and support from other agencies. Coal Heritage Highway Authority provided funding for the river project; Wyoming County EDA provided the guidance and connection to CCC WV essential to being awarded a day of Boy Scout community service. CCC WV also provided materials and, more importantly, is sponsoring an AmeriCorps team to RAIL without which these and other community enhancements would not be possible. WV DOH improved access to the site; Lowe’s of Beckley and Princeton donated materials and gave special attention to providing other materials that were purchased. Gary Runion and other local volunteers have spent many hours getting materials ready for the days of building. The Boy Scout community service initiative gives those living in southern West Virginia an opportunity to come together and demonstrate their strength in taking steps to build a new economic base.
All are invited to celebrate the Boy Scouts’ community service at a music program at the Mullens Opportunity Center, Tuesday, July 25, beginning at 8:00 PM. The evening’s entertainment is Provided by RAIL. Come and enjoy Buddy Allen and the Cheat River Band.
Feb 27, 2017
RAIL working to bring tourists into area
By Mary Catherine Brooks, WYOMING COUNTY BUREAU CHIEF
Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL) is working to develop the area tourism industry, based on the region’s culture and heritage and naturally occurring attributes, according to Dewey Houck, RAIL president.
“RAIL is working on ways to transform mine-scarred lands into community assets such as parks and recreational facilities, mountain biking trails, and assuring the Great Eastern Trail is routed through the coalfields,” Houck explained.
“Geographically, the area RAIL serves is located within 500 miles of 60 percent of the U.S. population and has great potential to prosper as a tourism destination,” he said.
“A new four-lane highway will soon connect Mullens to Interstates 64 and 77 by a 20-minute drive.
“The Coal Heritage Trail, the Guyandotte River Water Trail, the Hatfield-McCoy Trail, and the planned Great Eastern Trail pass through the Mullens’ city limits,” Houck said.
At this point, however, Mullens is receiving few benefits from the projects, Houck said.
“RAIL has invested thousands of volunteer hours into making the area more tourism friendly,” Houck emphasized.
“It now needs to develop a professionally-managed, comprehensive plan and pull together a dedicated labor force to reach the full potential of the benefits of a tourism economy,” Houck noted.
The Rural Appalachian Improvement League staff and dozens of volunteers have breathed new life into the former Mullens Grade School building which sits on the banks of the Guyandotte River.
The center features camp sites for travelers and ATV riders, picnicking and fishing along the river, a coal/railroad museum, as well as both indoor and outdoor stages for concerts and other community events.
“The MOC is home for a fall and spring festival as well as many functions that bring people together,” Houck said.
The Mullens Opportunity Center, known locally as the MOC, now houses a variety of projects – from agriculture, to health and wellness, to tourism.
In addition to amenities for tourists, the three-acre parcel is home to a vibrant community center that also offers healthy living classes, a safe place to exercise, youth development programs, space for small businesses, agriculture programs that include community gardens and a seasonal farmer’s market.
Currently, RAIL does not have sufficient management capacity to fully utilize the amenities to produce a profit, Houck said.
“The MOC has very good profit potential and can become an important stop for ATV riders along the Hatfield-McCoy (Recreational) Trail.”
Feb 6, 2017
Youth work to improve communities
By Mary Catherine Brooks, WYOMING COUNTY BUREAU CHIEF
Through a partnership with the state Citizens Conservation Corps and the Corporation for National and Community Service, RAIL has six new CCC AmeriCorps members, including, standing from second left, Kody Lester, Jacob Stewart, Matt Wilcox, Wyatt Smith along with, in front, Meredith Helmick and Whitney Mitchell. Also pictured are Joey Ashley, standing left, of the National Council on Aging, formerly Experience Works; Dorothy Horne, standing far right, of CCC, and Charlene Cook, of RAIL.
Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL) is combining the talents of area youth with those who are more mature in an effort to improve the community.
Through a partnership with the state Citizens Conservation Corps and Corporation for National and Community Service, RAIL has six AmeriCorps members who recently joined the program.
Four positions through the National Council on Aging, formerly known as Experience Works, are also providing assistance for RAIL at no cost.
“Our goal is to train, prepare and assist this group in helping to build a new, improved social order and economic base in the coalfields,” Dewey Houck, RAIL president, said of the CCC AmeriCorps program.
“What we are attempting to do is take resources that are readily available, or at little cost, and use these resources wisely to help work our way out of poverty,” Houck said.
The program involving the youth is called West Virginia Coalfield Communities Conservation Corps and will be modeled along the same lines as the CCC program of the Great Depression era, Houck explained.
The federal program provides the youth a monthly living allowance and a $5,815 education scholarship following one year of service, he added.
Program participants include Matt Wilcox of Mullens, Kody Lester of Herndon, Whitney Mitchell of Indian Creek, along with Meredith Helmick, Jacob Stewart and Wyatt Smith, all of Pineville.
The high school graduates all indicated they want to stay in Wyoming County, Houck said, thus the program works to provide them the job skills to do that.
“A significant emphasis will be placed on utilizing their labor for developing business on lands damaged by coal mining and related industries,” Houck said.
Under the direction of Dorothy Horne, of CCC, which is part of Volunteer West Virginia, the Wyoming County participants are working in conjunction with those at the Twin Branch Adventure Facility in McDowell County.
As part of the education elements, the youth will be concentrating on environmental skills that include erosion control, wetlands, vegetation and stream banks.
Additionally, individualized training geared toward each participant’s interests will be integrated into his/her training.
Along with educational components of the program, the participants will be doing physical labor such as building community gardens, constructing trails, wild life enhancement projects, working with school gardening programs, and with the Mullens Opportunity Center’s agriculture projects.
“A portion of their labor will be dedicated to learning opportunities, such as specialized farming, building high tunnel greenhouses and producing specialty family farm products to include nuts, chestnuts, berries, mushrooms, poultry, beef, pork, and fish,” Houck said.
“Local business people have volunteered to mentor the participants.”
Horne said the group will also be assisting with special community events such concerts, craft shows, among others.
She noted the participants will be “job ready” when they complete the highly structured program.
Participating in the program will also build their confidence, Horne said.
“When they leave (the program), they know they can do whatever they need to do,” she emphasized.
The program goal is to help participants create at least three new businesses that will employ others, Houck said.
More than $72,000 in payroll benefits will be generated in Wyoming County due to the program, Houck emphasized, along with nearly $35,000 in scholarships.
Jan 30, 2017
MOC needs families for program
By Mary Catherine Brooks, WYOMING COUNTY BUREAU CHIEF
One of several programs now under way at the Mullens Opportunity Center, also known as the MOC, is a farming program available to 25 families in Wyoming County.
Families are being recruited now and those interested are urged to contact the MOC.
Developing specialty agricultural and energy programs is another way to help support families in the Appalachian coalfields, emphasized Dewey Houck, director of Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL) in Mullens.
The RAIL program is housed in the MOC.
“Berea College has just awarded RAIL a grant to assist 25 families with starting a vegetable garden,” Houck noted.
Assistance will be provided with plowing and planting, RAIL will also provide the seeds and tools, Houck said.
The gardens can be planted in whatever location the family wants, he added.
Additionally, participants will also be instructed on how to “can” their harvest.
“This is a pretty nifty program,” Houck emphasized.
For families that are interested, RAIL can also provide a high tunnel greenhouse at a reduced cost.
Ruby Ingram, who has managed the Farm to School program for RAIL, will manage the project.
“With the demise of the coal business economy, families must turn to other vocations to earn a livelihood if they desire to remain in coal country,” Houck said.
“For the past four years, RAIL has worked diligently to establish an agricultural program by managing a Farmers Market that accepts SNAP benefits in addition to establishing a Farmers CO-OP,” Houck said.
A $7,250 grant from WVU Appalachian Foodshed paid for an AmeriCorps VISTA member to help build the MOC into a model farming project.
Duquesne University donated $2,400 and a $1,000 fundraiser paid for a high tunnel, a watering system, tool house, and composting bin.
“The system is a small scale farming operation that can demonstrate the economic value as well as health benefits for local families,” Houck explained.
RAIL acquired its high tunnel from Grow Appalachia, a program at Berea College that fabricates high tunnels.
RAIL is now working with David Cook at Grow Appalachia, a subsidiary of Berea College, to fabricate and assemble components at its Commerce Center in Itmann.
“RAIL looks at high tunnels and greenhouses as a potentially lucrative business on mine-scarred lands, mountaintop removal sites, and old abandoned mountain farms,” Houck said.
“RAIL has reestablished an orchard on a former mountain farm that will provide fruit for all the local schools and those of need.
“The property has a gas well and high energy electric lines within sight.
“The property has a series of gas wells, and coal mining cleanup and AML sites within a four-mile radius.
“The area is very conducive to building solar farms and highly efficient gas-powered electricity turbine generators.
“The operation envisioned by RAIL would grow fresh vegetables year-round and produce surplus electricity for the grid.
“Most properties involved are owned by the Norfolk Southern Railway, who has been very supportive of RAIL programs. Norfolk Southern can provide rail service to transport heavy articles, such as gas turbines, that can provide enough electricity for the greenhouses and the entire county at 60 to 70 percent efficiency when supplemented by solar,” Houck noted.
“One site in the area would probably support a wind turbine.
“With the advancements in solar technology this can become a very profitable operation that could produce fresh vegetables as well as very environmentally-friendly energy that can be marketed through the local grid.”
Houck said, in 2015, UMW President Cecil Roberts called for the state Legislature to take advantage of a 1985 law that allows a state agency to issue public bonds to construct new power plants, using a public-private partnership.
“These are the kinds of opportunities that need to be explored,” Houck emphasized. “Give the people the tools they really need to help themselves – and that is energetic, creative, and professional leadership at the grassroots level and they will solve their own problems.”
The Mullens Opportunity Center is located at 300 Front Street in Mullens, in the former Mullens Grade School building.
For more information, phone 304-294-6188.
May 9, 2016
Mullens Opportunity Center will conduct farmers market
Photo courtesy of Dewey Houck
Butch McNeely, in orange shirt, State Farm agent in Mullens, assisted young adults in the garden at the Mullens Opportunity Center. McNeely arranged a $5,000 grant through State Farm to support the agriculture programs at the center.
Charlene Cook, director of operations at the Mullens Opportunity Center (MOC), and Ruby Ingram, Farm To School coordinator, have peas in the garden and half-runners in the high tunnel greenhouse to help boost the fresh produce that will be offered to those that support the farmers market at the center.
All who have a garden and wish to earn a little extra cash are urged to bring their extra produce to the MOC farmers market and offer it for sale.
“There is no fee to sell at the market and good produce goes quickly,” said Dewey Houck, director of Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL).
“The MOC hopes to provide produce through the SNAP program again this year,” Houck noted.
“Only those that sell their own produce and other goods will be welcome to sell their goods at the gardeners’ market,” he emphasized.
The free services and opportunities offered at the MOC are funded through many sources and volunteers, Houck explained.
Most importantly is Wyoming County Board of Education which provides the facility, Houck said.
The young adult labor is provided through a ROSS IES youth program which is funded through Region 1 Workforce.
Experience Works also provides labor through an older adult training program, Houck said.
Additionally, two AmeriCorps positions are provided through CCC West Virginia.
“RAIL must pay a fee for one AmeriCorps State and one AmeriCorps VISTA,” Houck noted.
Additionally, Butch McNeely, RAIL charter member and State Farm agent in Mullens, coordinated a $5,000 State Farm grant to assist with funding the Young Adult program at the center.
McNeely has supported the Mullens Opportunity Center since it opened in 2002, Houck said.
Nov 23, 2015
RAIL volunteers clear, research the ‘Lost Cemetery of Mullens’
By Mary Catherine Brooks, WYOMING COUNTY BUREAU CHIEF
Tim McGraw, right, and University of Kentucky volunteers identify and document African American graves from World War II in the “Lost Cemetery of Mullens.” The house in the background is where Nuriva coal tipple once stood, according to officials.
Several University of Kentucky students spent a weekend cleaning up and identifying grave sites in the “Lost Cemetery of Mullens,” along with local volunteers and staff from the Mullens Opportunity Center.
“Perched on a hillside across Slab Fork creek from the former coal camp of Nuriva, the cemetery is now a part of the city of Mullens,” explained Dewey Houck, Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL) director.
The RAIL Culture and Heritage Team is currently researching graves in the cemetery, Houck said.
During a recent visit, team members discovered the graves of three African American veterans from World War II.
“In addition, several unmarked graves were uncovered, buried under fallen leaves, branches and other debris.
“Some believe the Chinese workers, who died from the Caloric tunnel collapse while the Virginian Railway was being constructed, are also buried in the cemetery,” Houck said.
The Mullens Opportunity Center and RAIL have hosted several spring break teams and other volunteers during the past year, Houck emphasized. “Teams from Duquesne, Ohio State, Northwestern, Connecticut, Baltimore, Christopher Newport, Elon, Kentucky, and Madonna High School…”
“Weirton committed more than 4,000 hours of volunteer service this past year,” he said.
“Wyoming County volunteers committed over 2,000 hours planning, supervising, and assisting the volunteers,” Houck noted.
“University spring break teams account for about half of RAIL volunteer efforts,” Houck said.
These community projects are possible due to support from Wyoming County Schools, which provides the MOC facilities to host volunteers during their stays, according to Houck.
“Volunteer hours are completely dedicated to projects that enhance the community.
“For example, a high tunnel and gardening complex was built at the MOC,” Houck said. “Flood debris was cleared along the Guyandotte River. Raised beds were also installed at local schools for gardening.”
In September, more than 50 people participated in a cleanup project at the historic Itmann Company Store building.
In addition, the Guyandotte River Park was cleaned up and a boat ramp was installed with the help of Wyoming County East High School students.
“A trail was also built along Milam Creek, and building repairs and other projects were completed, all helping to make Wyoming County a better place to live and attract businesses,” Houck said.
Five spring break teams are booked for the 2016 season, which begins the last week in February and ends the last week of March.
“RAIL is considering an AmeriCorps NCCC team that would arrive in May, with a team of 10 and stay for six to 10 weeks.
“Since 2000, RAIL has averaged over 10,000 (volunteer) hours per year and looks to exceed the average in 2015 and 2016,” Houck emphasized.
Oct 5, 2015
Volunteers working to save historic Itmann Co. Store
By Mary Catherine Brooks, WYOMING COUNTY BUREAU CHIEF
Elron University students hauled load after load of clothing and other debris from the Itmann Company Store to dumpsters Tuesday as part of the statewide Day to Serve observance. Area volunteers, bottom photo, armed with chainsaws, weed-eaters and brush hogs chewed through the brush and weeds overtaking the Itmann Company Store building Tuesday. The massive cleanup project was spearheaded by Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL).
ITMANN – Area volunteers and a team of students and advisors from Elon University, in North Carolina, worked to clean up the iconic Itmann Company Store building, as well as begin construction of a “boat ramp” at the Guyandotte River Park, Tuesday, part of the statewide Day to Serve observance.
Once a picturesque testament to the early 20th century coal boom, the crumbling Itmann structure had become a community eyesore. Over the last few years, the historic facility has been seriously damaged by vandals, looted by thieves, overshadowed by thick brush and tall weeds, with portions used as a dump for tons of old clothing and other trash.
”This may be the most important project we’ve ever done,” emphasized Dewey Houck, executive director of Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL).
While men armed with chainsaws, weed-eaters and brush hogs chewed at the outside overgrowth, the students hauled load after load of clothing and other trash from the building to dumpsters provided by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Wyoming County Commission.
Houck said the property would be boarded up, at least temporarily, to secure the building and keep vandals from further destroying the facility until a plan could be devised to make the property a viable part of the community again.
“Everything takes money,” Houck noted. “As a non-profit, RAIL can get involved and at least get the property cleaned up with no cost to anybody.”
In cooperation with Billy Wayne Bailey, property owner, “the cleanup comes at a time when RAIL is working with local youth to assist with other community projects,” Houck said.
“We hope to get our youth program in operation later this fall,” Houck added. “That will provide a work team to keep the property clean and secure until a plan is developed to find the best use for it.
“We must all pull together to assure it’s not lost to decay.
“Hopefully, we can build a partnership of governments, resource providers, and others to begin a dialogue with Billy Wayne,” Houck said. “We need to determine if there might be some way to preserve the structure and include it in a plan to produce jobs in Wyoming County.”
Designed by Bluefield architect Alexander Mahood, the gigantic facility was constructed by Italian stonemasons in the mid 1920s. It housed the Pocahontas Fuel Company offices and store, as well as the post office, doctor’s office, among other services. The town was named after company president, Issac T. Mann. The mine and company store closed in the 1980s, and the structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
The 15 Elon University students, along with two advisors, were divided between cleaning up the Itmann property and assisting with the beginning phase of the Guyandotte River Park boat ramp.
The students are part of the university’s Gap Program, according to Elizabeth Coder, program coordinator.
The college freshman will not begin traditional campus courses until the next semester begins in January.
This semester, the students are being trained in leadership, environmental science and outdoor living skills.
Thus far, they have participated in a 25-day, 75-mile backpack hike through the Wind River Mountain Range in Wyoming, service projects in Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, S.D., and St. Louis, Mo., and will spend six weeks in Costa Rica before their semester ends.
“This is just the first phase,” explained Maria Dimengo, of RAIL, as volunteers cleared a path to the Guyandotte River from the small roadside park, near Wyoming County East High School.
When completed, park visitors may launch a small water craft from the ramp.
It is an effort to make the park and the river more “water craft friendly,” she said.
Additionally, the volunteers completed maintenance on the walking paths and picnic area in the park.
Sep 14, 2015
Agricultural programs expanding locally
By Mary Catherine Brooks, WYOMING COUNTY BUREAU CHIEF
A high tunnel greenhouse, pictured right, and gardens at the Mullens Opportunity Center can easily provide a large portion of food necessary to feed a large family, according to Dewey Houck, RAIL director. The MOC gardening practices are providing produce for the weekly farmers’ market. Pictured are Tim McGraw, left, and Ruby Ingram at the MOC garden complex which will produce fresh vegetables April-November. For more information or assistance in obtaining a high tunnel greenhouse at little or no cost, Houck is urging residents to phone the MOC at 304-294-6188.
Agricultural programs in Wyoming County are moving forward, including a Farm To School project and a farmers’ market, according to Dewey Houck, Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL) director.
“Projects being implemented in 2015 are paving the way to establish agriculture as a new business in the southern West Virginia coalfields,” Houck said.
“A lot of people are involved in the process and I feel like we can help bring gardening back as a way of life in the coalfields,” Houck said.
“Since Secretary of Agriculture Walt Helmick visited Wyoming County in January, much has transpired to promote agriculture in the coalfields,” Houck noted.
Helmick discussed the benefits of high tunnel greenhouses, and other agricultural practices, with area farmers at the Mullens Opportunity Center (MOC).
“Wyoming County residents and the local school system are proving to be a ready market for fresh fruits and produce.”
Ruby Ingram, an AmeriCorps member sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Education, established a Farm to School Program in the county.
Through the program, raised beds and other gardening practices were established at Herndon Consolidated Elementary and Middle, Mullens Middle and Mullens Elementary schools, Houck said.
The goal is for students to grow fresh vegetables for their school meals.
Lowe’s in Beckley provided lumber at no cost for the raised beds.
Also making contributions to the Farm to School program were Second Street Station, Tankersly Funeral Home, First Peoples Bank, Wyoming County Board of Education, First Community Bank, Leah Brewer and Charlene Cook.
Area businesses also provided additional resources, Houck said.
“The Farm to School Program will eventually connect farmers to schools so that local produce can be sold directly to the school,” Houck explained.
West Virginia University, through the Appalachian Foodshed Project, provided seed funding for a farmers’ market in Mullens.
The market has been conducted each Thursday at the MOC through the summer.
The Appalachian Foodshed Project is a program that assists West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky in expanding farming projects.
“Funding from the AFP Project made it possible to double SNAP and other benefits so those of need could receive twice the amount of their benefits,” Houck said. “Their funding also paid the cost for an AmeriCorps position and half the cost of a VISTA.”
Only local products can be sold at the farmers’ market, which will continue until the end of September.
Some vegetables from the MOC high tunnel greenhouse and fall crops will be sold as they become available later in the season.
Building a Farmers CO-OP is in the planning process in an effort to sell vegetables and fruits to the public and to the school system next year, he said.
Charlene Cook, along with Experience Works and ROSS IES workforces, have been able to use the MOC high tunnel greenhouse and gardens to provide an abundance of fresh vegetables to help get the farmers’ market established in Mullens, Houck said.
Local vendors as well as farmers from McDowell County are also selling their vegetables at the MOC market.
“The farming program would not have been possible without the help and momentum that came about through local volunteers and spring break teams from Ohio State, Baltimore University, Northwestern, Christopher Newport, and Duquesne,” Houck emphasized.
The volunteer effort, led by Gary Runion, provided more than 3,000 hours building the high tunnel complex.
Shirley Weaver, RAIL board member, spearheaded a fundraiser in her Florida hometown and raised $2,000.
Duquesne University participants coordinated a fundraiser that raised $2,400 to help jumpstart the agricultural program at the MOC, Houck noted.
“Although the mountainous area does not have large level parcels, there is more than enough space to feed the local population with plenty left over to market elsewhere,” Houck said.
“There is a demand for agricultural products that need little land and low investment to produce fruit, berries, nuts, mushrooms, honey, ginseng, pork, venison, goat and fish.
“By bringing together available resources and by applying human perseverance, farming can once again help support the livelihood of families in Appalachia.
“Once established, a high tunnel greenhouse and garden the size of the MOC complex can easily provide a large portion of food necessary to feed a large family,” he said.
The MOC garden complex includes a high tunnel greenhouse, vegetable garden, tool shed, watering system and compost bin that will produce fresh vegetables April through November.
“Through a USDA program, Wyoming County families are eligible to receive a high tunnel greenhouse at no cost or little cost,” Houck emphasized.
A high tunnel greenhouse can cost up to $10,000, Houck said.
For more information or assistance in obtaining a high tunnel greenhouse, Houck is urging residents to phone the MOC at 304-294-6188.
AUG 23, 2014
Rahall meets with miners on black lung issues
By Mary Catherine Brooks WYOMING COUNTY BUREAU CHIEF
MULLENS — They came for hope — some with questions, some with myriad paperwork to claim federal black lung benefits, some pulling oxygen machines to help them breathe due to the debilitating lung disease.
The miners attending a meeting Friday in the Mullens Opportunity Center wanted to know that benefits they’d been promised would be delivered.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., met with Wyoming County coal miners to discuss the changes in the laws regarding black lung benefits and the efforts under way now in Congress to overturn recent gains in the legislation.
Also talking with miners were Dennis Robertson, of the Bluestone Health Association; Joe Massey, president of the Fayette County and the National Black Lung Association; and Nancy Massey, who serves as secretary of the national organization; along with Sam Petsonk and Brenda Ellis, of the Wyoming County Black Lung Association.
Nancy Massey said her husband, Joe, deals with black lung health issues and uses oxygen.
“It’s no fun, when you’re trying to sleep,” she said, and you can hear your husband trying to breathe.
“And it doesn’t get any better. It just gets worse,” she said.
“The loss of a loved one to this debilitating disease is hard enough without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops,” Rahall told the group.
For several years, Rahall said he had introduced legislation to overturn Reagan-era changes to the black lung program. Those changes resulted in longtime and sick coal miners having to overcome new legal hurdles to claim their benefits, usually fighting against an array of lawyers. Rahall’s legislation, which U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd sponsored as an amendment to the new health care law in 2010, partially repealed those Reagan-era changes, and also made it easier for miners’ widows to claim benefits.
Byrd, in the final days of his life and in failing health himself, took the Senate floor to have language included in the Affordable Health Care Act that deemed any coal miner who has worked for 15 years in mining has the presumption of black lung disease, Rahall said.
Since that 2010 change in legislation, about 1,700 claims have been processed with more than 1,000 claims for surviving widows.
“There is a callous — and, let’s be honest, partisan — effort under way to undercut the programs designed to help treat the crippling effects of this terrible illness,” Rahall said.
“It may be that (the process) is so long and drawn out because, maybe, the coal miners won’t be with us to collect the benefits,” Rahall told the group.
“The too often callous treatment extended toward miners and surviving family members because of these burdensome requirements is being remedied, and I am so proud to have worked closely with Sen. Byrd to have helped make that happen,” Rahall said.
On average, Rahall said, it takes 42 months to process a claim for black lung benefits due to the backlog. He’s made suggestions that he believes will reduce that time to 34 months.
Dewey Houck, director of the Rural Appalachian Improvement League, along with Robertson and other panel members lauded Rahall’s continuing efforts to support coal miners.
“I want to thank our coal miners for laboring beneath the bowels of the earth to extract our energy … ,” Rahall said. “Unfortunately, their efforts are taken for granted in other places — especially the cities, where they just flip the lights on and don’t think about the sacrifices of our miners.”
July 14, 2014
AmeriCorps team, volunteers work on projects By Mary Catherine Brooks Wyoming, County Bureau Chief
An AmeriCorps NCCC six-member team from Vicksburg, Miss., is spending 10 weeks in Mullens through the Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL). On Friday, the team, along with local volunteers, will work at the Guyandotte River Park, located near Wyoming County East High School and part of the Coal Heritage Trail, according to Dewey Houck, RAIL director. The team will also assist with Wyco Church restoration efforts, a Friends of Milam Creek plan and Mullens Opportunity Center tourism enhancement projects. Ages 18-24, the group will be housed in the MOC, Houck said, and contribute more than 2,400 volunteer hours at no cost to the community, with the exception of their lodging. AmeriCorps NCCC is a federal program similar to the Citizens Conservation Corps of the 1930s. Sponsoring organizations, such as RAIL, must provide sleeping and cooking accommodations as well as community service projects, Houck noted. Sponsors must also provide a detailed grant application and concise project schedule. Team members provide their own transportation, purchase their food and cook their own meals, Houck said. “The Mullens Opportunity Center has facilities for teams such as NCCC, and MOC staff and volunteers are excellent hosts for out-of-town work crews,” Houck emphasized. “The NCCC team visit to Mullens is made possible by volunteers that make up RAIL that will orchestrate over 15,000 hours of volunteer service dedicated to community and economic development in southern West Virginia in 2014,” Houck said. Last year, three NCCC teams assisted with Boy Scout Community Service Initiative projects at the MOC, Houck said. Prior to 2013, six teams helped with flood cleanup, building the Tater Hill picnic pavilion, and constructing the MOC’s outdoor stage and Jack Feller Information Center.
April 14, 2014
Free garden plots available for disabled individuals By Mary Catherine Brooks Wyoming County Bureau Chief
Free garden spaces are being made available to physically-challenged individuals at the Mullens Opportunity Center, in conjunction with the Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL), on a first-come, first-serve basis. Only a limited number of the small garden spots are available to those with such disabilities as arthritis, respiratory illnesses, among other physical limitations. Ergonomic tools will also be available for the physically-challenged gardeners, according to Charlene Cook, project director. Over the past few years, RAIL has sponsored multiple community gardens at the center, Cook said. “This year, we are making an extra effort to support physically-challenged persons,” she noted. “You may have COPD, or other chronic illnesses, and would like to plant a garden. We welcome you to the MOC.” Cook, with the Wyoming County Diabetes Coalition Healthy Lifestyle Program, and Faron Lucas, Experience Works, will co-direct the project. “We have raised beds and regular gardening spaces available with concrete walkway accessibility to accommodate gardeners with physical limitations,” she noted. The mission of RAIL is to improve life quality for families living in the coalfields and the Healthy Lifestyle program is an important component in that pursuit, Cook said. “RAIL is managed by the people and for the residents in the coalfields, and we look to those that have a need to participate in the process. “Dealing with those who are plagued with arthritis would be a new specialized target, but we feel a good place to help bring comfort to those who suffer with joint pain,” she said.
For more information or to reserve a space, phone 304-294-6188.
October 28, 2013
NEW RICHMOND — Work on a new roadside park, between Mullens and Pineville, is well under way, according to Dewey Houck, director of Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL).
Creating the Guyandotte River Roadside Park/Outdoor Educational Center began in July as part of the Boy Scouts’ community service projects. With fires blazing and the sounds of tools shattering the riverside oasis, a team of students and staff from Butler University, in Indianapolis, Ind., completed three days of work, Oct. 17-19, clearing a picnic area and a walking trail that loops the park, Houck said. With the help of local volunteers, the students cut brush and trees, removed trash, constructed steps along the trail and placed picnic tables. The three-acre site, leased from Pocahontas Land, will be an engaging stop for travelers along the Coal Heritage Trail, Houck believes. “People traveling need a place to stop,” Houck noted. “This is such a beautiful spot; it’s a wonderful roadside park. “It’s just off the highway. “Everything will be handicap-accessible. “You will be able to put a canoe in the river here,” he added. “You’ll be able to watch the train from here. The train will be something that makes the park unique.” The picnic area sits atop a knoll overlooking the trail, the Guyandotte River as well as W. Va. 10/16. Additionally, Houck wants to create an outdoor classroom for students. Wyoming County East High School sits only half-a-mile away. “It would be an easy walk from the school,” Houck noted. He said students could conduct water testing, explore aquatic life, and study the environment. “Can you imagine a student who wouldn’t rather be here than the classroom?” asked Ann Pauley, of Harrisburg. Pauley is one of several retired professionals who serve as RAIL volunteers. She has written grants and completed other projects, Houck said. Thus far, Houck has completed work on the new park with volunteer labor, including Gary Runion and Wayne Compton, both of Mullens.
“They do all kinds of work for RAIL,” Houck explained. Darren Lusk will soon move in equipment to level the parking area. “We couldn’t do any of this without our volunteers,” Houck emphasized. The only cost will be $2,000 for guardrails, he said. The Butler students spent one entire day working in the rain, Pauley said. “They were wet and muddy; I didn’t hear any complaining,” she said. “We are thrilled to be in your community,” said Rachel Hahn, one of the student volunteers. “It’s been a joy. We hope everyone comes out to enjoy the Guyandotte River Park.” “It’s exciting to see the trail finished,” added Josh Etchberger, also one of the students. The students spent their fall break completing the work, staying in the Mullens Opportunity Center. Alex Petersen, also one of the student volunteers, has spent his last three autumn breaks doing volunteer work at similar locations. He said the students take such community service projects very seriously. “It’s one of the most powerful experiences,” Petersen emphasized.
July 29, 2013
By Mary Catherine Brooks Wyoming County Bureau Chief
MULLENS —Moving in tandem, Boy Scout Troop D207, of California, worked alongside an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) team at the Mullens Opportunity Center Tuesday.
The Scouts were building picnic tables that will be placed at the campsites, and the picnic areas, behind the center.
While the NCCC members assisted with the picnic table project, they also wheeled wheelbarrows of cement to complete a 120-foot handicap ramp that will allow visitors access to the Guyandotte River, which flows behind what was once the grade school building in Mullens.
Visitors with physical limitations may use their wheelchairs to fish, to picnic, or just sit by the water, according to Dewey Houck, director of Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL).
The complete campground project has been in the making for nearly two years and now boasts 10 sites with electricity, water, and sewage services, Houck said.
Three primitive camp sites will sit on the banks of the river, he said.
Additionally, the new ramp provides easy access to the Guyandotte and a hiking trail is also under construction.
“Local people are taking advantage of this already,” Houck said of the campground. “We’ve had some who’ve rented a month at a time.”
Nearly 200 Scouts have participated and signed the “RAIL board,” with every state represented on the board.
“Everybody that works on this project signs the board,” Houck emphasized.
He also noted that AmeriCorps NCCC teams from years past have signed the various projects that have added to the numerous services offered at the MOC, including the outdoor stage for community events and the museum exhibiting the area’s coal and rail history.
Additionally, the Scouts worked to create river access on state Rt. 10, between Mullens and Pineville, on a three-acre roadside park that will be developed by RAIL, Houck noted.
Houck lauded his volunteers, most notably Gary Runion, who designed all the projects at the center and supervised construction.
He also complimented Charlene Cook, who works with all the teams, the volunteers, and mans the center daily.
“We’ve got about 35 volunteers and they all do a fantastic job,” Houck emphasized.
Houck said none of the projects would have been possible without the assistance of the AmeriCorps teams and volunteers.
“There’s no way we would have finished these projects without the help of the Scouts,” he said.
January 28, 2013
By C.V. Moore Register-Herald Reporter
It’s midmorning, and a group of volunteers pauses its vacuuming and dusting to listen to a song of praise from the pulpit of New Salem Baptist Church in Tams. “I feel good, good, good down in my soul,” sings Queen Schoolfield, born and raised in Tams and a member of church ever since she was a little girl. Back in those days, New Salem was full to brimming every Sunday. So was Tams. Now, the congregation has dwindled to about a dozen regulars, and the church is the only building left standing in the abandoned coal camp. But community members hope to breathe new life into this spot as a cultural heritage site. Backing Schoolfield up in the choir are volunteers of all ages who are participating in the yearly Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. On Monday, the Appalachian Coal Country Team worked alongside the Rural Appalachian Improvement League’s (RAIL) youth program to clean up the church, and an African American cemetery up the road. As he videotaped the performance, Dewey Houck, president of RAIL, said, “Coalfield history is important to us, and this is definitely a part of it.” When the hymns are over, it’s back to work. Wobbling on a ladder, a group of young people struggled to dismantle a ceiling light and rid it of dead insects. “I’m so happy they’re cleaning those lights,” said Schoolfield. “Thank the Lord.” There’s no question that New Salem is in need of some TLC, but it has obviously been well-loved by generations of congregants. Built in 1922, it served the black community of Tams through the heyday of coal mining in the Winding Gulf Coalfield of Raleigh County. Flanked by old portraits of its earliest pastors, its pulpit rises slightly above dozens of peach-colored pews. The late morning winter sunshine streams through its antique rolled glass windows, shaped in gothic arches. It strikes on old hymnals, fans printed with images of a black Jesus and plaques honoring congregants who have passed away. “In Loving Memory of Ivory Wiley Lavender,” reads one. “She was like Queenie. If you got around her, you got a blessing,” said Tom Cox of Stotesbury, a town right up the road. Cox is one of the leaders in the effort to restore historic structures along the Coal Heritage Trail and present them to visitors. As a boy, he sold loads of coal to area households, getting to know quite a few people in the Winding Gulf in the process. “This is the life of a coal camp, the church,” he said. “When we were kids, life revolved around the church, and that lifestyle is drying up. If we don’t save these structures, there’s a way of life that’s leaving here.” Like many of the coal towns around it, Tams has a rich history that lives on mostly in memory and a few photographs, since its abandonment in the mid-1980s. Founded in 1909 by the coal baron W.P. Tams, owner of The Gulf Smokeless Coal Co., its segregated neighborhoods included Upper Tams for African Americans and Hunk Hill for the foreign-born. Every house was painted white with green trim. “People often think West Virginia is an ethnically homogenous place, and this is one of the last physical relics in the Winding Gulf that is proof that that story isn’t entirely true,” said Jack Seitz, volunteer field coordinator for the Appalachian Coal Country Team. “I think it’s neat and important that it challenges that stereotype.” New Salem was one of two black churches in town; the three white churches were Baptist, Methodist and Catholic. After a 10-year community effort, New Salem will finally get a new roof this spring. There are plans to repaint as well. But it still needs running water, and even paying utility bills is a struggle. For years, Schoolfield has sold hot dogs and baked goods on the street in Beckley to keep the building heated. RAIL has a vision to turn places like New Salem Baptist Church into a basis for cultural tourism in southern West Virginia. They’d like to see the church on the National Register of Historic Places. They hope to restore the church at Wyco as a repository for coalfields history. They want to catalog and record coal camp culture by those who lived it. They see the Winding Gulf and its relics as a “Gateway to the Southern West Virginia Coalfields” on the Coal Heritage Trail. The trail includes 187 miles of “scenic industrial heritage” through a five-county region that reflects a “legacy of working-class culture, industrial might, racial and ethnic diversity,” according to trail promoters. “We’ve got to protect and restore our heritage to build a new economy,” said Seitz. ATV trails from nearby Burning Rock Off Road Park wind right past New Salem. That’s one market to be tapped, said Houck. Another are the people who left the coalfields when the industry went bust. “You’d be surprised the number of people in the summer who return here. They show up in my driveway looking for help finding this or that,” said Cox. “They are a part of our history and if we’re going to attract visitors to our community to see what it was like 50 years ago at the height of the coal boom, then we’ve got to preserve these churches,” said Houck. But the group says it needs more support to make it work, whether in the form of cash donations or additional volunteer organizers. They want to create the Coal Heritage Trail Coalition of Volunteers for Community Enrichment to see the organization’s goals through to completion. But on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, they had hands enough at least to spiff up New Salem and also clean up the abandoned St. Johns Church cemetery for the African American coal camp at Stotesbury. Those buried at St. Johns include black veterans from World War I. At least one served with the 803 Pioneer Infantry Battalion, as reflected on a gravestone. Local residents want to preserve the foundation and corner stone of the church; put up a memorial to African American miners; and dedicate the cemetery to WWI African American veterans. Daniels resident Glenda Apple showed up in Tams to volunteer after searching for a nearby project on the Day of Service’s official website. “When I saw what the project was, I thought it was very important for the area. I really think it’s worthwhile,” she said. Right away, Houck began recruiting her to become more deeply involved in the preservation work his organization wants to accomplish. Meanwhile, Tyler Stafford, a student at Wyoming County East High School, did janitorial duty in the church sanctuary. Stafford is a part of the West Virginia Coalfields Communities Youth Corps, RAIL’s youth program for high school students. They work 18 hours a week after school on various community development projects. They get a paycheck, experience and mentorship. “I’ve met a lot of people and made new friends,” said Stafford. “It’s fun.” The youth program’s director, Charlene Cook, said it teaches students a work ethic that will come in handy later. “Your future wives will thank me,” she told two teenage boys running a sweeper in the church basement. One room over, Schoolfield heats up water for cleaning. One day she hopes for a water hookup at the church, but for now she uses jugs that were purchased and hauled in. “I feel like a million dollars,” she says. For more information on the Rural Appalachian Improvement League’s efforts to restore relics at Tams, Stotesbury and other coalfield towns, visit www.railwv.org, send an e-mail to email@example.com, or call 304-294-6188.
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