Photos of Appalachia: Round 1

A lot of people back home have been asking me:

summersville1So what exactly are you doing in Mullens?

For work, my job is to write grants for the Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL) and manage our new youth program. Our goal for RAIL Youth Corps is to mentor young adults between the ages of 17 and 24, and teach them how to become entrepreneurs in the southern coalfields. I serve as a VISTA through Conservation Legacy, an organization that is supported by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) / Appalachian Coal Country Team (ACCT).

In between all this, I help manage service projects, study development in rural areas, and learn how to create business for “the new economy.” So I read a lot of reports and statistics on Wyoming County, interview the locals, and have lots of conversation with researchers and academics.

I also get to attend interesting events and conferences. VISTA makes sure I spend a lot of time on professional development, so RAIL sends me places where I can network with other nonprofits, meet potential funders, and talk with people around the state. Meeting other entrepreneurs is especially helpful, because it is difficult to operate a business when there are so many obstacles.

I also love nature and the outdoors, so I make sure I spend lots of time hiking the trails, camping along rivers, and learning the history of this region. I think it might be easier if I show you some photos of a typical “Day in the Life” and you will see what I mean.

When I am not in Cleveland, I live in a school on the Guyandotte River. This building was abandoned after a flood devastated the city of Mullens in 2001. During that time, it became a community hub called “the MOC” (Mullens Opportunity Center) and a non-profit organization called RAIL. That’s why you hear me mention the two interchangeably.

On the other side of this building, we have crops, a hoop house and gardens. These photos were taken on my first visit over the summer.

Inside the MOC, there is a college wall. Many university groups that work on RAIL projects sign the wall. They also hang out in the group kitchen and cook their meals.

Here is a picture of the MOC outdoor stage. We had movie night here in the summer, and if you are a bluegrass musician, I would love to talk to you. We hope to have some outdoor concerts and other events.

When I walk to the Dollar General, I pass a laundromat and a bunch of vacant buildings. When I lean over the railing after a trip from the post office, this is my river shot. The wall along the river welcomes you. This mural is in the center of town.

If you hike beyond the top of Tater Hill, you will see this illuminate at night. I see this view on my afternoon hikes. The path is located just across the street from the MOC, and it’s a wonderful workout for hikers.

The downtown needs a lot of work but people do what they can to support it. Busted out doors and dilapidated buildings are the norm. Imagine what we could do with this one.

Here is a photo of my boss Dewey, Ms. Pugh, and Geneva, Ms. Pugh’s daughter. Ms. Pugh and her congregation need a new roof, so we are trying to find a roof crew to work on that project.

I can’t remember who snapped this photo of me, Allen and Michael. Allen is on staff at the MOC, and Michael is a researcher who worked on an archechtural dig  near Tams mountain. This is Queenie, an elder from one of the local African-American churches.

We have a lot of community projects going on. Here is a picture of the Wyco Church, which volunteers work on from time to time. We also had university students and AmeriCorps teams help us build this Guyandotte River Park, which is just down the street from me. Here at the green mountain orchard, they planted fruit trees.

I am excited to have friends and loved ones visit. Autumn promises to be beautiful, and I am told to watch the leaves change from the bottom up! How different it will be to watch my favorite season splash color across Central Appalachia. We have two huge service projects on Tuesday. Farmer’s Day Parade is this weekend and Bridge Day along the New River is just around the corner.

waterfallWhen I get more time, I will show you photos of the Gauley Bridge, Fayetteville, Logan, the Kenawha Forest, and several other hikes and trips. I promise not to bore you.

Oh yeah, I turned 53 on Mullens Chili Night! The Cheat River Band entertained the crowd and Cricket bought me a beer. It was one of my best birthdays ever.