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West Virginians work to transform region

By Staff | Jun 19, 2015

The Coalfield Development Corporation, (CDC) a not-for-profit group, is working to improve the lives of low income West Virginian’s by creating quality jobs, affordable homes and educational opportunities.

Niki Rowe-Fortner, associate director and native of Wayne County explained, the organization’s goal is to revitalize Appalachia by helping its citizens thrive.

“We have a lot of generational poverty in southern West Virginia,” she said.

“There’s not a lot of diversity. Theres a big reliance on coal and as we all know, coal is on the decline, so those jobs are dwindling.”

“We want to develop communities and enhance community,” she said.

The organization works to achieve its mission through three programs.

The quality homes initiative focuses on affordable housing development. Crews renovate abandoned and dilapidated buildings for mixed use as affordable housing for those in need and commercial space.

Last November the group celebrated completion of the Urlings General Store in Wayne County.

The building serves was office space for the local housing authority, a coffee shop and residential space.

The quality lives initiative is meant to provide both crew members and housing tenants with life skills training. Crew members are required to spend three hours a week in courses that promote personal and professional growth. Things like parenting classes, cooking classes and finance classes are available.

Rowe-Fortner said building citizenship through mentoring is a big aspect of the program.

The quality jobs initiative focuses on construction and deconstruction projects that serve as on-the-job training. The jobs initiative is the organization’s signature program. Crew members are selected through partnerships with local high school’s in Wayne, Lincoln and Mingo County. Those chosen are between the ages of 18 and 25, and are either unemployed or underemployed.

The jobs initiative requires members to work on site 33 hours a week and to spend six hours a week in local community college’s in order to obtain an associate’s degree in applied science.

CDC was established in 2009 and flourished under the direction of executive director Brandon Dennision, a Shepherd University alumni and former youth pastor for the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church.

As part of an effort they’re calling “Reclaim Appalachia,” the CDC staff and crew traveled to Shepherdstown this week to assist the church in the deconstruction of abandoned buildings, where materials gathered can be salvaged to produce new furniture.

“Anything that can be salvageable and made into something else, we try to take.” Rowe-Fortner said.

The group plans to haul materials that can be repurposed back down state where additional crew members will build furniture to sell to the public.

Revenue from the sale of the furnishings goes directly back into the program.

CDC has plans to open a new 7,000 square foot wood shop from which Reclaim Appalachia will be based. The furniture is available for sale to individuals and retail locations.

More information about Reclaim Appalachia can be found at: www.reclaimappalachia.org. Information about the organization can be found at their website: www.coalfield-development.org.