Editor's Note: We bring you a story in our continuing series on how the towns of Grafton and Matewan are turning themselves around through a special collaborative project between West Virginia Public Broadcasting, West Virginia Focus magazine and the West Virginia Community Development Hub. As Ben Adducchio reports, a recent town meeting in Grafton allowed residents to discuss ideas on what projects they would like to work on.
Grafton is the county seat of Taylor County and has a population of 5,000. It’s one of the two towns in the state selected as part of the “Turn This Town Around” project. Matewan, in Mingo County, is the other. These towns over the next year will be going through a makeover, so to speak, by members of the community, to make the towns look better.
At a recent community meeting, leaders of the Grafton Turn this Town Around project asked the 131 people who attended, to brainstorm about short-term, intermediate, and long-term revitalization projects.
One of the long-term projects suggested is a new entertainment park, near the Tygart Lake, which would host a state of the art movie theatre. Members of the community saw it as an ambitious but interesting idea.
It was a high energy meeting. People wanted to discuss and share ideas, no matter their age.
Grafton has its own community improvement coach, Eric Pories. He helps facilitate discussion at the community meetings, and works to get discussion going.
"Community’s are made up of people, not buildings," he said to the crowd.
"And people have their own stories."
Residents voted on what projects they would like to see and work on. The votes were compiled by representatives from West Virginia Community Development Hub. Some of the most popular ideas included: implementing a community garden, restoring an historic hotel in downtown Grafton to its former glory, and establishing a walking trail. Kent Spellman with West Virginia Community Hub says ideas are fantastic, but executing those ideas is even more important.
"This is about what am I willing to do. If you want to get engaged in a project, be aware there may be consequences. We want you to get up on your feet and be engaged," he said.
"This process doesn’t work if you just sit back and watch. Community development is not a spectator sport, you have to be involved. You have to own this process."
Spellman says although the Turn This Town Around Project is a year-long program, it may take longer than that to turn Grafton around. And he says, that’s perfectly fine.
"West Virginians are really proud of their ability to survive. Well I’m going to challenge you to change that thinking. It’s time to stop being proud of surviving, and start being proud of thriving," he said.
"That’s what we are trying to do here in Grafton and Matewan. It’s to get the ball rolling. It’s not going to happen in a year, we know that, but to get the ball rolling so five years down the road, ten years down the road, we can look back and say, ‘remember how this got started?’"
Grafton will conduct a community clean-up day as part of its process, scheduled this weekend. That’s an important weekend for Grafton, as Mother’s Day began there back in 1908.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Turn this Town Around Project is a collaboration between West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and West Virginia Focus magazine, along with West Virginia Community Development Hub. Wednesday, we will have a story from Matewan’s Turn This Town Around Project.
For more information on the Turn This Town Around project, click here.