The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation has announced it will give $150,000 to two West Virginia towns participating in the Turn This Town Around Project.
Leaders in Grafton and Matewan will be given the money for projects they develop to revitalize their communities.
This is part of 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.
Through the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the towns of Grafton and Matewan will receive up to $75,000 each in grants to help pay for as many as 20 revitalization projects in each community. But there are strings attached. A core team of at least three people have to work on a project, and commit to attending workshops. In Grafton, one of those people, Douglas Flohr, is working to expand the farmer’s market. Flohr says grant money would help.
"Almost immediately, it’s canopies. We were talking with the folks in Bridgeport, we don’t want people just pulling up with a pickup truck and selling stuff out of the back of the truck. If we can provide canopies, once we get folks selling their produce, when they start making money, it will grow," he said.
"We see local artists coming, anybody with something will be able to sell at this market. The seed money will allow us to buy some infrastructure right up front."
The revitalization projects included in Turn this Town Around fall into three areas. The first are regarded as low-hanging fruit, which means they can be completed by the end of this year. Each individual project can receive up to $2,500. The second area is intermediate. That means the project can be completed by next July. The final area is bold, transformational, which may take years to complete. Flohr says he hopes to be involved with several different projects in all these areas.
"I don’t think we are ever going to see a blossoming of Grafton in the downtown area. I think we see it as a place where there are boutique shops, come in and get some coffee, that type of thing. It’s not going to be a strip mall. We aren’t going to see J.C. Penny again," he said.
"I think the farmer’s market will help us economically to bring folks to the downtown area. It’s a community. It’s giving people a place where they want to live."
Another member of the farmer’s market team, is Peggy Barney. She’s also on another team working on civic infrastructure. This includes getting an after business hours conversation group together in Grafton, to meet and talk about how to improve the community. Discussion like this used to happen but it fell by the way side.
"We’ve talked to different groups, there are different people who are interested in getting that re-organized. Different businesses, each month, a different business would sponsor it," said Barney.
"It would be at their business or a location of their choosing. It’s just a meet and greet, getting to know everybody."
Barney has lived in Grafton for many years. She says throughout that time, she’s seen her community change a great deal. She’s very excited about the Turn this Town Around process, which she says is different from past revitalization efforts.
"I have been involved in efforts like this for some time over the years. I have seen Grafton go from a very prosperous town to losing all our industries," she said.
"This is a little bit different than anything that has been done before. Looking around the room, you can feel the energy."
The teams must submit applications for the funding by August 1.