Briana Heaney Published

Rural Community Creates Grassroots Community Center

Woman sits in children's classroom wearing long dress and sandals.
The organization received the building in 2017, when they started the nonprofit the B.A.R.N.
Briana Heaney/ West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In 2015, Nellis Elementary School closed and left behind a vacant building. Meanwhile, residents had been wanting a place to meet, and serve the community.

That’s when Anita Perdue had the idea to turn the empty building into a community center.

“We’ve always wanted one, So when we saw the opportunity to take something and refurbish it into something that was needed, we jumped on the opportunity,” Perdue said. 

A Large stone sign sits at the top of the hill and Reads BARN community center.
Perdue says when they first accepted ownership of the building the organization had no money. The next week they received a grant of $50,000.

Briana Heaney/ West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Thus the B.A.R.N. was created – an acronym for the communities it initially served: Brushton, Ashford, Ridgeview and Nellis. Now it is partnered with the Boone County Family Support center to support a greater area. 

The organization provides free items and services to the community and gives community members a place to meet. They host events, often in partnership with other government or community organizations. 

a board in that has says give what you can, take what you need.
The Center has kits for the homeless that include portable grills, sleeping bags, warm clothes, and sleeping pads.

Briana Heaney/ West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Vaccinations And Christmas Celebrations

Last week the B.A.R.N. hosted the Boone County Department of Health in their community events room for a flu shot drive. Wanda Smith attended the event and got this year’s flu shot along with her husband, Luther and daughter Nioka Righter.  

Man wearing a Veterans hat gets a shot in the arm.
Luther Smith receives his annual flu shot. Workers at the health department said that meeting individual in the communities where they are comfortable helps overcome fear of vaccinations and get more residents vaccinated.

Credit: Briana Heaney/ West Virginia Public Broadcasting

All five of her kids went to Nellis Elementary. Now they come to the building for shots and their great grandchildren’s little league games. This year Wanda Smith is hosting her 14 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren at the B.A.R.N. for Thanksgiving. 

“It’s really nice. We have a huge family. So we have our Thanksgiving and Christmas here in the gym. Every year for Christmas and Thanksgiving since it was a community center,” she said.

B.A.R.N. also provides resources for the community like free clothing, library books, WiFi, free meals, pet food, hygienic products, vaccines, cleaning supplies, fitness classes, meal delivery services – and the list goes on. 

Colorful clothes on circular clothing racks sit in the middle of the room.
The Center has a clothing shop were all the clothing is free.

Briana Heaney/ West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Grassroots Valley

Dakota Smith is the director of the B.A.R.N. and helps keep everything from clothes to food stocked and ready for the community.

“This is one of our food pantry rooms. We have two refrigerators and two freezers. We’re hoping to add to the funding so we can get more meat for our community,” Dakota Smith said. 

Man stands in commercial kitchen.
Dakota Smith has been with the organization since 2020.

Briana Heaney/ West Virginia Public Broadcasting

He said the organization has a few different sources of food for families through different partnerships with organizations like the U.S. Department of Agriculture where they get free food, and the Mountaineer Food Bank where they get foods at deeply reduced rates. 

“As it stands right now, we’re serving between 250 and 350 families or individuals a month. And that’s not quite good enough. So we’re seeking to expand our funding,” he said. 

Pet supplies on a shelf
The organization is collaborating with the Boone Animal Rescue Coalition, or BARC, to offer free pet supplies for community members in need.

Briana Heaney/ West Virginia Public Broadcasting

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 4 Boone County residents live in poverty. Boone County was also a region devastated by the opioid epidemic, which at one point had 1 in 4 residents receiving an opioid prescription and continues to see overdoses from opioids.  

“The needs are great. And also I think that you know, I’m a believer in God. And I think that that’s what we’re here for us to serve one another. I really do,” Perdue said. 

She said this grass roots community center exemplifies the heart and soul of Appalachian mountain living.