CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A union of painters and allied trades gave $5,000 to Reconnecting McDowell, a multifaceted effort to find solutions to economic and social problems in the Southern West Virginia county.Officials involved with Reconnecting McDowell hope other potential donors take note of the gesture.Delegate Dan Poling, D-Wood, presented a check from the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades during a Tuesday morning press conference at the state Capitol.The American Federation of Teachers is leading efforts to raise money for the group in what is widely considered the state's most struggling county.Poling, business manager and secretary-treasurer of IUPAT's District 53 in West Virginia, said, "We are appreciative of what the AFT has stepped up to do. We want to be supportive of that."Christine Campbell, president of West Virginia's AFT chapter, said the AFT is thankful for the union's donation."I would encourage other labor unions to make contributions so we can step up our work," she said.
Reconnecting McDowell is a public-private partnership consisting of more than 100 labor, business and community partners and meant to improve the lives of children and families in the county.Bob Brown, a longtime AFT employee and Reconnecting McDowell's project manager, said McDowell County coal companies would not return to what they were like in the mid-1960s.McDowell County became the nation's largest coal-producing county during those years. In 1965, the county had more than 120,000 residents. Today, barely 22,000 people still have homes there."But some coal seams are left. There is enough coal left to sustain people still living there," Brown said. "Coal has always been a boom-to-bust cycle. It is going to boom again, but not like it was back then."
Jim Justice, a former McDowell County mine owner and current owner of The Greenbrier, is building a huge coal preparation plant in the town of War, Brown said."There is hope for economic development," he said. "Education is the lynchpin. A big part of what we want to do is to create hope for the children of McDowell County."The organization's website -- www.reconnectingmcdowell.org
-- points out:* "McDowell County has ranked last in education in West Virginia for most of the past decade."
* "McDowell County leads the nation in overdose deaths from narcotic pain medications."* "72 percent of students live in a household without gainful employment." Reconnecting McDowell pledges a commitment to "seeking solutions to McDowell's complex problems -- including poverty, underperforming schools, drug and alcohol abuse, housing shortages, limited medical services and inadequate access to technology and transportation."Almost half the residents receive some form of public assistance," the Reconnecting McDowell website states. "Among West Virginia counties, McDowell consistently ranks at or near the bottom in measures of health, income and education."Whether you're talking about good roads, public transportation, housing, Internet bandwidth, recreation centers or health clinics, chronic shortage is the common thread. The community has spent decades making do with little or nothing."Anyone interested in contacting Reconnecting McDowell can reach the group by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com