community service

AFHA AmeriCorps, Who We Are, What We Do, Who We Serve.

My friends and I  in AmeriCorps serve my state in so many ways I thought I would let you explore some of the interesting things about, “Who We Are, What We Do, and Who We Serve in the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area in collaboration with AmeriCorps.

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia circa 1903

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia circa 1903

The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area is a regional initiative to promote, conserve and educate the public about our Appalachian heritage sites and forests within West Virginia and western Maryland. We work on a variety of community projects relating to heritage development,conservation,historic preservation and economic revitalization. AFHA AmeriCorps is funded in part by Volunteer West Virginia and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Each year our regional AFHA AmeriCorps service members have a meeting with some of the community members we serve. AFHA,held its Annual Stakeholders Meeting in May in the small town of Philippi, in Barbour County, West Virginia. Philippi is a town of about 2900 people with a rich history that centers around the Civil War and its role as the location of the first land battle of the war.

panorama of Downtown Philippi West Virginia... Wikipedia

Panorama of downtown Philippi, West Virginia… Wikipedia

During these meetings we share information about the projects we are working on within the communities we serve. We give community leaders information about what we really achieve while spending our year with them as service members. It was stated at the annual meeting, by Alison Thornton, Assistant to the Director of AFHA, that “a total of 920 community volunteers who serve in 16 counties have put in 10,076 Appalachian Forest Heritage Area service hours so far this year, with 44,683 beneficiaries of our work. Thrity eight service members have improved or treated 643.60 acres of public land with in our counties and AmeriCorps has over all  39,775.75 hours of service this year.” The impact of those 10,076 hours have in West Virginia is huge. Making the time AHFA members serve worth more than $150,000.00 in  man-hours to our state economy for the first half of the fiscal year.

Many of the positions that AFHA AmeriCorps fill are tough physical jobs in very isolated locations making their positions hard to fill. My fellow members work with the Forest Service and other conservation agencies repairing trails, clearing invasive species and fighting forest fires. Some members spend time working with the Arts, in tourism, and at historic locations doing preservation and giving tours. Some serve in rural communities working on economic revitalization.Some spend only a few hours a month in their office, instead working at construction and demolition sites, where  buildings are being redeveloped and updated. Yet, we all serve with this motto in mind “Getting Things Done.”

So when you get us all together it is a wonderful educational opportunity not only for the public but for us as members also. We see and hear about other members projects and the impact they are making for the better. We hear from speakers, who like us, are trying to make a difference in their area of expertise.We are also encouraged to explore the communities where we serve to get a deeper understanding of the area’s history and needs.

AFHA AmeriCorps members listing to Barbour County Circuit Clerk explaining about community history and the courthouse.

AFHA AmeriCorps members listing to Barbour County Circuit Clerk explaining about community history and the courthouse.

This by far is the most important part of our meetings from a member standpoint. We talk with local leaders about the successes and failures of our program. We see first hand what our service is doing in these communities. It is a time to see that our efforts are real and tangible.So with cooperation from the city of Philippi we were able to tour the town, see historical locations and see some of the physical evidence of our work. It gives all of us a chance to understand the area where we serve better and leaves each of us with a feeling of pride as we share in each other’s positive impact.

AmeriCorps listen to Dustin from Woodlands Development Group about redevelopment work done on the Sunnyside building with the help of AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps listen to Dustin Smith from Woodlands Development Group about redevelopment work done on the Sunshine building with the help of AmeriCorps.

Alex Thomas discusses the challanges of historic Preservation and redevelopment of the Sunnyside building with another AmeriCorps member

Alex Thomas discusses the challenges of historic preservation and redevelopment of the Sunshine building with another AmeriCorps member.

Alex Thomas serves as a AFHA AmeriCorps project manager for Woodlands Development Group  ( a local non-profit housing developer) on this main street building in Philippi. The building was almost a total loss for redevelopment in a town of this size but with many community groups working together and funding coming from grants the future looks brighter for this building. When finished the building will have retail space and two modern upstairs apartments for people who work in the downtown area. It is this collaboration between local officials, AmeriCorps service members,non-profits, the State and Federal Government that we begin to see what is possible. Every AmeriCorps wants to be part of the solution for our communities problems.

Store Front of Sunshine building before repairs begin

Store Front of Sunshine building before repairs begin photo courtesy of Alex Thomas

Hands on crew members inside the Sunshine building doing restoration work to the punched tin ceiling

Hands on crew members inside the Sunshine building doing restoration work to the punched tin ceiling photo courtesy of Alex Thomas

In the end AFHA and AmeriCorps is all about the people and communities we serve. In Philippi we were lucky to have the opportunity to see one of the largest covered bridges still in use in the United States. Seeing the bridges long historic arches puts all of our efforts into perspective about what is important about this region and its history. We serve as AFHA AmeriCorps to remind the world that we have a proud and long history that deserves to be protected, preserved, developed and cherished. As AmeriCorps members we make a difference in little communities just like this one all over West Virginia, so that the future of this region will be brighter, our communities will be stronger and our history will never be lost.

Barbour County, West Virginia, Philippi Covered Bridge

Barbour County, West Virginia, Philippi Covered Bridge 2016

It is my pleasure to serve the people as an AFHA AmeriCorps in rural West Virginia!! For more information about AmeriCorps and where they serve follow this link, National Service AmeriCorps, or visit http://www.appalachianforest.us/americorps.htm, and think about joining us.

AFHAlogo2013

Americorp logo

Categories: AmeriCorps, Appalachian Mountains, Barbour County, Civil War, community service, Friendship, historic locations, Nonprofit, rural life, Travel, West Virginia, Woodlands Development Group | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Foraging spring greens and weeds

A friend sent this to me on Face Book just a few days ago. It makes me wonder how many of us really understand how foraging can help control evasive plants. It also made me want to share this with any one who likes foraging for greens. Wild Garlic Mustard is found growing almost everywhere in the Eastern US and can be cooked and eaten like any other bitter green. Another green that is problematic in our area and across the south is Stinging Nettle.  Hardy and fast spreading by seed if given the right  growing conditions these plants crowed out natural flowers and plants . Animals do not like the smell or taste of the Garlic Mustard or Stinging Nettle so they are not controlled by the environmental conditions .

Garlic Mustard Pull flyer

Forest Service Garlic Mustard flyer

 

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Wild Mustard in Bloom

If you are in the West Virginia area and have time to help with this problem and enjoy the outdoors and cooking free wild food we could use your help. My family hopes to attend one of these pulling dates and make a nice side dish of Garlic Mustard Cakes when we get home.A dish made from boiled greens drained to remove bitterness, eggs for a binder and Italian bread crumbs fried in brown butter.

April and May is prime pulling time before the plants start to seed and West Virginia could use all the pickers we can find. We are allowed to take home as much of the Garlic Mustard as we wish but they would love for us to remove some of the plants also. For ideas on how to cook the wild greens  follow this link Cooking Mustard Garlic. Hope to see you in the woods picking this spring.

 

 

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, community service, country cooking, Foraging, Monongahela National Forest, organic food, regional food, Uncategorized, West Virginia, wild greens | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Secret of West Virginia Nonprofits :Collaboration

As a member of the West Virginia community I was totally unaware of the impact that non-profits have. I joined AmeriCorps, a federally funded volunteer program to help communities in my state who are struggling. I, like many others, understand the work that non-Profits like the United Way and Churches do in our communities. The work that these organizations do is important, but is only the tip of a large mountain of volunteers and directors who work silently behind the scenes in our cities and towns to benefit us all.

Elkins Main Street Logo

Elkins Main Street Logo

As an outsider who spent almost 20 years working in the retail market doing everything from selling furniture to doing customer service at a private bank, I was trained to think about corporate profits before community service. In every position that I held before AmeriCorps, I was always in competition with the neighboring business.  We spied on the competition, tried to advertise more and work longer hours to get the corporate edge on the competition. Costumer service was important but always a struggle because we only focused on what we could get from a costumer—more accounts, more money, and more of their time. Nonprofits do not work in this way and I was overwhelmed with the difference in how they see their role in the business world.

Through my involvement with AmeriCorps I was invited to serve two small nonprofits in Elkins, W.Va. I am giving my time to Elkins Main Street and the Woodlands Development Group, both who work to improve downtown Elkins and Randolph County. These organizations are not corporations, they work every day with one idea in mind—how to serve and improve the quality of life for residents of our area.  That is a distinct difference when looking at the attitude of how a business works. In this case it means putting people and communities first, that the needs of the many outweigh the needs and profits of a few.  What a refreshing way of looking at things for a burned out sales lady.

People who work or volunteer to support non-profits are people who envision a better life for everyone and tackle everyday problems that are missed by big business. The two non-profits I serve are taking on the challenges of how to make historic buildings and homes part of a vital downtown. They work to make sure the buildings are safe, affordable and useful in the revitalization of downtown Elkins. The Elkins Main Street Program works to give businesses the tools and ideas on how to promote and advertise their goods and services. They offer guidance on how to keep the historic feel of the downtown area, from the design of new signage to how to clean historic facades. Elkins Main Street facilitates conversations about the struggles that all business owners have about everything from street repairs and blockages, to encouraging growth in the historic downtown area. They are the local tie that binds all of downtown together acting as a sponsor for activities that draw crowds to downtown Elkins like the monthly First Friday events and this year’s Entrepreneurship Summit. Their work is to unite everyone in one vision of a successful, profitable, and friendly downtown neighborhood where everyone can contribute.

Darden House copy

Darden House copy

The Woodlands Development Group is a housing developer that takes many of the problem buildings in our area and redevelops them into affordable, sustainable business and home locations. Woodlands works with Elkins Main Street, other non-profits like YouthBuild and financers to make valuable additions to our communities. Many nonprofit volunteers work with Woodlands spending thousands of volunteer hours doing demolition, historic restorations, construction upgrades and repairs for businesses and homeowners our areas. One of the many programs that they take part in is in helping downtown building owners rehabilitate the upper stories of historic buildings so that they can be used as quality residential or rental properties again. Woodlands can even provide them with property management of those rental units to make being a landlord easier and more profitable.

Together with hardworking business owners, residents and volunteers we can restore the look and vitality of downtown Elkins. With support from organizations like the Woodlands Development Group, Elkins Main Street  and AmeriCorps, we are striving to have a community where “Mountains Beckon, Artists Gather and History Lives,” the slogan of Elkins Main Street. It is these collaborations that are the secret behind the success of revitalization efforts in our downtown and communities. It is with pleasure that I am serving and get to be part of a better future for us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: AmeriCorps, community service, Elkins Main Street, Elkins West Virginia, Nonprofit, Woodlands Development Group | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lives of Service, The Gulf War and Americorps

Thomas Powers In Germany in Recovery Tank

Thomas Powers In Germany in Recovery Tank

While today ( Jan 17th) is the 25th anniversary of the Bombing of Baghdad and the official start of what was the Gulf War. My family’s service to America comes to mind. My husband served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves for ten years from the age of 17 to 27 serving in the Gulf War until its end in March 1991. His role during the war was as a Military Policeman dealing mostly with POW.The years before the war Tom spent a tour in Baumholder, Germany where he worked as a recovery specialist with the 363rd mechanized division. He was a volunteer enlisted person all of these yearsI also recently have become a volunteer for our country although not with any military function. I have been officially joined AmeriCorps. A domestic federal volunteer program that serves local at risk communities. Much like the military you sign up for contracted amount of time and work for lower than average wages to serve communities that face economic struggles. Some of the problems that AmeriCorps works toward fixing include natural disaster recovery with FEMA, working to help homeless and aging veterans, educational issues in low-income areas, medical and dental issues in rural areas, and economic revitalization of depressed communities. Just like the rest of my family,a father who was a marine and a brother who is a retiring colonel from the U.S. Army and an MP husband, it was my turn to serve the people who I love and the communities I want to see prosper.

I became drawn to AmeriCorps for the same reasons my husband joined the military. If you asked either of us if we would help out a friend or neighbor who needed a hand, making their lives better with the work we are doing, we would jump to help. The other benefits are also a nice incentive.  The army has the E.I. education bill and Veterans benefits and AmeriCorps offers similar benefits. I am actually using my time with AmeriCorps to pay off the final portion of my college loans. They also offer money for college tuition and medical insurance. They both also offer travel with living expenses to new places ( domestic travel only with AmeriCorps). Mostly they aim to help the people of this country in some way and that is something that repays you in things more valuable than money.

I came to this place in my life because the events of the last year. It became clear after helping my husband’s family with the care of his dying mother that I finally felt the draw to serve. I had never given so much of my time to another person in my life other than my own kids. It was eye-opening to see how the healthcare world works and how without a family member or close friend things get missed and care can be inconsistent at best. So I knew after her death, I wanted to work in a field that made a difference for people. So I starting looking into the different ways I could make a difference and that lead to AmeriCorps. Essentially their work here in my state, fit right into what it is that I am trying to do with this blog. To uplift and rise above the problems that we face as community and state.

I will be working with the economic redevelopment of a nearby rural community, under a program called Elkins Main Street. I am so excited to share my skills with a very small non-profit that wants to try to build up an old downtown area. I have no idea where this will lead me but I am sure to learn allot and meet some interesting new people. I am also again surprised that this blog is one of the reasons I received a service offer. That my writing and creating this site had a huge influence on the people in charge. I will be working with them on a new website on WordPress. I will be promoting the work that they do on Facebook and trying to help share the activities we all are working on with my photography.

This new adventure will change my blogging some, I will be writing more on the weekends and evenings. So my posts will almost always be at night. It will also add to the fun that I have, as I work on fairs,festivals, work with historic buildings in Elkins West Virginia. It is a new adventure for me I aim to continue this blog to share what I am learning.

I find it a little ironic that it was this weekend that I joined AmeriCorps, as this is the same week that my husband 25 years ago faced the fact that a ground war was only days away. I guess everything happens in due time and it is just my time to serve. I think my husband is happy with my choice and he understands what it is like to serve. I am so excited about this opportunity and look forward to serving the people of West Virginia. Hopefully you all will be along with me as I see new things and help new people. Thanks to AmeriCorps I get to start a new direction in my life and make a little money along the way.

New River Gorge Bridge with fall folage 2000 by jolynn powers

New River Gorge Bridge with fall foliage 2000 by Jolynn Powers.

Categories: About me, AmeriCorps, Army, community service, Country life, Fairs and Festivals, Friendship, historic locations, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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