(Editor’s Note: This is the second of a 3-part series on Dr. Donovan “Dino” Beckett and his work to improve his hometown of Williamson.)
WILLIAMSON – Dr. Dino Beckett realized that many residents in the Tug Valley area were not getting access to quality healthcare.
At first, he began a free clinic from his own private practice on Good Friday in 2011 for those who did not have health insurance. He continued these sessions once a month – sometimes on Saturday mornings “The clinic started out because of people who had lost jobs or were unemployed,” Dr. Beckett said. “As we continued this – the demand continued to grow. Then the idea began to start a qualified health center.” Eventually this led to what is now the Williamson Health and Wellness Center.
“We looked into the possibility of doing this. We were awarded with a new access point (grant),” Beckett said. “Also through the Williamson Redevelopment Authority, we started encouraging people to eat healthy.”
“At the same time, Mingo County didn’t have a lot of access to healthy food. We were what is called a ‘food dessert,’ “he added.
With few grocery stores actually in Mingo County, Beckett said many of the residents were relying on convenience stores and fast food for their meals. Dr. Beckett said persons needed access to better nutritional foods. People were just not getting fresh fruits and vegetables.
“One of the first things we did was to create the Williamson Farmers’ Market. The first year it was a once a year market. It grossed about $20, 000,” Beckett said, “the next year we went to a weekly market and it grossed $50,000. Now we have a market that is weekly and pushing $70,000 per year.”
From that the idea came from Maria Arnot to do a mobile market. So now the Farmers’ Market sets up at different locations throughout the county.
“Then we started trying to encourage people to garden,” said Beckett. “We wanted them to do some farming. A lot of their parents and grandparents had done this.” Thus the community garden sprung up in East Williamson, across from the Williamson Towers apartment complex.
Through an exchange of ideas, this began the gardens’ and local farmers’ markets. “It has created an entrepreneurial spirit and a more health conscious community,” the local physician stressed.
Members from this the group also work with the Tug Valley Road Runners Club, where they have monthly races and encourage more people to get out and run and exercise to develop healthy lifestyles. It started out with about 20 runners, but now the 5-k and 10-k runs draw as many as 200 participants, many that are families running together. “It’s contagious,” Beckett said.
“The holistic approach to health is my vision on how we are going to make ourselves better,” Beckett said.
“We are also trying to support entrepreneurs in the area,” Beckett said. “We always had the mom and pop restaurants.” Beckett added that many fast food restaurants came into the area, which started in the 1980s. “But the beauty of America is the small restaurants. When people come to Williamson they want 34Ate or Starters, something local and authentic. Not something that is pre-packaged. They want something that has a local flavor.”
Beckett used as an example the old Lock, Stock and Barrel, a popular restaurant in downtown Williamson from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.
“When you have something of significance and the quality of that type of restaurant it’s great – I mean everyone still talks about that restaurant,” Beckett said of the Lock, Stock and Barrel.
“Getting the community back involved is what we need,” he said. He noted that the profits from chain restaurants s leave the community, instead of local businesses prospering.
“Having the ability to make that full circle – having the Farmers’ Market sell to the local restaurants – farm fresh, and recreating that mindset is extremely important as we try to build our local tourism, which is what we need to do,” Beckett concluded. “People who come in don’t want the fast food place, they have those everywhere.”
“We are trying to promote the mindset that local is better,” Dr. Beckett said.
(Kyle Lovern is the Managing Editor for the Civitas Media Mountain District including the Williamson Daily News and Logan Banner. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.)