By Hayley M. Cook
MATEWAN – The most recent “Turn This Town Around” meeting for the town of Matewan did not see the turnout Kent Spellman and Eric Pories hoped for.
Spellman, executive director of the West Virginia Community Development Hub, and Pories, Principle of Focus Intent, were quite vocal about the lack of attendees present at the meeting, which took place Tuesday at the UMWA Hall in Matewan.
Some attendees felt the organization for the meeting was sloppy, considering the last minute change from the Matewan High School building to the UMWA Hall building. Members were heard discussing that the change may have prompted people to go home instead of attend the meeting, although this concern was overlooked.
“It was a good meeting,” said Spellman. “However, we need those who were present to reach out and bring more people to the table. We do not want Matewan to lose out on this opportunity.”
After three weeks of online voting that resulted in more than 16,000 votes, Matewan was chosen as West Virginia Focus magazine’s southern ‘Turn This Town Around’ winner earlier this year. Grafton was the winner from the northern part of the state in a campaign to ignite change and initiate community engagement in West Virginia towns.
The West Virginia Community Development Hub, one of the state’s leaders in the field of community development, has been coordinating the effort. The Hub has focused on connecting the two communities with training in civic engagement, leadership development, and project management.
The latest meeting focused on several aspects of the “Turn This Town Around” campaign, but the first item on the agenda was discussing current and recent events in the Matewan area.
Those present in the crowd mentioned the recent Hatfield McCoy marathon, which saw approximately 1300 participants, and brought tourism to both the Williamson and Matewan areas.
Also mentioned was the Old School Fitness Center gym, located in the MHS complex, which now offers gymnastics, boxing, and dance classes, along with exercise classes.
The upcoming Hatfield McCoy Reunion Festival was mentioned as well, which is set to take place June 20, 21, and 22.
Tables were set up, each containing a different project idea suggestion from the last meeting, including: improving Matewan’s look, railroad projects, community gardens, youth activities, improved physical activity in the community, business training programs, a trail system connecting Gilbert and Matewan, and many more possibilities.
The group present Tuesday was asked to provide even more ideas, if they felt anything of importance had been left out.
Timmy Kane, owner of Old School Fitness Gym in Matewan, suggested refurbishing the track at the Matewan Football Field, while Matewan Town Council member Francine Lavonne Jones suggested refurbishing the old jail in Matewan.
Other suggestions included creating ATV safety courses, making Matewan a bike friendly town, repainting signs and adding murals to the town, and creating historic signs that would better aid in self-guided walking tours for visitors.
After these suggestions were thoroughly discussed, Spellman began a PowerPoint presentation regarding the financial aspect of the campaign.
It was announced that the town of Matewan will be awarded a mini-grant program and a pre-development program to help turn their town around.
The mini grant program will offer $50,000 to the town for a minimum of 20 projects. According to Spellman, this could mean $2,500 for each project, or more/less, depending on how much financial assistance each project would need to move forward.
Spellman stressed the importance of choosing the right project ideas, saying, “We are looking for projects that are available to the public, and ideas that everyone will benefit from. Think about these projects in those terms. What will benefit you and your community? For example, a Sunday School room in your church, we may not be able to fund that – but a park next to your church that is open to the public, we may be able to help with that.”
The pre-development program, which will reportedly be used for “bold transformative projects,” will aid in the work that goes into planning one or possibly two major projects for the town.
The money from the mini grant does need to be spent by the end of the year.
Each project will need a core team with a minimum of at least three people, and there are requirements for each team. At least two members of each team must attend every training workshop (these workshops will take place July 1, July 16, and August 7, although no specific meeting place was mentioned).
Each team must also fill out a project shaping worksheet, due in by August 1, and although there is no set age requirement, team leaders are encouraged to choose members who will best assist them in their goals and are passionate about the project in question.
Opportunities for those participating in ‘Turn This Town Around’ were discussed, including 20 Antiques Roadshow tickets that are to be distributed to those taking part in the campaign. It has not yet been decided how these tickets shall be dispersed, although this is a planned discussion for future meetings.
The WVU Brickstreet Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship is interested in providing assistance to each community involved with ‘Turn This Town Around,’ as well.
They will reportedly provide a complete package that may include a feasibility study, a marketing plan with materials, legal guidance, business and architectural pre-development assistance, and more. These services will be offered at a rate lower than private sector costs and may be covered by TTTA pre-development funds.
WVU Extension Service will offer a “first impressions” program as a tool for Matewan to learn what total strangers and first-time visitors see when they visit. The visitors can focus on an area of the town or on a particular sector, such as tourism.
Many other opportunities and organizations were discussed, including WV on the Move, the involvement of MPA and MPH interns, WVU MBA Marketing Program services, and the WV Community Development Network, which will provide support and technical services.
Beyond the many suggestions and idea proposals, the most notable aspect of the meeting was those who were not present, including representation from the Chamber of Commerce and some elected officials.
“Things were great at the last three meetings,” said Spellman. “This is your chance. Spread the word to others and get them here. This will showcase what Matewan really thinks about itself and hopes to accomplish.”