Outcome: Surviving with generosity, tenacity, and resilience as a community-based organization to provide vital support to an isolated, rural community with profound social, health, and economic problems.
Collective Leadership Principle Learned: How, in the midst of great community pain, to draw on collective gifts of deep hospitality and generosity, to support relationships with external groups that in turn support the community.
Big Creek People in Action, located in War, West Virginia, serves the citizens of McDowell County. They work to promote empowered and self-sufficient people and communities that are economically vibrant, democratic, and socially just. In the past thirty years the population of the county has declined by more than 50%. The predominant industry of coal mining has become mechanized, greatly reducing the jobs available and decimating the service businesses that supported the community. Many of those who remain have health problems, are elderly, or are young people who are likely to leave the community after high school. In a community with seemingly overwhelming challenges, BCPIA provides a place of hope and for the community to come together, engage in addressing local issues, and develop innovative programs that help.
How do they provide hope and action to create more opportunities for the community?
They renovated an abandoned school building into a community center. This center is a symbol of community resilience and how they can turn limited resources into positive assets. They draw on the strength of their people to come together to help each other when times are tough. The BCPIA building served as a refuge for housing and food when the community experienced a devastating flood.
It now has become a place for volunteers to serve the community through a variety of programs. One program centers on literacy – helping both youth and adults with reading skills.
Another major program is to engage colleges in service learning projects (see KLCC Bridge article below) in the community. They are housed at the BCPIA building and help with building and renovation projects to people’s homes. The community forms relationships with the volunteers and shares their culture and history through storytelling, music, dance, and potluck meals. This work not only results in home repair, but helps break the isolation of this small, rural community and build authentic relationships of mutual respect and caring between communities.
Creating collective leadership capacity.
It would be understandable for this community to be overwhelmed by everyday life and to feel ill-equipped to make changes. BCPIA has learned how to claim the rich assets of the people in this community - their generosity, resilience, compassion, tenacity, and deep hospitality – as gifts they can offer. They shifted from receiving help from outsiders to helping external volunteers remember their deepest humanity. In this, the people of West Virginia are master teachers.