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Community Resource Mapping

Connie and Terry Dillon

Connie and Terry Dillon live on peaceful bottomland by the Coal River in Arnett and emphasize the importance of a simple life – but they dream big.  Locally renowned for having grown the largest sweet potato in West Virginia, they also have large-scale visions for the future of the Coal River Valley.  They speak from experience in big community endeavors: Connie, an inclusionist teacher at Liberty High School, was a central figure in the fight to save Marsh Fork High School.  That struggle rallied the community to raise thousands of dollars through hotdog and crafts sales and community festivals.  Like the fight to save the school, says Connie, for a project to succeed, “the whole community would have to believe in it.”

Connie’s two biggest dreams are a “folk” school to pass on traditional knowledge to the next generation and a medical center.  The first idea draws from the wealth of community assets she sees – a rich heritage of music, gardening, crafts, animal husbandry, cooking, and canning – as well as the commonly-identified need for young people to “have something better to do than drugs and video games.”

Connie envisions partnerships with high schools, community colleges, and even internship programs out of West Virginia University, where students could receive credit for classes and projects at the folk school.  The school and students could sell what they produce, to help sustain the program.  On a smaller scale, Connie said she’d like to see the high school agriculture program run a summer garden project, to culminate in a community harvest festival in the fall.

Connie’s second biggest dream is based on a deep community need: access to quality health care, for an elderly and often ill population.  She proposes a medical center for practices such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, vein care, diabetes, cancer treatment, an obesity clinic, and even veterinary care.

Terry, a retired coal miner, is an avid woodworker who says he’d like to see more lumber stores and possibly a wood kiln so that residents like the Dillons could harvest, saw, kiln-dry, and sell their own wood.

The common thread in the Dillons’ vision is that the projects are specifically for the community; they are skeptical of tourism and how it might change the character of the community.  However, even for these community projects both Connie and Terry stress that the projects would require intensive effort and significant changes.  Connie believes that a school and medical center would need a “champion” able to make a huge time and financial investment – a “Jim Justice” for the Coal River Valley.  The Dillons also blame the lack of infrastructure on the Raleigh County Commissioners, arguing that without city water (in Clear Creek), a sewage system (in Glen Daniel), and better and wider roads (on Route 3 West), the area will not be able to attract the people and businesses that it needs to thrive.  Connie also points out that the county commission could designate more commercial zoning areas to support economic diversification.

Although neither Connie nor Terry have the time to tackle these big projects, they still believe it would be possible – “The sky’s the limit,” says Connie.  For the moment, however, Connie is interested in participating in seed-saving and plant exchanges.