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Community Resource Mapping

Kathleen Dickens

Kathleen Dickens was born at the head of Horse Creek Hollow on June 14, 1943. She was the second child in her family. Now at age 67, Kathleen lives upriver of Horse Creek in Lick Water Bottom in Arnett in a house she built with her late husband Gerald Dickens.

Kathleen served as secretary in the Valley's schools for most of her adult life. “I worked in the school system for 42 years, was content with what I had and loved living here. So was my husband. This was his home place, right up on the hill here. I enjoyed working with students and know just about everybody up and down this river.” In this role, she has watched the Valley's youth grow up, and many of them leave the area.

She would like to see more people in the valley again, fewer people leaving after high school. She knows that for this to happen there need to be more local job opportunities, and she wants manufacturing, not coal mining or timbering, to provide new jobs. Coal, run by Massey Energy, however is a dominant force in the valley. They provide most of the jobs in western Raleigh and neighboring counties, although she says other jobs can be found at the schools or in medical services.

In addition to being school secretary, Kathleen has worked with the Tamarack and Capitol Market selling blueberries and blackberries she and her family grew in Arnett. The Tamarack is in Beckley and provides a market for local crafts and foods. Capitol Market is a farmers market in Charleston.

Currently, Kathleen is an active member of the Marsh Fork Community Association. Part of this group's aim is to foster job growth in the valley. With the Marsh Fork group's new Community Center, Kathleen is working with her family and neighbors to start a community kitchen. She also has the community center's greenhouse on her property.  

The community is more fragmented today than in the past. Part of this she attributes to school consolidation, saying that the area would be better served if kids didn't have to bus out of the valley to go to high school. Just as children are bussed out of the valley for school, businesses started to leave the area as larger companies, such as Kroger, moved into Beckley. The Valley's retired population is on a fixed income that doesn't rise to match the increased cost of living, causing many people her age to make do with less. Churches, such as her own the Arnett Chapel, provide community and meet the religious needs for those who attend.

Recognizing the Valley's wealth of resources and skills, she thinks that land use should be determined by the community for the community. However, land companies, some from out-of-state, own much of the land, leaving little control to local people.