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Community Resource Mapping

Wilma Cook

Wilma Cook is a community-minded person. She has put energy into engaging neighbors and their children in educational activities. For example, Wilma and her sister, Mary Jane, did a gardening project with the kids in Camden Court, her neighborhood.  Each child had their own vegetable, which they planted and cared for throughout the summer. Wilma says that the children loved it, and they watered their plants religiously, showing their excitement and devotion to the project. Wilma worries that the children are starved for attention, but she also identifies this as an opportunity for developing new projects and programs that engage young people.

Wilma has lived in Arnett for most of her life, taking a break to see the rest of the country and the world during her late teens and twenties. She spent most of her working years at the Women’s Resource Center in Beckley, where she worked on the children’s programs and then as a victim’s advocate. She also spent time teaching at Marsh Fork High School and Clear Fork Elementary. Currently, she is raising her grandson, Levi, and baby-sitting for a neighbor. She spends much of her time shuttling grandchildren to and from school and events and caring for her daughter.

One project that Wilma would like to see is the development of a community resource center. The center would unite the younger and older generations in the community by hosting skill shares, where younger folks could teach computer skills while learning crafts and life skills from the older people. There could also be a library and literacy program run by retired teachers, and space for community events.

The project that Wilma would most like to pursue is a 1950s farm. Recalling the way that she was raised, where they didn’t eat something if they didn’t grow it, Wilma describes a 15-acre functional farm that hosts visitors for a short period of time.  In addition to fulfilling Wilma’s desire to spend time outside gardening, this project would pass on the skills that her generation has not passed on to the later ones.  It could also serve as a tourist attraction, though Wilma cautions that she doesn’t want to see anything gimmicky, like Dollywood.

While Wilma seems to believe that businesses, community centers, and activity could return to the Coal River Valley, she also identifies many obstacles. For one, mountaintop removal is a great threat to her community. MTR destroys the land, making the area undesirable for tourism. In addition, Wilma says that MTR is responsible for the destruction of schools, communities, and families. It would help if communities benefited from the practice, but, she says, the tax money doesn’t even return to her coalfield communities.

Wilma is practical, but hopeful about the future of the Coal River Valley. She identifies the obstacles to development (lack of land, lack of public transportation, lack of confidence among local residents), but she also believes that people with strong desires and good ideas have the ability to realize their dreams.