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River Town issues its 2014 Report
New River CTC to host BIG Idea Competition in Princeton, WV
The State Journal
May 20, 2015
PRINCETON, WV - In an effort to help solve a problem of empty storefronts in Princeton, WV, New River Community and Technical College will join the Princeton Renaissance Project, with funding from the Benedum Foundation, to host a BIG Idea Competition at 5:30 p.m. May 28.
“This is not your average entrepreneur competition — this is targeted to a specific downtown business district and local small businesses are working together to help ensure the success of the winning contestant,” said Jill Holliday, New River CTC regional director of operations for Mercer and Raleigh Counties.
New River CTC students and community members in the audience will vote to determine the contest winner. Admission is free of cost and open to the public.
The competition will be at New River CTC's Mercer County Campus, which recently opened in the former offices of First Community Bank on Mercer Street in Princeton. Each of the five contestants will give a five-minute business pitch presentation. Contestants then will be given three minutes to answer designated audience questions about their businesses.
Brookwood Corporation has offered one month of free rent if the winner chooses to locate in one of the company's available properties. In addition, the winning entrepreneur will receive a cash award of $1,000, along with prizes donated by local businesses and community groups.
On May 21, the five contestants will meet with business mentors at New River CTC's Mercer County campus to prepare for the competition.
For more information, contact Holliday by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 304-256-0262.
New River Community and Technical College serves nine counties in southeastern West Virginia from the Greenbrier Valley Campus (Lewisburg), Mercer County Campus (Princeton), Nicholas County Campus (Summersville) and Raleigh County Campus (Beaver/Beckley).
BDC helping communities in Brooke and Hancock counties eradicate blight
The State Journal
May 7, 2015
The Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle is helping rid communities in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle counties of Brooke and Hancock of their blighted housing.
The BDC is currently working with the City of Weirton and Weirton Christian Center to demolish one abandoned downtown structure and is teaming with the city to address two others.
"(It's) our third abandoned house we have addressed in the panhandle,” BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said. “It really is a good opportunity to work with our partners in Weirton to spark some revitalization. It's not going to be a silver bullet. But I think our housing effort, coupled with our re-purposing of abandoned factories in Brooke and Hancock counties, can provide an impetus for some strategic revitalization efforts."
BDC Chairman Bill D'Alesio said the initiative will be a boon to Northern Panhandle communities “because we just do not have enough money to take care of all of these homes that have been abandoned.” D'Alesio said abandoned homes cause property values to decline, which can not only be detrimental to nearby property owners but also affects the community's ability to recruit business and industry.
"It's also a safety issue," adds Weirton Mayor George Kondik, pointing out that not only can kids can get hurt exploring them but miscreants also can use them for illicit activities.
Ford said Wells Fargo, the international banking and financial services company, acquires some houses after they have been foreclosed and, through its Community Urban Stabilization Program, partners with faith-based and other nonprofit groups to eliminate blight and make housing available to people with low- to moderate-incomes.
He said the BDC is currently looking at six residential properties in Brooke and Hancock counties to raze or renovate — two in Beech Bottom and one in Wellsburg, in addition to the three Weirton properties. Funding is through Wells Fargo, Hancock County Savings Bank and the Benedum Foundation.
"Communities up and down our panhandle continue to struggle with the negative effects of vacant and blighted homes, which in turn add to increased foreclosures and weaken neighborhood revitalization efforts," said Hancock County Commission President Mike Swartzmiller. "The BDC is pleased to work with panhandle officials to eliminate neighborhood blight.”
To date, the BDC has re-purposed a number of Weirton properties, including the former Weirton Heights Volunteer Fire Station on Pennsylvania Avenue, the former Jimmy Carey Stadium on Orchard Street, and the former Weirton Steel surplus properties on Three Springs Drive.
Group receives Benedum grant to shape healthy W.Va. day-care centers
March 27, 2015
HURRICANE — As 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds at My Family Daycare and Preschool watched, Mandy Curry packed a blender full of fruits and vegetables, starting with some familiar ones — bananas, strawberries, blueberries and carrots — before throwing a few curveballs into the mix.
“What do you think this is?” she asked the group, holding a leafy green cluster.
“Broccoli,” the preschoolers shouted.
“It does look like broccoli, doesn’t it? But it’s actually kale,” Curry said. “It’s the most nutritious vegetable on the planet.”
In all, Curry transformed nine fruits and vegetables into three snacks for the children to sample. Many of the children told Curry, the creator of the online meal planner Healthy Kids Inc., that they had never tried some of the things she’d served them, including kale, avocado, hummus and sugar snap peas.
“This is good; I love this food,” said 5-year-old Brayden Hall.
For Laura Dice, coordinator of KEYS 4 Healthy Kids, teaching more children about healthy habits is an instrumental part of changing West Virginia’s health outcomes for the better, and it’s something KEYS hopes to have a greater impact on over the next three years, with the help of a six-figure grant.
KEYS, which aims to inspire policies and changes to make West Virginia kids healthier, has received a $310,000 grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the largest private funder in West Virginia.
The grant will allow KEYS to take its KEYS 2 HealthyStart initiative, which already has been implemented in day-care centers across Kanawha and Putnam counties, statewide over the next three years.
“We’re starting with 30 child-care centers statewide, and adding 30 new centers each year,” Dice said. “We’ll be doing workshops focused on healthy eating, physical activity and parent outreach, and between those workshops, we’re going to do site visits with the child-care centers and perform food demonstrations, cooking nights — where we invite parents to come cook with their kids — it’s going to be all-encompassing. We’re also going to have some form of gardening at every child-care center we work with, and that’s really awesome, because kids love seeing and growing their own food, and they’re far more likely to try it if they grow it themselves.”
Dr. Jamie Jeffrey, a pediatrician and the director of KEYS, said the early childhood focus of KEYS 2 HealthyStart is especially important — approximately one in three children between 2 and 19 years of age is overweight or obese, and roughly 27 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds are overweight or obese, she said. Weight problems in early childhood strongly correlate to similar issues later in life, she added — for children between 2 and 5, those with a normal body mass index have a roughly 10 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. Comparatively, 2- to 5-year-olds with a BMI in the top-fifth percentile have a 90 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese as adults — and suffering related health issues, Jeffrey said.
“We’re really moving toward a primary prevention model, and that starts with learning more about healthy habits,” she said. “I saw six patients today, and not one of them said they ate more than two vegetables a day; I can’t start when they’re 11, 12 or 13 and tell them to start eating vegetables. It simply doesn’t work that way, especially when their brains and taste buds have gotten so used to high fat, salt and sugar.”
According to Jeffrey, birth to 3 years old — or the “first 1,000 days” — are the most integral years in determining a child’s overall development. Curry, a Hurricane resident, said shifting lifestyle choices for her young children are what led her to create Healthy Kids Inc., an online meal planner with more than 300 recipes, video tutorials from professional chefs and weekly meal plans geared toward families.
“It was created out of our desire to change, because we were two working parents, we were so busy and we were eating out a lot; we were eating out for convenience, we were eating microwave meals, we weren’t eating fruits and vegetables,” Curry said. “We knew we needed to change.”
Child-care centers interested in participating in KEYS 2HealthyStart can contact Dice at email@example.com for more information. For more information on Healthy Kids Inc., including video links and meal plans, visit www.healthykidsinc .com.
Reach Lydia Nuzum at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter.
Abandoned buildings: Help arriving for communities
This story was made available by the West Virginia Press Association through its statewide story-sharing service
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Nine communities in West Virginia will receive expert help addressing the issue of abandoned and dilapidated buildings in their main streets, business districts and neighborhoods courtesy of the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center at West Virginia University.
The communities of Moundsville, Parsons, Hamlin, Thomas, Whitesville, Terra Alta, Glenville, Charleston (West Side Main Street) and Morgantown will receive technical assistance grants, valued at $10,000 each, providing technical assistance and expertise to identify, research, and prioritize their abandoned buildings and create redevelopment plans to turn problem properties into community resources.
“Everyone will have a voice at the table because everyone is being impacted by these abandoned and dilapidated properties,” a spokesperson for the center said.
The grants are part of the Brownfield Assistance Center’s BAD (Brownfields, Abandoned, Dilapidated) Buildings Program.
According to Luke Elser, BAD Buildings Program Manager at WVU, each community will now examine a variety of potential solutions and determine which ones will actually work in their setting.
“All of the work will be done in collaboration between local elected officials and community volunteers – everyone will have a voice at the table because everyone is being impacted by these abandoned and dilapidated properties,” Elser says.
Funding for the BAD Buildings Program is being provided by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation through the West Virginia University Foundation.
For more information about the BAD Buildings Program or the Northern WV Brownfield Assistance Center, visit www.wvbrownfields.org, or contact Luke Elser, Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center, 304-293-6990, email@example.com.
Livestock got lost? There’s an app for that
Charleston Daily Mail
March 19, 2015
A tragic event triggered the idea for a new invention that could help farmers track wandering livestock.
It could also be the beginning of a business for Evan Dodrill, a junior at West Virginia University majoring in animal science.
It was still dark outside in the early morning of Oct. 9, 2013 when 21 cattle escaped from his family’s 500-acre Greenbrier County farm. He was away at college when the livestock traveled about three miles beyond the boundaries of High Hill Farm in Asbury.
“Nineteen head were hit and killed by two tractor-trailers on Interstate 64,” Dodrill said. “Two were caught on a neighbor’s property.”
While the drivers were not injured, one of vehicles was totaled and the other was heavily damaged, he said.
Dodrill started thinking about what could be done to prevent any such occurrence in the future.
The result was the invention of The Herdsman, a product that allows farmers to track livestock from remote locations and receive alerts if the animals go outside a set boundary.
Dodrill compares the device to a GPS. It would work through a mobile application on a smartphone or other device. A chip and small battery pack would be placed in an ear tag on the animal.
“Most farmers tag their cattle anyway,” he said.
The plan is now in the development stage with a software company.
His invention recently won the inaugural Vanguard Agriculture Competition sponsored by the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing. As winner, he will receive a business assistance package valued at more than $10,000. The package is to include product design and development, business incubator space, and other services. He received his award during a ceremony on Feb. 27 at the West Virginia Small Farm Conference at the Charleston Civic Center.
The West Virginia Vanguard Agriculture Competition honors innovation and ingenuity in agriculture, recognizing an entrepreneur whose idea had the greatest potential to solve logistical challenges in the local food supply chain.
The contest is part of RCBI’s agricultural innovation initiative, an effort to improve opportunities for West Virginia’s farming and agricultural economy. Funded by a grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the initiative supports a local foods system by promoting entrepreneurship and innovation. The competition is also supported by Unlimited Future, Inc. and The Wild Ramp.
While the recent win will boost Dodrill’s efforts, he is also participating in other competitions to try to raise more funds and awareness for his endeavors for a business to be called Shady Ridge Enterprises.
“Agricultural technology is a huge untapped potential market,” he said.
He has ideas for additional products but is not yet ready to reveal details.
The Herdsman would benefit numerous farmers, he said.
“I did a survey of over 50 farmers and the results showed 65 percent lose livestock due to leaving the farm and breaching boundaries,” he said.
Dodrill is the sixth generation to work on the family farm.
“I go home every other weekend and work on the farm,” he said. “I’m three hours away. I am always looking for new livestock and investments. I stay involved and up to date. The farm is now run by my Dad, my uncles, and their wives.”
The farm now includes about 55 head of cattle, eight Boer goats, and three draft horses.
Dodrill, 20, is the son of Danny and Stella Dodrill and has one sister, 14-year-old Maddie.
He is excited to see what happens with his latest invention as well as technology to follow that will help farmers.
Undergrad researchers bring findings to State Capitol
March 4, 2015
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Nearly a dozen colleges and universities from across West Virginia were represented during the 12th Annual Undergraduate Research Day Wednesday at the State Capitol, a day highlighting research projects at the Mountain State’s schools.
In all, more than 100 student researchers participated.
Among them was Dillon Muhly-Alexander, a Herndon Fellow from West Virginia University, who has worked with WV Foodlink which connects people to food resources.
“I want to stay in West Virginia and I want to help address the concerns for the future that West Virginia has and currently over 15 percent of West Virginians struggle in terms of having access to food on a regular basis,” said Muhly-Alexander.
WV Foodlink is a project from the Food Justice Laboratory in WVU’s Department of Geology and Geography.
The WV Foodlink partners are Facing Hunger Food Bank, Mountaineer Food Bank, Volunteer Organizations Active In Disasters, WV Farmer’s Market Association, West Virginia GIS Tech Center, WV Food and Farm Coalition, Appalachian Foodshed Project, Sisters of St. Joseph Charitable Fund and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
At the organization’s website, people can search the state for food assistance through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other meal programs.
Currently, only a limited number of counties are part of that database, but Muhly-Alexander said the goal is to identify partners in all 55 counties before the end of the year.
“I really hope that people see the need for what Foodlink is doing and that we can continue to grow as a public resource,” Muhly-Alexander said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
Other topics during Undergraduate Research Day included research on chemical spill response, a technique for identifying hot spots for deer-vehicle crashes in West Virginia and the evolution of azaleas in the southeast.
In addition to presenting their research, students and faculty members heard from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin during Wednesday’s event.
Participants had been scheduled to attend from Marshall University, WVU, Wheeling Jesuit University, West Virginia State University, WVU Institute of Technology, West Liberty University, University of Charleston, Shepherd University, Glenville State College, Concord University and Fairmont State University.
WVU Reed College of Media receives Benedum grant for community branding efforts
January 27, 2015
The West Virginia University Reed College of Media recently received a grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum foundation to launch a new project aimed at revitalizing West Virginia communities. The grant, worth $130,000, will assemble strategic expertise from the College of Media and other partners to provide full-service, integrated branding efforts for West Virginia communities.
It will begin with three pilot projects, including the 2014 “Turn This Town Around” contest winners, Matewan and Grafton, and the 2015 winner, Ripley. Students and faculty will work with community leaders to develop a brand identity and creative strategy, with an integrated marketing communications campaign and a community branding tool-kit.
“Turn This Town Around” is a joint effort between the West Virginia Community Development Hub, West Virginia Focus magazine and West Virginia Public Broadcasting to help revitalize towns in the state through facilitated projects and planning.
Dean Maryanne Reed says this project will give students valuable hands-on experience working with community members and regional leaders to help raise awareness of and promote each community’s unique story and marketable attributes.
“This project builds on our College’s longstanding commitment to empowering rural communities through digital and media tools and strategies,” said Reed. “It will also be a key program housed in our new Media Innovation Center to open later this year.”
In addition to providing community-driven integrated communications branding work, the community branding initiative will house and distribute research results, case studies, templates, training materials, and lessons learned from individual campaigns as resources for rural communities both state- and nation-wide.
During the spring and summer, faculty will work with the three pilot communities to identify the goals, objectives and time table for each project.
New training program hopes to boost farmers markets
January 25, 2015
By Caitlin Cook, Staff writer
The West Virginia Farmers Market Association is launching a program geared toward new vendors to help foster more access to local foods, more growers and more producers, project coordinator Adam Taylor said.
Vendors with less than two years of market experience are urged to apply for the training program by Feb. 15.
“Only about 10 percent of people look into what all is required,” Taylor said. “Many people think, ‘Hey, it’s a farmers market and I’ll just take what I grew there and sell it.’ But there’s a lot more to it than that.” The two-day training session will focus on a variety of topics including, post harvest handling, licensing and food safety requirements, marketing and customer service. Twenty vendors will participate in the program where experts from West Virginia University Extension Service, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition and others present vendors with strategies and information to better navigate their business. “Farmers already know how to farm,” Taylor said.
The program hopes to give vendors a better chance at being successful and meeting the growing demand for local foods. “We’re not only strengthening local food access but also the local economy,” Taylor said. It’s a great program to help build farmers markets in West Virginia, Taylor added. Kelly Crane, executive director of the farmers market association, said the program is a way to provide additional support to the existing farmers markets in the state. One of the largest barriers for more farmers becoming local vendors is licensing and food safety requirements, she said. “It’s a complicated process,” Crane said. “We want to have a one stop shop that they can learn all about what they need.”
Selected participants will be paired with experienced mentors. Both participants and mentors will receive funding to help offset travel costs and grow their business. The training program is funded for two years through a federal grant, as well as support from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and MVB Bank. The WVFMA will collect data from participating farmers to gauge the impact of the program, Crane said.
The full program application may be found at http://wvfarmers.org/new-vendor-launch/. For more information contact Adam Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are due Feb. 15.
Benedum and Farm Credit team to support young innovators at WVU
December 10, 2014
The West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design will build on its foundation as an innovation hub with the support of a $157,000 grant from The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and $100,000 from Farm Credit.
The combination of private and public funds will enable the creation of the WVU Davis College Young Innovators Fellowship Program, which will provide students motivated to bring innovation and entrepreneurship to rural environments and communities the skills to do so. The program will accept students from any of the College’s academic programs, from agriculture to housing and all forms of business and technology development.
Advancing the ways and means for WVU graduates to more quickly and successfully contribute to the region’s economic development is the goal. Measuring the success of graduates this way is a new approach.
“Enhancing and sustaining the rural economy of West Virginia is vitally important to the state, and there’s a clear need for innovation and entrepreneurship to support that,” said Dan Robison, dean of the Davis College. “Through the Young Innovators Fellowship Program, we’ll be able to build an even more fertile entrepreneurial environment among students, faculty, farmers, rural business and technology developers, and others who have a stake in these critical issues.”
The program will also provide a think-tank atmosphere, allowing students to interact with many organizations and governmental agencies that are focused on sustainable agriculture and rural development in the state, as well as potential funders for future entrepreneurial activities. The program will include internships, provide service opportunities for undergraduate students to give back to the state and develop networking and mentoring opportunities.
“Through this program, the college will continue to develop a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship with real economic value, by better enabling future generation of thinkers and doers,” Robison said. “That different but like-minded entities like the Benedum Foundation and Farm Credit have determined to support us in this venture speaks to their forward-looking commitment to all of West Virginia’s communities, and we are thrilled to partner with them, and seek additional collaborators, in this effort.”
As a first step, the WVU Davis College will assemble a Young Innovators Resource Team composed of faculty, practitioners, managers of working capital, business support and training organizations, and networking groups. The team will select ten sophomores annually as Fellows, who will be active in the program during their junior and senior years.
Each fellow will receive an annual scholarship, so long as they continue to meet program requirements and show good progress in moving toward developing their entrepreneurial and innovation skills. Each Fellow and a faculty advisor together develop a Young Entrepreneur Success (YES) Plan as a guide to their specific participation in the program. Matt Wilson, a professor and assistant director of the College’s experiment station, will serve as program coordinator.
“West Virginians spend more than $7 billion on food every year, but less than 10 percent of that is from in-state production. The markets exist for agribusiness growth, as well as all the other kinds of commercial activity that make rural communities vital,” Wilson said. “The Davis College intends to train students to tap into those markets and build West Virginia’s economy.”
The $157,000 Benedum grant and $100,000 Farm Credit gifts were made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $1 billion comprehensive campaign being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2017.
Main Street Fairmont Hoping to Engage Community with IF Project
December 2, 2014
Main Street Fairmont recently got $85,000 in grant money from the Benedum Foundation for a project that's meant to get the community involved in revitalizing downtown. It's called the IF Project. IF stands for Invest, Impact, Invent Fairmont, and if it's successful it could be used as a model for revitalization across Appalachia.
Main Street advocates for historic preservation and adaptive reuse in the downtown, but up until now, they've had to rely on others to get the ball rolling.
"Instead of us always waiting, there's a lot of waiting, we're waiting for somebody else to come fix things, we're waiting for someone to come and create change, and this is a chance for us to do that," said Kate Greene, the executive director of Main Street Fairmont.
Main Street doesn't have to wait anymore, thanks to the grant from the Benedum Foundation that's going to let them build a model for residents to put their money into the buildings, ideas, and programs that they believe in to shape a more positive future for their city. They said this showing of good faith will help attract larger investors.
"Having that kind of a financial backing from your community, you're really demonstrating feasibility of your idea, you're showing community buy-in, and so that's a really significant piece to making something viable and realistic," Greene said.
Main Street will be working with everyone from volunteers and community partners to financial planners to target five large, unused buildings in the city and identify possible tenants and uses for them. Residents who invest in the projects will see a minimal financial return, but Main Street hopes the bigger reward will be seeing positive change in the community.
"Each time that we invest new dollars in an existing structure it's a catalyst for the next redevelopment," Greene said.
The success of a few small businesses in Fairmont is attracting more, but there is not enough move-in ready space for them. The IF Project should help with that. Main street is also undertaking some more manageable efforts themselves. They recently bought a building on Adams Street to rehab for businesses and affordable housing.
"It's really going to be a power year for Main Street, and that grant has given us that opportunity," Greene said.
The next step in the project will be building the team who will shape it and move it forward. If all goes well, we should be seeing Fairmont buildings transforming before our very eyes over the next few years.