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WVU Davis College receives grant to help lift up West Virginia communities

Land once occupied by Richwood's local high school and future home to various community-building activities like farmers' markets and drive-in movies.

Land once occupied by Richwood's local high school and future home to various community-building activities like farmers' markets and drive-in movies. 

Faculty and students in the West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design are leading an effort to help state communities overcome some obstacles — and thrive. 

Funded by a new two-year grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Fulcrum Project connects 20 communities with WVU teams to complete identified projects that will enhance local economies and the quality of life therein.  

As a land-grant institution, service to the state of West Virginia and its people is part of WVU’s core mission. 

“The connection we have to the community should be on-going and mutually beneficial,” said Peter Butler, project lead and director of the School of Design and Community Development. “We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to share resources and expertise that can help these communities move in a new direction.”

WVU faculty and students were matched with projects in the communities that best fit their areas of expertise and interest: 

Projects include downtown revitalization, beautification, building redevelopment, trail development, wayfinding, and agricultural projects like farmers markets as well as growing business opportunities and community engagement activities to enhance economies and quality of life.  

In Richwood, for example, the goal is to develop and repurpose lots left vacant after Richwood High and Middle Schools were destroyed by floods in 2016.  

Plans in Kingwood include assessing baseline economic development for the RECREATE program and Cheat River Trail initiative. Aspects of this project will be community-based with focus groups, gauging outdoor recreation interest in Preston County, and strategically planning community and economic development in participating trail towns. 

In the true spirit of community, WVU representatives connected with invaluable partners – including the West Virginia Community Development Hub, Rural Appalachian Improvement League, Mainstreet Kingwood, Friends of Cheat, Richwood Chamber of Commerce, Meadow River Valley Association and Taylor County Adventure Club - to help advance the projects in several towns and cities.

The Fulcrum Project focuses solely on communities that have worked with the West Virginia Community Development Hub in the past to identify leaders and assets, develop plans and connect with a wide network of resources to make projects happen. 

Although each community partner is essential, Butler stressed the significance of working with the Hub.

"The West Virginia Community Development Hub has been developing community capacities for years,” he said. “This will add yet another layer of capacity building by utilizing students' skills, faculty expertise and existing relationships with stakeholders to create development opportunities.”

West Virginia Community Development Hub Director Amanda Workman-Scott agrees.

“The work is important, but also that relationship-building, that connection to a West Virginia community is really important, too,” Scott said. “When I’ve worked with students, that’s my favorite piece to watch is how they get to know the community members. They begin to form their own connections to that community and want to see it continue to grow.” 

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, program coordinator Morgan Haas said the early stages of the project are going well.

“It’s a new type of challenge working through a virtual lens, but our project teams are doing a great job of moving through their design process and keeping the communities involved and informed,” he said.

The Fulcrum Project will build up community as well as West Virginia’s potential for successful future leadership, she added. 

“As the Davis College aims to add this type of learning experience permanently to its curricula, current and future students have more opportunities to diversify their portfolios and distinguish themselves from their peers,” she said.

Other projects are located in Grafton, Hinton, Kimball, New Martinsville, Rupert and Mullens.

The funding was made possible through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.

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