Shaping Rural Communities Through Innovative Partnerships
by Jenna Fehr, Office of Surface Mining/AmeriCorps VISTA, OSM/VISTA Teams
Due to a legacy of isolation, economic decline and policy neglect, pollution runs rampant in many parts of the Appalachian coal and Western hardrock mining regions.
In Appalachian coalfields, acidic, metals-laden water coats streambeds with orange sediment, destroys aquatic habitat and renders waterways useless as economic and community resources.
Hastily built sewage infrastructure sends sewage directly into creeks, contaminating water supplies and posing a significant threat to human health.
In the hardrock mining West, toxic chemicals such as arsenic, mercury, and cyanide contaminate local streams.
The three million citizens that live within a mile of an abandoned mine site are not only facing these environmental threats, but also overwhelming economic challenges.
The average median household income is around $29,660, compared with a $52,029 national average, with 30% living below the poverty line.
In these regions devastated by the environmental legacy of pre-regulatory coal mining and suffering from economic decline, the OSM/VISTA Teams, under the leadership of Dr. T Allan Comp, help to bring hope to rural communities by building local organizational capacity and partnerships from the ground up.
The OSM/VISTA Teams, comprised of the Appalachian Coal Country Team (ACCT) and Western Hardrock Watershed Team (WHWT), are supported by an innovative partnership among the Office of Surface Mining, concerned with environmental reclamation and safety; AmeriCorps VISTA; and local community groups.
The ACCT and WHWT place determined college-trained OSM/VISTAs with community/ watershed improvement groups in rural mining communities for a year of service.
Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said of the OSM/VISTA Teams,
The notion that we would take a program at Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining, and connect that to VISTA and have VISTA Volunteers on the ground doing what they do best…this is, I think, an extraordinary demonstration of how service can be a solution. That service can play a critical role in being the lever, the button that we can push to make a difference, is extraordinary.
For the thousands of miles of contaminated streams and the millions of Americans living near those waters, the OSM/VISTA Teams are inspiring regions to rise above poverty and environmental degradation and build new partnerships in community revitalization.
The work of Dr. Comp and the OSM/VISTA Teams is arming citizen groups with the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to make them effective environmental stewards, community leaders, and accelerators of change – propelling a new initiative based on reclaimed mine-scarred lands and streams, a new conservation and development-based economy of hope.
Join Dr. T Allan Comp, Adrian Uzunian (VISTA Leader for WHWT), and Jenna Fehr (OSM/VISTA Volunteerism Coordinator) for
Wednesday, June 8th 8:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m.
This session will explore issues such as developing partnerships, drawing people and investment into rural areas, and fostering community involvement to help residents take ownership of projects. Hear case studies from the field and join in a discussion about developing the partnerships and resources needed to achieve goals.
Jenna Fehr is currently serving as an Office of Surface Mining/AmeriCorps*VISTA (OSM/VISTA) with the Appalachian Coal Country Team in Beckley, WV. In this capacity, she serves as project researcher for the “Volunteers for Rural Watersheds” project led by Dr. T Allan Comp across seven Appalachian and two Rocky Mountain states. The goal of this research is to learn about rural volunteers and existing volunteer management practices to develop resources and a toolkit of best practices for rural watershed groups. Jenna is a native of the anthracite coalfields of Schuylkill County, PA, and holds a B.S. degree in Environmental Resource Management from Pennsylvania State University.
For more information, check out www.coalcountryteam.org and www.hardrockteam.org.