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Matewan, West Virginia... Scene of many conflicts between the Hatfields and the McCoys A fierce battle occurred here in 1920 between miners and mining company detectives who were evicting union members from company-owned houses. Ten people died Setting for 1987 movie, "Matewan"

By CHARLES YOUNG

The Exponent Telegram

CHARLESTON - Since 2009, The West Virginia Community Development Hub, better known as The Hub, has worked with dozens of communities throughout West Virginia to help residents optimize the potential of their cities and towns. The nonprofit organization assists community members with identifying leaders and assets, developing plans, setting goals and connecting them with a wide network of resources to help with meeting those goals.

Emma Pepper, communications director for The Hub, said the organization works to empower residents to realize their own efforts are the key to breathing new life into formerly struggling towns.

"We really organize the people in the community, and the community leads these efforts," she said. "We take more of a behind-the-scenes role in helping to make sure projects are on track and running smoothly, but this is really a community effort."

Dan Taylor, the program coordinator for The Hub's Energizing Entrepreneurial Communities program, said that while The Hub works in all regions of the state, their efforts are typically focused on assisting smaller communities.

"Where a larger city like Charleston has the staff to do various different kinds of programs, smaller communities need a little bit of assistance if they want to kick off something like a farmers' market or an art event or just all kinds of different stuff," he said. "It is very community-based, so it's whatever people come to us with we help support that."

The funding to enable The Hub to do this work comes mainly from grants, Taylor said.

"We receive a number of grants from foundations or state or federal programs," he said. "We do receive some donations, as well."

In contrast with other organizations that undertake projects themselves, The Hub's mission is more focused on giving community members the knowledge needed to become the agents of their own change, Taylor said.

"We don't go into the community and do any of the actual work," he said. "Really, the community decides what they want to work on and then we help connect them out to the resources to do that. So if they need funding, they need expertise, all those different things, we're just really the connector."

The organization currently has offices in Charleston and Fairmont, but plans to relocate its Fairmont operation to Grafton in December, Taylor said.

"We've been doing work in Grafton for a few years now," he said. "There was space available, and it just really made sense to open an office there."

The move won't change any of The Hub's work, but will allow its employees to be more active and present in the Grafton community, Taylor said.

The organization's work encompasses nearly every aspect of community development, Taylor said.

Over the years, The Hub has sponsored and assisted with numerous projects and programs, ranging from educational seminars on historical tax credits to the Turn This Town initiative, which has assisted communities like Grafton and Matewan with revitalizing their downtown areas.

Although the organization employs a number of experts on community development, they also work with a vast network of partners from other organizations and fields, Taylor Bennett, the Hub's community development policy coordinator, said.

"Oftentimes the Hub isn't the right expert to provide some of that technical assistance, but we know who is and we're able to help connect people with the appropriate partner," she said.

The program he is currently leading works to foster economic development by encouraging community members to follow their business dreams, Taylor said.

"It is a three-year program where we're going to be working with four different communities around the state on community based entrepreneurial development," Taylor said.

The program will both assist community members who want to start a new business and work with current business owners on maximizing their success, he said.

Matewan Projects

Here are some of the projects the Hub's "Turn This Town Around" worked on in Matewan.

n A souvenir shop that stays open all day

n Restore historic jail

n Build an amphitheater

n Open historical underground coal mine

n "Shop local" Saturdays

n After-school activities

n Open a "comedy barn" to increase nightlife

n Enhanced green spaces with benches and a running track

n A women's club

n Develop recycling collection

n More lodging options

n A trail system connecting Gilbert and Matewan

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