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Shaping Rural Communities Through Innovative Partnerships

by Jenna Fehr

This post originally appeared on the NCVS blog on May 21, 2011.

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.

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:

“Shaping Rural Communities Through Innovative Partnerships”
SessionID 5172
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.

For more information, check out and

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