Community | Winter 2020

Coalfield Development is tackling poverty and creating opportunities for West Virginians

(Photography by Coalfield Development)

By: Patricia McDonald

Brandon Dennison was fresh out of graduate school when he decided he wanted to do something to help those in his community of Ona, West Virginia. The region was suffering from poverty, and people needed the skills and knowledge to improve their lives.

To that end, he founded Coalfield Development, a community-based nonprofit that is helping to rebuild Southern West Virginia communities and diversify the regional economy to be less dependent on coal.

“It was very important for Brandon to come up with a plan that would allow people to have an income and, at the same time, be involved in activities to better themselves,” says Claudette Karr, Real Estate Coordinator for the organization. “He felt that would be through higher education and learning life skills that were missing.”

Dennison developed the 33-6-3 program, which allows people to work 33 hours a week and take two higher education courses every semester, and also spend three hours working on skills each week.

“Word has spread very quickly that if you are interested in going to college and also need income, that Coalfield is the way to make that happen,” says Karr.

Rebuilding the economy

Coalfield—whose mission is to rebuild the Appalachian economy from the ground up—provides services throughout southern West Virginia, emphasizing the revitalization of communities. To more quickly do that, Coalfield works with other organizations to help them build out their capacity.

“We find organizations that are already established in communities and can move forward much more quickly than Coalfield could coming in and starting from scratch,” says Karr. “When attempting to help a community, it’s about preserving the culture and revitalizing the area in a complementary way.”

More recently, Coalfield and the city of Huntington collaborated on renovating blighted retail properties. This venture created new jobs, supported new businesses, revitalized abandoned properties, and established community ties. And as Coalfield nears its 10-year anniversary, Karr anticipates expanding its management efforts around multifamily housing, offering its services to other landlords and helping them with the upkeep of their properties.

Building lasting relationships

Coalfield’s strong relationships with communities, other organizations, and Huntington are integral to its success. Karr says Huntington contributes monetarily but also works with Coalfield in its mission to improve communities.

“Huntington asked us to get involved in assisting a low-income family with a new home construction, and we accepted,” says Karr. “We built a three-bedroom, two-bath home in Huntington, West Virginia, and completed it in 2019.”

About the organization

Name: Coalfield Development
City: Wayne, West Virginia
Phone: (304) 501-4755
Mission: To support a family of social enterprises that inspire the courage to grow, the creativity to transform perceived liabilities into assets, and the community needed to cultivate real opportunity in Appalachia through mentorship, education, and employment

How you can help

To become a crew member, community partner, or donate service hours or funding, visit Coalfield’s website or call (304) 501-4755.

Make an impact

Learn how Huntington can help make a positive impact in the region. Contact your Huntington relationship manager.
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