The Meadow River Valley is made up of neighborhoods and communities in eastern Fayette and western Greenbrier Counties in West Virginia. In 2016, this region was hit hard by what is now known as the 1,000 Year Flood (read more about the flood here). During the flood, 23 people lost their lives, and more than 1,200 homes and businesses were damaged throughout West Virginia. This unfortunate disaster became a catalyst for bringing community members together in a time of need, leading to a surge of volunteers devoted to restoring infrastructure and homes across the region and supporting residents in crisis.
Community members banded together to build an official team that would come to be known as the Greater Greenbrier Long‐Term Recovery Committee. This community team (made up of individuals, communities, organizations, and agencies in the region) was dedicated to rebuilding parts of Greenbrier, Pocahontas, and Monroe counties, improving the post-flood infrastructure, and sourcing relief for survivors of the disaster.
West Virginia communities of all sizes are engaging in innovative work. Many of these communities exemplify our Rural Community Building Best Practices, guideposts identified through evidence-based research processes. By looking to these communities as models, we can work together to replicate small wins and major successes.
Matt Ford, a founding member of the Greater Greenbrier Long‐Term Recovery Committee, realized a gap in his community was being filled by the team–the flood had caused people to come together to think about the future of the community of Meadow River Valley and ways to make it even better. “Once these people started working together, we had to keep that going,” said Matt. In 2018, this led to the founding of the Meadow River Valley Association (MRVA), a community development nonprofit organization where Matt is now the President.
Working with a team of volunteers and partners, the MRVA approached residents to ask, “What other community issues do we have that we need to tackle as a group?” This led to projects focused on adding more recreation for residents, eradicating substance abuse, redeveloping buildings, and providing affordable health care and child care. MRVA has since formed a community team for the Blueprint Communities® program, and has completed a strategic plan with directions for how they will move forward to make these goals a reality.
One way MRVA works to improve the quality of life of residents of the region is by providing space for outdoor recreation. MRVA has worked to build up and maintain the Meadow River Valley Community Park, where residents can access playgrounds, a boat launch, picnic areas, a stage for outdoor concerts, a wildflower garden, and lots of green space. MRVA has managed to fund the park entirely through grants and is building up the assets it provides over time–with the most recent one being the boat launch. The park is maintained by MRVA volunteers who regularly hold park clean-ups and help maintain the land. Community members donate their time to the maintenance of this park because they see the value that it brings to the area and are determined to see it grow.
In addition to community volunteers, the park is partially maintained by residents of a recovery center called God’s Way Home, which is located in Rainelle. God’s Way Home regularly partners with MRVA and is working to help their residents recognize that they are assets to their community. “[The indivudials in recovery] are going from what others think are hopeless people to entrepreneurs and business owners, and that’s amazing,” said Matt. God’s Way Home provides business coaching to residents in recovery, and the organization works to help their residents recognize opportunities to fill gaps in the community with their business ideas.
The Community Park is a valuable, but smaller-scale, project that brings value to the region, and the MRVA team is putting work in on a massive project that could soon transform the community.
MRVA acquired the former Rupert Elementary School, which will be repurposed as the Meadow River Valley Community Center. At the community center, residents of the region will gain access to affordable senior housing, a health care clinic, an early childhood learning center (the MARVEL Center), and recreation facilities–learn more about the community center here. Through a partnership with the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Center, MRVA was able to bring a Hub-sponsored AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) to their team to work to move work on the community center forward.
Dara Vance is MRVA’s first-ever VISTA, and she’s working to make the community’s dreams of turning the Rupert Elementary School into the Meadow River Valley Community Center a reality. In 2020, Dara moved to Greenbrier County from Florida to take on the position. Though she’s not a West Virginia native, she easily found her place in the community. “COVID made me reconsider what’s important in life. I wanted some sort of meaningful work. What mattered to me is knowing that people appreciate what you’re doing everyday,” said Dara.
In her role, Dara is working to move forward the community center project by seeking and applying for funding, building relationships with partners, and bringing community members together across the entire multi-county region. “MRVA wanted to get away from the idea of east side and west side and focus more on inclusion than exclusion,” said Dara. Before it was Meadow River Valley, the community was known as the “West End,” as in, the community is west to the more affluent parts of Greenbrier County, like Lewisburg and White Sulphur Springs. The team at MRVA was determined to rebrand the area to move away from the negative history of its former name. As a result, Meadow River Valley came to be, shining a new light on positivity in the community’s reputation, reminding community members that their identity doesn’t have to be tied to which side of the county they live on.
Dara has brought together community members from all over the region by implementing the “MRVA Works” initiative, a series of community clean-up projects with the goal of increasing potential for economic development in the area. The community team agrees that curb appeal and beautification can make the community attractive to potential investors, and making a community more beautiful is something lots of people are willing to take part in. “This project is making economic development approachable and showing the community that anyone can do the work,” said Dara. The concept is much bigger than just cleaning up a park; Dara works to communicate in the framing of MRVA Works that these smaller projects will work to kickstart economic development, but are approachable to those who want to take part in the process and may not have experience in community and economic development. “When you start seeing other people get involved, it’s not as overwhelming,” said Dara.