Front Porch Blog

Communities identify priorities during first listening sessions of multi-year project 

Community members discuss the need for greenspace 
development in Dungannon. Photo by Rance Garrison

By Jazmyine Harrell, Environmental Justice Problem Solving Grant Intern

In late April, Appalachian Voices started our first round of Community Strong listening sessions, part of a multi-year project to plan, design and implement community-driven projects. We held these sessions in five locations spanning Virginia’s coalfield region. Residents from Clinchco, Dante, Dungannon, Pennington Gap and Pound were all asked to participate in group activities where they discussed changes they had seen in their communities and new ideas for potential community projects. 

These listening sessions kicked off a multi-year project funded by an Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Community members in Dante share their ideas for local recreational activities. Photo by Rance Garrison

Summary of the listening sessions

Approximately 160 residents, business owners, and local town government officials gathered to discuss their respective towns and communities during the listening sessions. When I attended these sessions, it was easy to tell how concerned these communities were about some of the changes they had witnessed within their towns. 

Community members discuss the need for greenspace 
development in Dungannon.
Photo by Rance Garrison
Community members discuss the need for greenspace 
development in Dungannon. Photo by Rance Garrison

The floor was open for group conversations and for individuals to share similar concerns with one another. Participants shared great ideas for what they would like to see in the future for their communities. All expressed a major desire for more businesses and in-town recreational opportunities. Many folks called for more recreation, such as playgrounds for kids, tennis courts, walking trails and many more great ideas for outdoor fun!

Equally important, each of these communities shared their concerns about recent flood damage. These communities wish to feel more protected from hazards, such as flooding and runoff, which is something that Appalachian Voices hopes we can provide through resiliency projects. Although flooding was a shared concern, each town also had its respective concerns specific to its communities. 

Graphic by J.M. Davidson

Some of the top concerns for each of these coalfield communities include:

  • Clinchco: to focus on cleaning up their town, including clearing some of the dilapidated structures and buildings;
  • Dante: how many businesses have closed and having no access to stores within a reasonable distance;
  • Dungannon: how isolated the town has become, and a desire to revamp the town’s depot; 
  • Pennington Gap: to focus on cleaning the town and having more opportunities for community get-togethers;
  • Pound: businesses closing and the closing of Pound High School.

During my time at the Pound and Pennington Gap listening sessions, I was able to witness these concerns firsthand. Hearing these concerns directly from community members put into perspective how much change has truly happened to these communities over the years. 

Pound’s concern for businesses leaving allowed residents to come up with new ideas for businesses they would like to attract or how they would like to utilize those spaces. Some residents suggested using the old Pound High School space to open up a community center. Folks hope that if something like a community center is built in town, it will cause Pound to gain more traffic and hopefully bring in new businesses. This is a perfect example of a community-sourced project that Appalachian Voices hopes to support through technical assistance and federal funding. 

Next round of listening sessions

Following these first rounds of listening sessions, there will be a second set of listening sessions that will start in early August and continue throughout September. These sessions will be more focused on mapping areas in each of these communities where the proposed projects could go. We’ll use this input to create interactive maps that will show exact locations for resiliency projects, as well as each community’s assets and liabilities. 

The dates for the next round of listening sessions will be:

  • Pennington Gap: Aug. 6, 6 p.m.
  • Pound: Aug. 13, 6 p.m.
  • Dungannon: Aug. 22, 6 p.m.
  • Dante: Sept. 19, 6 p.m.
  • Clinchco: Sept. 26, 6 p.m.

The mapping and discussion held during these second sessions of community gatherings will inform what projects will be prioritized. Another round of sessions will be held in the spring of next year, dedicated to project planning for these prioritized resilience projects. 

I look forward to being able to work together with these communities and to be able to see these positive changes within the coalfield region.  

Jazmyine Harrell is located in Appalachia, Virginia, but has lived all throughout the Southwest Virginia area. They have completed an associate degree in Business Management at Mountain Empire Community College. Jazmyine is currently working on getting their B.S. in Environmental Studies at Emory & Henry University. 





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