Kelly Spangler wasn’t sure what to expect.
Spangler lives about six miles west of Vanceburg, and he was one of about a dozen who spent nearly three hours Monday evening at the George Morgan Thomas Home to talk about Lewis County’s past, present and future.
“I figured it would be a brainstorming session,” Spangler said.
Monday was the eighth and final session of Charrettes, in which residents talked about what Lewis County needs. The goals: figuring out how to spend a $100,000 federal grant to renovate the Carter House and other projects; and continuing what is called “Promising Futures,” in which local residents learn to make and market Lewis County products.
Whatever happens will cost a lot of money.
Vanceburg City Councilwoman Joni Pugh said it will take up to $3.6 million to renovate the Queen and Carter houses, purchase several parcels and finance the Promising Futures program until 2015, when it is supposed to become self-sufficient. The goal: give Lewis County and other Appalachians control over their own resources rather than ceding it to companies from Cincinnati to Sweden.
“We’ve become dependent on social services and controlled by other businesses,” said Mandy Hart, executive director of the Center for Appalachian Philanthropy (AppaPhil) of Vanceburg, Huntington and Portsmouth, Ohio.
There has been some progress.
Last December, AppaPhil purchased the Queen House on Second Street in Vanceburg to operate as a Bed and Breakfast. Pugh said an opening date has yet to be set.
Renovation plans for the Carter House won’t start until fall, but a doll-making factory is moving to the former Lewis County CaRES office on Third Street, and in May, a group of Promising Futures students from a Repurposing and Design class will present plans for a textile business they plan to start.
Pugh said a mural would be painted sometime this year at the JC Video store on the corner of Main and Third. She said Robert Dafford, who’s painted murals in Maysville and Portsmouth, would be working with Lewis County artist Dan McCane and local students.
Monday, residents divided into two groups to discuss and later present what is positive and negative of the county’s past, present and future.
For Vanceburg residents Joanne Vergne and Teresa Bryant, breaking the cycle of dependence on governmental assistance is a negative that can be corrected by creating jobs and offering education programs. Scott Moore of TSHD Architects of Ashland and Portsmouth, one of the Charrettes’ facilitators, said the key is doing that in ways that don’t imply that people are stupid.
Vanceburg resident Virginia Sauley cuddled her 10-month-old grandson, Adam Lewis, while explaining how Volksmarches, which are popular in Germany, is a way to teach children about the outdoors; she remembered one from her childhood, in which she had to collect 100 species of leaves — which was hard because she could not name them.
Spangler, a Dayton, Ohio native, would like to see more opportunities for young people to make and sell things. “Button pushing is not really a skill; you can make something from nothing,” he said.
Pugh said an advisory committee would be meeting this week to discuss the recommendations, and Hart said recommendations would be available online and/or in a booklet.
Spangler hopes more than a few people will be involved in bettering Lewis County because “you need a majority or a large minority.” Vanceburg resident Hannah Maynard, meanwhile, liked what she saw.
“It gives you hope for the future,” Maynard said.