Friday, April 29, 2016

Hope for the hills

Warrior Creek Development
McDowell County, West Virginia
"Are you a Redneck or a Hillbilly?" the little boy asked our friend, Beckie. It does seem like a rather limited range of choices, but choices have been limited for a while in McDowell County, West Virginia for a long time now. Widely known as coal country, the area declined as the industry declined in the middle of the last century.


There was some hope the area might flourish during the 1970's energy crises, but it didn't happen. In 1990, the poverty rate reached 37%, with half of all children in families below the poverty line. Since then, there have been other industries lost in the community, natural disasters such as floods, and human disasters such as drugs (OxyContin has been particularly destructive). With the reduced tax base, the educational system has obviously suffered. Most young people see few options when they look to the future.

Beckie and her husband, Craig Snow, have come to the area to offer a few more options to young people in the area. Last May, Craig incorporated the non-profit organization Warrior Creek Development ("Warrior Creek" was a town name from the early 1900's that was changed by the coal companies). One of the goals of the organization is to offer training and skills to young people.

Craig admits he took the outline of the program straight from a man named Brandon Dennison of the Coalfield Development Corporation. In a two year program, willing men or women will work 33 hours, attend six hours of classes at Southern West Virginia Community and TechnicalCollege, and three hours of life coaching. Those who complete the program will have an A.A in Applied Science, Construction, and Craig hopes the life coaching will lead to a balanced view of life.

When Craig presents the program, he makes something else clear: "I want you to know I'm a follower of Jesus, but you don't have to be a Christian or become a Christian to be a part of the program. I just think you should know my foundation for living, so this won't take you by surprise. I don't want that to be a Trojan Horse."

The projects built by Warrior Creek Development are chosen to benefit the community at large. One of the many challenges faced by the education system of McDowell is a lack of adequatehousing for teachers. Warrior Creek is currently building three structures that will have two apartments each, designed as a help in recruiting teachers to the area.

The program started last May, and in August, Craig started mentoring the two young men in the program this year. Both are married; one is 20 years old and the other 30 years old. Other young men and women have applied to the program, but didn't follow through. (Alcohol and drugs have been a factor for a couple of those dropouts.)  Applicants are required to be high school graduates, or at least in the process of completing their G.E.D.s. Some of the program applicants are presently high school seniors. (One of those high school seniors is 17 years old, married with one child.)

In answer to that question from the eight-year old, "Are you a Redneck or a Hillbilly?" Beckie answered Hillbilly. The Snows have made a commitment to the hill country of McDowell County in the hope that when that boy grows up, the world before him will be full of options.

(For more information about the project go to
http://www.warriorcreekdevelopment.org)