Be the change you wish to see!
 

 

Big Creek People in Action was formed by, and is staffed by, local citizens working to bring about a brighter future for McDowell County, West Virginia.  Based on priorities set by the community, BCPIA has an array of services and endeavors targeted at empowering families and revitalizing communities.  Residents challenged by poverty, stress, and geographical isolation are assisted through the following programs and services:

            Service Learning

            Volunteer Services / Housing Rehab

            Education & Literacy

            Job Readiness

SERVICE LEARNING PROGRAM

Service Learning is a method of teaching through which students apply their academic skills and knowledge to address real-life needs in their communities.  Service Learning teaches the skills of civic participation and develops an ethic of service and civic responsibility. Service learning increases motivation and retention of academic skills as specific learning goals are tied to community needs. By solving real problems and addressing real needs, students learn to apply classroom learning to a real world context. At the same time, students provide valuable services to schools and communities.

In 1999, a service learning process—the Bonner Learning Initiative—was established at BCPIA.  This Initiative was created in collaboration with the Bonner Foundation and 25 Bonner colleges and universities.  Service learning is a transforming educational experience that helps young people gain a greater sense of communities, as well as the skills and commitment to stay involved in service throughout their lives.  Service learning increases the democratic capacity of young people by having them work together to analyze and respond to problems.  It provides young people with a wide range of options and opportunities and encourages them to use their current education and skills to bring about a brighter future for the area.  Service learning is also a vehicle for meeting a critical criterion for the selection of young leaders as Bonner Scholars when they apply for admission to Bonner institutions.

Students have a variety of service opportunities at Big Creek from which to choose a meaningful placement.  Included are alternative college breaks, community service weekends, and summer placements and internships.

Alternative College Breaks

During Alternative Breaks, students participate in service projects, such as participating in presentations in “Introduction to the Majors’ classes at the local High School to link Bonner Scholars and their institutions with local students and their schools. The message that higher education is possible for every student who wants it is incorporated into the presentations.  During breaks, students are immersed in the local culture by such things as tours of exhibition coal mines, tours of Coalwood—home of the Rocket Boys—and visits with community residents portrayed in Rocket Boys, the book, and October Sky, the movie.  Students are given a history of the area, as well as of BCPIA and its vision for the future.

With institutions that have visited us before, a listing of service opportunities is developed during follow-up visits with us and is then used on campus to advocate for additional involvement with our Center. 

Community Service Weekends

During Community Service Weekends, students participate in activities sponsored by BCPIA such as carnivals, festivals, bazaars, and parties.  During the weekend activities, students were given a history of the area, as well as of BCPIA and its vision for the future

Summer Placements and Internships

During summer placements and internships, students share their skills, insight and ideas with BCPIA by being involved in community service and/or research projects.  Their contributions are  interwoven into the vision, projects and services at BCPIA.

During placements and internships, students participate in project orientation; evaluation of their placements with pre-service surveys, weekly reflections, and exit interviews; cultural sharing; reading assignments around social justice in Appalachia; discussion of future placements with BCPIA; and solicitation to be “ambassadors” on their campuses to recruit additional students from their institutions to BCPIA.

VOLUNTEER SERVICES / HOUSING REHAB PROGRAM

Big Creek People in Action hosts volunteer church and college groups throughout the year who want to make a difference by giving their time and energy to our community.  Our Volunteer Services Program gives people the opportunity to turn their special talents and abilities into positive action.

The third floor of our center has dormitory style rooms, showers, restrooms, and a Chill Room for volunteers to relax after a hard day’s work.  A new Dining Hall and Restrooms was built on the bottom floor for the use of our volunteer groups.

Applications are taken by BCPIA staff of home repairs needed by the elderly, poor, or disabled residents of Big Creek District.  Staff visits the homes and decides if our groups can do the job, and if so, what supplies are needed.    Work groups are matched to projects that they have the skills to work on.  Some groups can only paint or clean, while other groups bring certified contractors with them that can do roofing, electrical, carpentry, and other skilled labor.

Another aspect of our Volunteer Services Program is cultural immersion.  We introduce our college students and church groups to traditional Appalachian music, flat-footing, community tours, tours of local coal mines, and conversations with local people who tell their stories of “life in the coalfields.”

BCPIA assists people in providing safe, warm and dry homes for their families through housing rehabilitation.   Safe, warm and dry—this is our motto, adopted courtesy of a faith-based group that comes to our Center year after year.  It is the perfect description of how we feel about the work we do.  All families deserve to live in a home that is safe, warm and dry.  However due to age of structures and limited resources in families, this is not always within their ability to attain.  In addition, our efforts in housing rehabilitation not only helps people with their home repair needs but brings people into the area from all over the US.  During visits, groups of people gain teamwork and leadership skills, and learn about the importance of volunteerism and cultural sharing.

EDUCATION/LITERACY PROGRAM

BCPIA’s Education & Literacy Program recognizes that education is a lifelong process. Opportunities should always be available to individuals who seek to further their education and expand their knowledge.   Literacy programs provide participants with foundational education skills that have significance in their lives. The skills participants gain are related to their family, education, employment, civic, and personal goals.

The following statistics shows the challenges we are facing.  According to the 2010 Census, Reconnecting McDowell, and WV Kids Count, McDowell County’s median family income is less than half the national one, 40% of the population lacks a high school education, 18.9% of kids drop out of school, only 5.7% of the people are college graduates, 46% of students do not live with their biological parents, 72% of students live in a household without gainful employment, and we have an illiteracy rate of 37%, which is the highest in the state. These alarming statistics show that we have much work to do to provide adequate services that will help children further their education and become successful as adults. 

We collaborate with LifeBridge AmeriCorps who provides us with four AmeriCorps members who work with Education:  two with the afterschool program, one as a tutor at Southside K-8 School, and one as a tutor at the McDowell County Career and Technology Center.  AmeriCorps also sponsor many special events and projects during the year.

Afterschool - One of our most rewarding programs is our year-round afterschool program which has 36 kids.  There are three teachers that work with the students each day and parents have reported improvements in their children’s grades.  The program offers a full, nutritional meal, homework support, computer time, help with school projects, exercise, and transportation.  Good health habits are taught through nutrition and oral health education.  They also get to participate in special projects such as Science Fun and go on field trips in the summer.    Kids have the opportunity to form close bonds with other children in order to have more positive relationships with their peers. 

During the summer and school breaks, the students are involved in a special project called T.R.A.V.E.L., which stands for Traditions, Research, Arts, Voices, Education, and Learning.   They learn about different cultures, food, art, and traditions and are assigned a new country every two weeks to research and study.

In-School Tutoring - We have two Reading Coaches that work 4 days per week at the McDowell County Career & Technology Center to improve Reading and Math skills and one tutor who works at Southside K-8 to tutor students in reading.  Students being tutored are tested periodically to determine the effectiveness of the program.

JOB READINESS PROGRAM

Many of Big Creek People in Action’s programs and services involve job training and preparation.   This is an important service we provide to help people better themselves and prepare for a brighter future.  When people are placed here to work, they learn workplace ethics and behavior, responsibility, and effective communication skills that they will need when securing permanent employment.  We also help people in the community prepare their resumes and secure job opportunities.

The Department of Health and Human Resources places people here under the welfare work experience program WV Works to learn how to be responsible, be on time, follow directions, work with other staff, and gain valuable work experience.

We have staff placed here through the Senior Community Service Employment Program worker program.  They are paid part-time to do Receptionist work and help with special events. 

Our staff also work with people in the Computer Lab to help them complete on-line classes as well as basic computer skills.  We have two tutors that work at the McDowell County Career and Technology Center providing tutoring services to the students in all of the Career and Technical Education course offerings.   Big Creek People in Action tutors work diligently with students to ensure that each graduate is not only equipped with academic and career tech skills, but also with professional skills related to entrepreneurship and employment.

                                               

HEALTHY LIFESTYLES PROGRAM

The Healthy Lifestyles Program addresses the issues of proper nutrition, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and a host of other topics. This program sponsors the Moms and Babes Fair for new and expecting mothers.  They attend educational workshops, get information from county providers, and get free items to support the health and safety of their infants and toddlers. 

The Senior Health Fair offers health information and screenings such as blood pressure checks, free health items, and flu shots from a variety of area organizations. Seniors attending the event are able to get flu shots, blood pressure checks, free health where women are able to get free mammograms.

CONCLUSION

Big Creek People in Action assists families to become self-sufficient, gain a higher standard of living, and be engaged members of this community through our many programs and services.   By partnering with families to meet their needs in education and literacy, housing rehabilitation, hunger reduction, and celebrations of family and community, strong and continuing relationships are built with families that influence the current, as well as the next generation.  Through our collective efforts, families are motivated, their self-esteem is increased, and they use their education and skills to strengthen themselves and their communities to bring about a better tomorrow for McDowell County.