CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A nonprofit has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars since late 2011 into a project aimed at improving life in McDowell County.
Yet the average Welch resident probably couldn't say what ReConnecting McDowell has accomplished, Mayor Reba Honaker said.
"Until they actually see some action as to what Reconnecting McDowell is really about, the average person on the street probably would not," she said by phone Monday.
"Until they see some actual building of housing, and making affordable housing for teachers . . . I think this will make a big impact with the local citizens."
Honaker is a trustee adviser for ReConnecting McDowell. She's one of several community leaders quick to praise the program and express excitement.
Since December 2011, the effort has discussed ways to improve life in McDowell County, which has been perpetually plagued by low academic scores, drug abuse and little economic development.
ReConnecting McDowell wants to help "build a new personal, institutional and programmatic infrastructure for success," according to the covenant each group member signed at the start of the project.
The group met Monday in Charleston. Those in attendance included Gayle Manchin, chairwoman of the ReConnecting McDowell board of directors and vice president of the state Board of Education, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union.
The AFT and the Benedum Foundation, a philanthropic organization, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the project. That money has in part gone toward "infrastructure," something Weingarten and Manchin define as trust and building a foundation.
It also helped pay for the organization's four full-time employees and other part-time workers.
Building something a little more tangible takes time.
"I think it's OK to use this analogy now: It is a marathon, not a sprint," Weingarten said. "The engagement initially is a sprint. And lots of projects fail in the sprint, when people get exhausted in the sprint."
Manchin was quoted using the same phrase in the October 2012 ReConnecting McDowell newsletter. McDowell County Commission President Gordon Lambert used his own sports analogy.
"It's come to the point where we need to see some points on the board, you know what I mean?" Lambert said. "Some things being accomplished; they've talked about doing housing, teachers and stuff. Hopefully we'll get started on that."
Like Honaker, Lambert - also a trustee adviser - said community residents are embracing the program and that its success will soon be visible.
The group presented a seven-page handout Monday called "ReConnecting McDowell Accomplishments." It includes more than $1 million for the creation of literacy centers to encourage children and adults to read.
Many accomplishments cited were meetings, participation in county events or initiatives spearheaded by other organizations.
"I think one of the greatest accomplishments is the relationship that we have built with the local community in McDowell County," Manchin said.
Some include bringing money or development to the area: Project participants are quick to point to a $9.7 million investment by Shentel Communications in September to provide the infrastructure needed for 10,000 homes to connect to the Internet.
The project stemmed from the state's massive Broadband Technology Opportunity Program federal grant. Frontier Communications did most of the work, bringing fiber to many different areas of the state.
Shentel made it possible for homes to connect to that system. The locations that receive any of this infrastructure pay for the Internet provided.
Honaker and Lambert think connectivity has made a huge impact on the community. Local educators agree.
Assistant Superintendent Carolyn Falin said it has been very noticeable in schools this year. It's too early to see if it will increase academic achievement, Falin said, but she thinks it's coming.