The Reconnecting McDowell public-private partnership is driving not just hope but tangible programs to improve the public schools, health and well being, and economic development of McDowell County and its residents.
Things have been tough in McDowell for years, and while there is an understandable desire for highly visible changes right away, this is a long-term effort that must focus on durable, lasting accomplishments, both big and small.
Teachers, administrators; local, county, state, federal agencies and leaders; foundations; non-profit organizations; corporations; parents and other community members are involved in this joint venture because the grievously poor economy has invaded nearly every aspect of life in this part of Appalachia.
Some say the poor economic base creates a high, perhaps impossible, hurdle to climb.
But it's the economic pressures that created the necessity for Reconnecting McDowell, and it's the economic pressures that have energized us to persevere and think outside the box.
Our goals and projects to date and over the next few years revolve around improving public education, social services and economic development. We've already been the catalyst for introducing programs and services that have been embedded in communities nationwide for years, including full access to the Internet in all schools and most homes.
It used to be that a school's computerized security camera system sucked up all the bandwidth, leaving nothing for computer use by students. Now, with expanded broadband in every school, teachers can incorporate technology in daily lessons.
Improving literacy skills is one of the most important objectives of the effort.
Through Reconnecting McDowell, more than 4,000 new books are in the hands of McDowell kids - some receiving the first book to call their very own.
We've established seven Family Literacy Centers with books and other literacy activities - at every elementary school, a mental health center and a Women's, Infants and Children's office.
And thanks to the expanded Internet capability in schools, students and teachers have access to digital libraries.