East Marion Forum seeks to improve communities

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

On Tuesday, Aug. 1, Samantha Parrow and her husband Louis Parrow attended the National Night Out in downtown Marion. Both are involved with the East Marion Community Forum and want to restart the Community Watch program. They are shown with Police Chief Allen Lawrence.

Folks who live in the East Marion, Clinchfield and Eastfield communities are coming together to make their neighborhoods safer, stronger and healthier.

And like their counterparts in West Marion, these community leaders are getting support from their local officials and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust to make positive changes where they live.

The East Marion Community Forum was started recently to focus on improving the health, safety and overall quality of life in the East Marion, Eastfield and Clinchfield communities. Like the West Marion Forum before it, this group consists of residents coming together to identify problems facing their neighborhoods and finding the answers to those problems. The forum’s Facebook page said it is “a place where residents can stay connected with neighbors, identify health issues and participate in community driven solutions.”

The next meeting of the East Marion Community Forum will take place Tuesday in the cafeteria of East McDowell Middle School. It will last from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. A dinner and child care will be provided. City Planner Heather Cotton will speak about code enforcement and policies related to housing safety. Police Chief Allen Lawrence will address traffic safety.

The forum’s stated purpose is to provide a safe place for:

• Building trusting relationships among community residents in East Marion, Clinchfield and Eastfield.

• Taking a closer look at the issues of “community engagement, understanding everyone, active living, youth engagement, substance abuse and public safety.”

• Learning about and connecting to resources that would strengthen the community.

• Designing strategies at the local level to “address barriers and enhance our community for years to come.”

Previous meetings have been held at East Marion United Methodist Church and Clinchfield United Methodist Church.

The most recent meeting was held last month and the topic was substance abuse. The speakers included the Rev. Danny Hampton, executive director at Freedom Life Ministries; Richie Tannerhill, peer trainer at the Smoky Mountain LME; Lawrence; and Ricky Buchanan, chief deputy of McDowell County Sheriff’s Office. Some of the other participants included Mayor Steve Little, City Manager Bob Boyette, Sheriff Dudley Greene and County Commissioner Matthew Crawford.

You can watch videos of this meeting by going to these links: https://youtu.be/ScR0xqXkR7k, https://youtu.be/2-TMYYtjSII and https://youtu.be/j1yygI1_hTM.

Kitty Wilson is a community resident who’s involved with the East Marion Forum. She said her family has lived at the corner of Baldwin Avenue and Fourth Street for 60 years.

“We’re still in the formation stages,” she said, adding no specific projects have been undertaken yet.

But she and other participants are looking around for changes that need to be made. Some of the ideas that have been suggested include organizing a forum for the growing Hispanic community and hosting Spanish language classes.

“We want to be more inclusive,” said Wilson of the Hispanic residents.

Indeed, a flier for Tuesday’s meeting has been printed in Spanish and distributed to residents.

She and other East Marion residents have talked about holding neighborhood events (festivals, barbecues, cultural celebrations) and looking at economic development strategies. For the active living part, residents have discussed starting a girl’s running group for the Peavine Trail and establishing a soccer field. They also plan to tackle substance abuse and restart the Community Watch program. They want to address sidewalk concerns at Eastfield Global Magnet School and find volunteers to act as crossing guards at the school.

“We would like to invite everyone who has a vested interest to come to these meetings,” said Beverly Watts with McDowell Technical Community College.

The planning team members include Edna Grindstaff and Stacy Buchanan, both with Eastfield Global Magnet School; Lt. Gaye Noblitt with the Marion Police Department; Jacqueline Fox with McDowell Mission Ministries; the Rev. Jim Matthews, pastor of Clinchfield United Methodist; residents Kitty Wilson and Lanie Honeycutt; the Rev. Philip Tate, pastor of East Marion United Methodist; City Planner Heather Cotton; Samantha Parrow with Jason’s Getaway; Beverly Watts with McDowell Technical Community College; Heather Yzquierdo and Ginger Webb, both with the Community Engagement Project.

Mary Snow is the rural community development strategist who is a consultant with this effort. Snow likewise worked with the West Marion Community Forum.

“This project is about taking pride in rural communities, building trust and relationships across diverse members in these communities, identifying locally driven solutions to challenges, and building cross-sector partnerships to make long lasting and meaningful changes,” she said. “It is big and bold work that I’m excited to be a partner on.”

Samantha Parrow and her husband Louis, who live in Clinchfield, are active members of this effort. At the recent National Night Out, they were out there on Main Street talking to the Police Department about restarting the Community Watch program.

“Being active members of the community, Louis and I appreciate the leadership mentoring and support that the leaders of the forum have given us,” said Parrow. “We feel confident in encouraging other members of the community to come forward and expressing their concerns. We also would like others to realize that the forum is a ‘safe’ environment to express concerns and bring up issues without feeling left out or feel like they don’t have a voice about what they would like to see happen in their community.

“If community issues and ideas aren’t voiced, things will never change or get any better. Things will only stay the same or get worse. We need to take the initiative and work together. We are being given a chance here to make our communities better by uniting with other resources that have the means to help us. Why wouldn’t we want that? We have nowhere else to go except up and forward.”

The East Marion Forum is a part of the Community Engagement Project with the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. This countywide project is being funded by the Trust for two years and that includes paying for supplies, the food at the forum meetings, training and a coordinator.

Ginger Webb is the coordinator of the Community Engagement Project, which is also a partnership between the McDowell Health Coalition and McDowell Tech.

Its purpose is to support community-driven changes within rural communities of McDowell County. This is building on the success of the West Marion Community Forum, where leaders came together to creates strategies and enact positive changes.

Some of the goals of the countywide project include a deeper understanding of the health priorities in each community along with local agencies, non-profits and government officials having a better understanding of the needs and challenges facing each section of McDowell.

Similar forums are planned for Glenwood, Old Fort and Nebo. “This project builds on the success of the West Marion Community Forums and seeks to advance community-driven changes in East Marion, Clinchfield, Nebo, and Old Fort,” said Snow.

“Kate B. Reynolds has really left the door open for us to discover what the needs are in each community,” said Watts. “We want to grow leaders in our communities.”

After the two-year period, a McDowell County Healthy Places Master Plan will be developed and presented to the Marion City Council and the McDowell County Commissioners.

Snow said she wanted to thank the West Marion Forum for sharing their ideas and information with the East Marion group and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust for its financial support.

Some of the leaders in this effort are Watts, Cotton, Dawna Goode Ledbetter and Paula Avery with the West Marion Forum, Amy Haynes with the McDowell Health Coalition and Emily Roberts, the McDowell County coordinator for the Catalyst for Healthy Eating and Active Living program.

“We want each community to be as successful as West Marion,” said Ledbetter. “We want success to be in each community and make a healthier McDowell County. We’re all working towards a common goal, a better McDowell. We’re here for the long haul.”

For more information about the forums, contact Ginger Webb, project coordinator, at mcdowellcountyhealthcoalition@gmail.com.

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