On Monday, the Old Fort Board of Aldermen heard about the efforts of volunteers working to improve their community.

Ginger Webb of the Old Fort Community Forum presented an extensive outreach report to the board stressing important economic and social factors in the county, as part of a collaboration with the town forum, West Marion and East Marion Community Forums and Equitable Community Strategies.

“The purpose of this project is to inspire community-driven health improvements,” said Webb. “We have found people in their own communities know how to improve their health and what works for them better than someone else coming from the outside. We bring people together in their own communities to figure out what makes sense for them.”

The report itself broke down 10 points of social determinates of health, per cumulative research between 2016-18 (of which included community surveys, participatory research methods and prior data), that has impacted the community in some capacity as well as solutions that Old Fort could implement or has already implemented to mitigated.

“Old Fort didn’t necessarily recognize all 10 of these issues, this is a compilation between West Marion and Marion East and Old Fort,” said Webb. “If you look at these, all of these are social determinates of health. Social determinates of health are what truly affect physical health. If you don’t have enough to eat, you can’t be healthy. If you don’t have good housing, you can’t be healthy. If you can’t get somewhere and you don’t have transportation, you can’t be healthy.”

Social determinates in the report included housing, active living, child care, food and farming, transportation and economic development. Solutions to these determinates were met with positive response from the board and those in attendance, including a minimum housing ordinance, a transit system to use in currently unserved areas in town, early childhood education, a local food action plan, a youth advisory commission, mental health/first aid training, broadband infrastructure and racial equity training for teachers and local government officials.

On the topic of substance abuse, the report suggested multiple solutions such as NARCAN, medication assistance treatment, a medication return box and 911 Good Samaritan Laws.

“ It’s basically about destigmatizing – when you shine a light on something, you bring it out of the darkness and if we allow this drug addiction to stay in the darkness, it grows, it festers and it thrives, so let’s quit pretending it’s not happening and let’s address it,” Webb said.

Among one of the solutions to public safety, one of the 10 social determinates, was a joint statement of unity, drafted in August 2017 after the events of Charlottesville, Virginia, and previously signed by multiple community members and organizations – including West and East Marion Community Forums – to stand against racism and bigotry.

“We want to keep this community engaged and want to keep Old Fort getting to know the other communities too,” said Webb. “We want McDowell County to prosper and thrive and grow. If you think about 70, even 50 years ago, everyone knew all their neighbors. Does everyone know all their neighbors? If you don’t, what are you doing? All of us are carrying this burden together and the more we work together, less people are going to suffer from this burden individually.”

After a brief applause, the board agreed to look over the material presented, with Mayor Rick Hensley calling it “very important.”

For more information on the Old Fort Community Forum, visit the Old Fort Community Forum Facebook page.

In other business:

• The board addressed the possibility of a business frontage façade program, a grant for historical districts that would assist operating local businesses in revitalizing and renovating their exterior including signage, light fixtures and other repairs

• In public comments, RoAnn Bishop of the Mountain Gateway Museum spoke to the board about planned festivities for this year’s Fourth of July celebration. Namely, Bishop suggested expanding the event to include more family games such as cornhole tossing or horseshoe pitching, as well as including a talent show, with volunteer help, at the Rocket Building between the end of the parade and the start of fireworks. The board agreed to let Bishop use the Rocket Building for a potential talent show.

• McDowell Chamber Executive Director Steve Bush spoke during public comments and reiterated points from Webb’s report, including a request to continue the Growing Entrepreneurs program into Old Fort this fall and to use the depot as a training facility. The board agreed to Bush’s request.

• Preemptive to Webb’s discussion, Toni Marsh of the Community Forum invited the aldermen and those in attendance to this month’s meeting on Thursday, March 21 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Old Fort First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall. Dinner will be served at 5:15 p.m. Dinner and childcare provided.

• Alderman Andrew Carlton and Alderman Wayne Stafford discussed 10 to 15 listed names to invite to join a proposed town planning board. According to Carlton, this planning board would be more of an advisory board than regulatory, in the effort of better cooperation and collaboration. The board agreed to look over the listed names, send invitations and set a date for the first meeting.

• The board entered into a closed session on economic development before adjourning at 7:21 p.m.

The next Old Fort Board of Alderman meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 8 at 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

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