For some time, a dedicated group of folks have taken upon themselves the goal of making their community an even better place to live. And their hard work is starting to pay off through various projects.

“It’s a new beginning for a tight-knit community,” said Paula Swepson Avery.

Avery and Dawna Goode-Ledbetter together are the co-chairwomen of the West Marion Community Forum. Avery is the coordinator of this group, which started in March of last year.

Through various efforts, this forum is seeking to improve the health and well-being of West Marion and provide its residents of all ages with a better quality of life.

On the fourth Thursday of every month, the West Marion Community Forum meets at 5:30 p.m. at Addie’s Chapel United Methodist Church to coordinate activities. A dinner is served and child care is provided. In addition to Addie’s Chapel, there are representatives from Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist and Mount Zion AME Zion churches participating in the forum.

“We are faith-based but we are not a church group,” said Avery. “We are community-based.”

More importantly, the meetings of the West Marion Community Forum are not just about having dinner and socializing. It is about getting things done to help the community and they are forming partnerships with some key players.

“We’re not meeting about the meeting,” said Avery. “We’ve got things going on. We’ve got plans and actions in place.”

One of their primary goals is to focus on healthier living. The members of the forum are working with the McDowell Health Coalition, the Corpening Memorial YMCA and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust’s Healthy Places initiative on this effort.

A key part of this will be the new community garden for West Marion. Mary Patterson donated the land for this garden, which is located beside the West Marion Neighborhood Park and Addie’s Chapel. This garden will provide healthier foods for low-income and elderly folks in the community.

A ground-breaking ceremony for the garden is scheduled at noon on Saturday, May 6. The garden will be named Keeping it Fresh.

Last month, Avery spoke to the Marion City Council and invited them to be there for this ceremony.

“We’re just working to take our community back,” she said to council in March. “Take pride in our community and make it beautiful.”

City officials unanimously gave their support to this effort.

“It’s our pleasure to show our support,” said Mayor Steve Little.

On Friday, the forum learned that it received a grant for the garden.

There are other enhancements to the park just off Ridley Street. With help from the city of Marion and Boy Scout Troop 818, a new kiosk has been placed there. It will be a community-bulletin board and a place for young and old to sit and rest. The city assisted with the payment and the Scouts from Troop 818 built the kiosk.

Councilman Don Ramsey’s group from the First Baptist Church of Marion built a wooden footbridge to make it easier for people to walk through the neighborhood.

The West Marion Community Forum has also formed working partnerships with City Planner Heather Cotton, Health Coalition Director Amy Haynes and Emily Roberts, the catalyst for healthy eating and active living for McDowell County. Other partners include Heather Yzquierdo and Cooperative Extension Director Molly Sandfoss, both of whom are leaders in the Community Food Hub planned for McDowell. Mary Snow, the rural community development strategist, is another person involved with the forum.

Avery said all of these folks have been very supportive and helpful in helping the West Marion community become healthier and a better place to live.

The forum also has a free transportation service for West Marion residents. It can be used for doctor visits, getting to work, going to the pharmacy or the beauty salon. “All they have to do is call DSS and say they are West Marion residents,” said Avery.

This was made possible from an $18,000 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

With assistance from Cotton and Mayor Pro Tem Billy Martin, the forum applied for a grant that will hopefully pay for home improvement projects in West Marion.

The forum is participating in such upcoming events as the Lunch and Learn event at the Corpening YMCA on Wednesday, April 26, which seeks to connect better with older adults.

There is also the Asthma Fun Day at the Corpening YMCA, which is a part of the Healthy Kids Day at the Y. The forum will have a presence at the Blue Ridge Recovery Rally at the courthouse. All of these events are set for Saturday, April 29.

Now, the West Marion Community Forum is seeking a three-year grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and the leaders have set forth specific goals:

• Continuing the transportation service

• Affordable housing

• Affordable child care

• Project Revive, which is about youth empowerment

• Continuing the community garden

The forum plans to to become a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the near future.

The leaders of the group also have a goal of establishing a rec center for West Marion and a place to highlight the community’s history. This will establish a place for youth to enjoy sports and other positive activities. At the rate they are going, this goal will likely be achieved.

The effort has a Facebook page so everyone can get updates on current activities.

“We are the model for Kate B. Reynolds for this type of work in North Carolina,” said Avery. “We’re new but we are taking off so well.”

The West Marion forum believes in not only the future of its community, but Marion and McDowell County as well. Another great aspect of this is to see folks of different races and backgrounds coming together for the common goal of making the local community better.

“It’s a great place to live,” she said. “With this new initiative, it’s restored people’s faith in people.”

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