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AmeriCorps members Ian Halsey and Chris Hix shape logs that will be used to construct a log cabin, based on a design of hand-hewn houses built in the 17th century, according to Dewey Houck, RAIL president. Volunteer Gary Runion, center right, provides assistance and advice. Faron Lucas is in back. The AmeriCorps team members are studying the marketing of log houses. Not pictured are AmeriCorps members Ariel Martin and Chris Trent.

AmeriCorps members have been working in conjunction with the Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL), housed in the Mullens Opportunity Center, for several years. The members have completed numerous projects at the center during that time, making a difference for the community.

The RAIL/AmeriCorps partnership is a winning combination, resulting in completed community projects and AmeriCorps members learning a variety of marketable skills.

“AmeriCorps is providing on the job training and community service that can help introduce new businesses into the coalfields,” according to Dewey Houck, president of RAIL.

In a partnership with Citizens Conservation Corps West Virginia (CCCWV) and Corporation for National and Community Service, four AmeriCorps members are performing community service work in Wyoming County.

The four AmeriCorps workers are assigned to RAIL and headquartered at the Mullens Opportunity Center.

In addition to maintaining RAIL projects that include the MOC, Guyandotte River Park, assisting at the area food bank, and numerous other community enhancement projects, the AmeriCorps members are learning a trade and exploring opportunities based on local attributes, Houck explained.

The team has removed the former steam heating system and is replacing it with an individual gas and electric heating system that will dramatically decrease the utilities cost at the Mullens Opportunity Center.

The MOC building, the former Mullens Grade School facility, is now almost 70 years old and keeping the plumbing, heating, and electrical system operational is an almost daily task, Houck noted.

“This kind of experience works well to prepare the team for starting a demolition and restoration business,” he said.

With no budget for maintenance, the work is completed at the MOC by volunteers and staff.

“That said, the entrepreneurial spirit is present and the AmeriCorps team continues to look at building business, based on the area's natural resources, that will help build a new economic base,” Houck said.

Currently, timber is being taken out of Wyoming County that can jump start an industry of processing logs into authentic 17th century log home kits, Houck noted.

“A benefactor is providing the logs as well as specialized tools and equipment to build at least two prototype log houses

“The erected kits will be used to develop a cost/profit analyses and marketing program,” Houck said.

“All important in the training is to have volunteers such as Gary Runion, Reece Neely, Bobby Davis, and others provide professional guidance and expertise necessary to keep the MOC operational while finding other ways to improve their community,” Houck emphasized.

“Theresa McGraw, from Business Solutions, is very ably providing advice on how to start and maintain a business,” Houck said. “The AmeriCorps team is already setting aside funds to begin a business.”

At this point, the AmeriCorps team is made up of Chris Hicks, Ariel Martin, Ian Halsey, and Chris Trent.

The AmeriCorps term is six months with an option of serving an additional six months with approval of the sponsoring organization. AmeriCorps provides health insurance, a college education award of $2,907 after six months of service, as well as a living allowance of $490 on the first and 15th of each month.

Anyone interested in an AmeriCorps position is urged to phone Charlene Cook, MOC director, at 304-294-6188.

“RAIL is most proud to be affiliated with the AmeriCorps program and CCC WV,” Houck emphasized.

Citizens Conservation Corps West Virginia has an allocation of 12 AmeriCorps members, with eight assigned to the Twin Branch Recreational Facility in McDowell County and four assigned to the MOC in Wyoming County.

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