Renaissance Village in Welch celebrated | New

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WELCH — An 11-year, $9 million project was finally celebrated in Welch on Friday as dignitaries including U.S. Senator Joe Manchin and Governor Jim Justice gathered to officially recognize the completion of Renaissance Village.

The downtown Welch apartment complex is already complete and occupied, but the official opening has been delayed due to the pandemic.

Reconnecting McDowell led the construction of the apartment building for teachers and other professionals with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) supporting the project through a “hands-on, start-to-finish approach , community-oriented.

Gayle Manchin, wife of Joe Manchin and first manager of Reconnect McDowell, said Friday was “an important day” and that the housing project was the result of her experiences talking to McDowell County students.

“When you walk into a school and into a class of kids and they say, ‘Why don’t people like us? Why don’t teachers want to be in our school?’ Manchin said they don’t understand that teachers have to drive long distances due to the lack of affordable housing in the county.

But the children “smelt the blame”, she said, and didn’t know those teachers had to drive from Beckley, Bluefield or Princeton, a long drive, especially difficult in the winter.

“How can you listen to children taking the blame for teachers not wanting to go to their school?” she says. “I had a passion, and we saw what the problem was.”

Manchin, who is now co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, said it’s not just about taking a village to raise a child, because it begs the question, “Who is raising the village?”

“All of you are raising this village,” she said, with affordable housing a crucial part and housing being built in a “beautiful part of our state.”

“It’s about teamwork and partnerships, about working together to do something good,” she said. “Those who carried out the project met people where they were, recognized their pain and difficulties and showed them that together we can make a difference.”

“When first envisioned, Renaissance Village was about possibilities – that when people come together, they can accomplish what is impossible to do alone,” said Randi Weingarten, AFT National President. . “We focused on building a better life for the community that never gave up on education, social and emotional well-being, and economic development.”

Weingarten said the project has shown that “when we work with the wider community and tackle a seemingly intractable problem that keeps families awake at night, we can make a difference in people’s lives.”

But she said that in light of the “polarization and division” in the country, Renaissance Village is about more than bringing affordable housing to Welch and McDowell County.

“It represents a way to bring a community together, with shared values ​​and aspirations that outweigh division and anger,” she said. “It’s a beginning, not an end.”

“Who said dreams don’t come true? Senator Joe Manchin said of the project. “I watched this from a dream to a maybe, I think we can do this for a big party. Gayle never gave up on that. She believed we had to do something and we had to do something. monumental thing to set the tone for who and what we are in West Virginia.

Manchin said McDowell County’s history includes being the first coal producer that made the coke that made the steel for the country during World War I through World War II and building the “America’s industrial power”.

“We’ve always said leave no one behind,” he said, but McDowell County and other communities have been left behind, and this project is one way to help.

“When Randi stepped in with Gayle as a partner and became part of the family, I can’t say enough about her.. committing to this business so we could do it…” he said. he declares. “It’s truly a time to say thank you (to McDowell County) and say we haven’t forgotten.”

Manchin said the times are troubling and the project shows what can be accomplished by people working together.

“The country is not divided,” he said. “It’s politics that’s divided, making you choose sides…I hope we’re all on the same side of being Americans.”

Manchin, who called for a minute’s silence in honor of the victims of the Texas school shooting, said schools should be a safe place for children and that public education is vital for the future of America.

Teachers should be held at the “highest pinnacle of society…and they should be paid” to go along with their commitment and what they give, he said.

“I still really feel at home here in southern West Virginia,” Justice said. “A lot of different people put in a lot of things to make things happen as best as we can here. In the end, there’s much, much more we can do…but they did.

Justice praised Gayle Manchin for her work in Reconnecting McDowell and for Renaissance Village.

“Today is a really, really special day,” he said. “There is nothing more precious than our children. Our children do not function without our teachers. I am really proud to be a part of it.”

Welch Mayor Harold McBride said the project is a major achievement.

“We are very happy, excited… This building is more than just a building, it is a symbol, a project of hope, prosperity, and it helps the morale of the people of McDowell County all around,” a- he declared.

McBride said the project was a huge but paying off undertaking for the kids.

“It’s huge,” he said of the benefits. “It’s a real feat.

A Renaissance Village resident also spoke at the event.

Nadia Johnson, who is a Schools Community Animator at Mt. View High School, said she graduated from the same school in 2017 and has returned to work in her community.

“I’m very excited and looking forward to being part of this journey,” she said. “Now that I am a tenant of this new building, I am grateful for the vision that led to the construction of this building. I’m even more grateful for the goal that was achieved and there were no broken promises along the way.

Johnson said many can often look around and see only the past, what McDowell County was like.

“But this building brings us something new,” she said. “It provides us with a springboard to reorganize, recreate and rebuild. and not only that, but to unite, not only the town of Welch, but the county of McDowell as a whole.

Reverend Leah Daughtry, AFT’s chief of staff as well as project manager for Renaissance Village, said it was about keeping children healthy in every way.

She spoke of a community that greeted each other with a question: “How are the children?

Daughtry said “the hopeful answer is: all the kids are fine.”

“If the children are not well, the family is not well. Unless the children are well, the community is not well,” she said. “If the children are not well, the nation is not well.”

Asking that question should also be part of the celebration, she added.

Bob Brown, of the AFT and treasurer of Reconnecting McDowell, was the emcee for the event.

More than 100 Reconnect McDowell partners have been involved in the project, which is a 20-unit apartment building that features office and retail space and is the first multi-story new construction in Welch in more than 50 years.

— Contact Charles Boothe at [email protected]

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