It is a place of stark contrasts, awesome opportunities and some mysteriousness. A tiny speck in the midst of 1.7 million acres of natural, protected beauty, the little community is surrounded by mountains and blanketed by a one-of-a-kind National Radio Quiet Zone in which cell phones fall silent. It is a place of rich history; located in a county named after a Native American chief’s daughter: Pocahontas.
If this isn’t enough to add to the mystique of the place, consider a few more facts. A few miles away, the largest Radio Telescope in the world – yes the world – is ever-listening.
A scenic mountain railroad system with a station in the community carries the trademark from a popular family movie – The Polar Express. Tourists from as far away as Australia and Japan ride these rails.
The tiny mountain community, in the early 20th century, was at the center of the largest shoe leather tannery company in the world. Clearly, this place lives at the crossroads of an aged past and a birthing future.
From the shadow of its robust past, Durbin, West Virginia, with its 124 households, a hearty group of dedicated townspeople, a handful of entrepreneurs, congregational leaders and one affordable housing developer, neighborhood revitalization is emerging from the collective vision and shared assets of residents and their connector leaders.
Durbin, West Virginia is participating in the Habitat for Humanity International Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. Asset Based Community Development consultant/coach, Dave Cooper of Communities First Association, worked with the Almost Heaven Habitat affiliate and over 60 Durbin townspeople for three days in a process of discovery, formation and visioning. For the first
two days, Cooper facilitated neighborhood walking and listening sessions with diverse arrays of residents, business owners, church leaders, and local and county government representatives to identify community connector leaders, to listen for community dreams, and discover assets of head, heart, hands, associations and place.
Next, Cooper facilitated a large gathering of Durbin townspeople in a creative, relationship-building process of developing community dreams into vision statements, discovering additional assets, and coaching local leaders in participatory planning processes.
At the conclusion of the three days, the community had narrowed their vision and organized some assets to focus on a new public library (already in progress), to create park space that could be safely accessed by children, and to revitalize downtown Durbin through economic development. The Almost Heaven Habitat affiliate committed staff to coach the formation of a resident-led economic development team and to coordinate affordable housing resources. A local entrepreneur committed to work with the economic development team. A pastor committed land on which to develop a children’s park. Others dedicated various gifts of head, heart, hands, place and associations to improve the quality of life – to raise Durbin from the ashes of its past; to achieve common good in the neighborhood.
The three day engagement facilitated by Cooper in this little mountain community of Durbin, West Virginia is one way to catalyze and commence Asset Based Community Development for Neighborhood Revitalization. However, the processes of building relationships, listening for and discovering assets, participatory planning, and working to achieve results from the plan require substantially more time and patience.
Durbin, West Virginia is a tiny speck of a community that, upon close inspection, yields a vast array of contrasts and awesome assets. Its residents are ruggedly committed to an improved quality of life in a revitalized community and they hold steadfastly to hope in a bright future.