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Sparse crowd talks local issues
United Way hosts community conversation
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Charles Ross (right) moderates a Community Conversation on Monday night at the Henry County Administration Building. (Bulletin photo by Mickey Powell)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer


Bulletin Staff Writer

People must get involved to help Henry County-Martinsville change for the better, according to a participant in a community forum Monday night.

James Jeter of Bassett noted the few people at the United Way of Henry County and Martinsville’s “Community Conversation,” held at the county administration building on Kings Mountain Road.

“Look at this room,” Jeter said. Other than a facilitator, a note-taker and a reporter, five people were there. One was a United Way board member.

To try and achieve positive change, people must put in time and effort, and they must consider others’ well-being along with their own, Jeter said.

Linda Horton of Martinsville said the community needs “leaders who will listen” and help others “become involved and aware of what’s going on.”

Forum participants stated what they think are the biggest issues affecting the community and ideas for addressing those matters. Their comments will give the United Way insight into what area residents think they need to live better lives, which will help determine the organization’s focus in the future, according to Executive Director Tiffani Underwood.

Participants said they want Henry County-Martinsville to be a friendly, safe, well-educated community with jobs for everyone who wants one.

City resident Barbara Kirk said she wants to see “a culture of neighborliness and responsibility” where “everyone is valued because they carry their own weight” in terms of being productive citizens.

Having a job leads to a productive life because “it makes you responsible, it makes you feel independent,” Horton said.

Jeter said he wants to see “a progressive community” that is “aggressive at the same time” in terms of trying to attract companies and improve itself.

“Jobs are the priority,” said Henry County Deputy Administrator and United Way board member Dale Wagoner.

If the community is successful in attracting companies that will create jobs, everything else will “fall into place,” Wagoner said.

But having a well-educated work force is necessary to attract companies, participants agreed. They indicated a need to improve opportunities to get higher education, such as a college degree or — for those not interested in college — some type of credential beyond a high school diploma.

If area residents are well-educated, “the jobs will take care of themselves,” said Robert Foster of Collinsville.

“Time and time again,” Wagoner said, “we hear we can’t get jobs here” because people do not have the education needed to do modern jobs.

For the most part, that is not the community’s fault, he said. Jobs at local industries which the community lost in recent decades did not require the same level of education as jobs in the modern work force, he recalled.

Wagoner said there is a program in southwest Virginia providing free college tuition to students who maintain a certain grade-point average in high school. He voiced the need for such a program here.

Many parents cannot afford to send their children to college, Jeter said. He cited a need for people to be able to learn about available scholarships.

All scholarships are not going to be found in one place, though, he said, adding that “you have to look for them.”

Foster cited a need to find ways to educate people, especially ones who do not feel comfortable in a classroom, in a more informal setting.

Among other points made during the forum, Kirk said the community must overcome drugs, ignorance, “collapsed infrastructure” and “children having children they cannot take care of.” The latter, she said, may lead to feelings of hopelessness that deter people from trying to make their lives better.

Also, “we’re so overrun with bureaucrats and not-for-profit organizations” that the community is not investing as much as it perhaps should in private enterprise, Kirk said.

Henry County-Martinsville has its problems, but it is not as bad off as some places, Horton said. She said she is from upstate New York and on a recent visit there, she found the economy was suffering due to a downturn in the leather industry.

The suffering is so bad there, she said, that even churches are having to shut their doors.

Two other Community Conversations will be held in Martinsville. One will be at 2 this afternoon at the Blue Ridge Regional Library on East Church Street. The other will be at 6:30 p.m. March 21 at The Artisan Center, across from the municipal building on West Church Street uptown.

Anyone planning to attend one of the conversations, as well as anyone else interested in letting the United Way know their opinions, is asked to fill out a survey online at People who do the survey will be entered into a drawing for a $50 Visa gift card.

Those attending the forums will notice that although they are sponsored by the United Way, no employees of the organization will be there. Underwood said that is so conversations can be kept “completely neutral.”

Wagoner, who recently was appointed to the United Way board, said he came to Monday’s forum mainly to show support for the organization.

Area residents who completed the New Civic Leaders Program are leading the forums. One of them, Charles Ross, moderated Monday’s event.


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