The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

July 4, 2011

Wyoming RAIL projects get on track

MULLENS — Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL) will have 10 work teams this year, according to Dewey Houck, director.

One of the most recent was an eight-member team from Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church of Centre County, Pa.

The trip was arranged by Laura Brown, a senior undergraduate studies adviser at Penn State University, Houck said.

“A lot of people take vacation to come here,” Houck said. “It intrigues me that people will take vacation to come here and work.”

Unitarian team members must earn the money to participate in a mission trip, Houck explained, adding this group brought $1,500 to purchase materials.

They sponsored a dinner and washed windows to raise the funds, Houck noted.

“They raise sufficient funds to pay for all the materials they use on a project,” he said.

In addition to working on the historic Wyco church, the group has assisted with work on three Mullens area houses, according to Ken Riznyk, a retired psychologist who worked for the state of Pennsylvania.

Additionally, the volunteers hauled off roofing shingles for an 88-year-old who had replaced his own roof but had no way to dispose of the old shingles.

One of the handicaps of working in the area is the lack of ready supplies, Riznyk said.

“If you need something, you’ve got to drive at least 45 minutes, then 45 minutes back,” he said. “Takes up a lot of the day.”

Riznyk has spent previous vacations in Puerto Rico and New Orleans helping to rehab housing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“I’ve had a comfortable life,” Riznyk said, adding he wanted to help people who need it. “I’ve been doing this for over 10 years,” Houck said, “and there is a satisfaction you get from volunteering and helping people.”

The four women in the group spent most of their time at the church, painting the newly installed siding and other work, Houck said.

Built in 1917, Wyco Independent Baptist Church was built for the community’s white miners and their families during the 20th-century coal boom, when segregation was a way of life.

Now owned by RAIL, the church hasn’t been used for services since the early 1980s.

The church was named to the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia’s 2009 endangered properties list and, in 2010, was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

Houck wants to restore the structure to its original grace and has been working to garner funding and volunteer labor.

He hopes to house a coal camp museum inside the restored church, complete with audio recordings of area history now being made across the southern coalfields. He hopes to return the church to a community resource, as well as a place where visitors can meditate.

Restoration is being completed in phases, Houck notes. A new road to the church has been constructed, and a bridge over Allen Creek was built to create a path to the church.

Improvements to the church thus far will be showcased during a public event in July, Houck said.

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