WVU staff, faculty support Be Healthy projects on annual Country Roads Tour

On Thursday, June 16, deans, professors, and staff from various colleges and programs at West Virginia University participated in West Virginia University’s annual Country Roads Tour, an event that provides opportunities to engage with and serve West Virginia’s communities. 

This year, the team traveled to Clay County to assist two multi-year project partners: Community Care of West Virginia at the Big Otter Clinic and Risen Lord Catholic Church. Divided into groups, volunteers dedicated the day to landscaping around the Big Otter Clinic’s walking trail and assembling boxes of non-perishable foods at the Risen Lord Catholic Church’s food pantry. 

Though the university is primarily based in Morgantown, its roots — and impact — are woven throughout the state of West Virginia. 

Kerry Gabbert, Be Healthy project coordinator, said having the opportunity to extend a bus-full of hands-on support to our partners each year continues to be a positive experience for all parties.

“We like to bring people to see some of the projects that are happening,” Kerry said. “The goal of doing the Country Roads Tour is to get people out of Morgantown and see what’s going on in the state of West Virginia.”

Dr. Christine Jones, physician at Community Care at Big Otter Clinic, was the project visionary for the walking trail. Dr. Jones is one of many rural physicians whose work extends beyond her clinic to home visits and other community support. 

“During COVID, a lot of folks were feeling uncomfortable coming into the office, and it was during one of these visits when I was sitting out on a picnic bench with one of the patients that I came up with the idea of a park and a walking trail, just as a way to lower our anxiety level and be able to get out and enjoy nature a little bit more.”

In rural communities like Dr. Jones’, it can be difficult to find safe, convenient spaces for recreation. Since the trail’s completion, the park has attracted patients and residents from around Clay County, including a special needs class from the local high school. 

As part of the Country Roads Tour efforts, the WVU team mulched and installed pest deterrents for trees along the trail and helped stain wood that will soon be used for a gazebo. Peter Butler, director of Design and Community Development, was part of the landscaping crew.

Peter, who has been involved with projects in both Clay and McDowell Counties, specializes in landscape planning and cultivation, landscape reclamation and more. By working with the communities directly, Peter has assisted project partners in creating blueprints that align with their community’s visions. 

“We connected with Christine Jones two years ago, through WVU Extension’s Community Engagement Lab. They went through multiple iterations with Dr. Jones and decided on a specific plan. It’s really great to see that come into reality.”

Risen Lord’s Food Pantry is Clay County’s largest, serving nearly 200 households per month. Additionally, they host a backpack food distribution program for school-aged youth in the county. Over the multi-year partnership, Be Healthy has helped support the purchase of necessary resources like a trailer, freezers, and refrigeration units. 

Ann Hall, who coordinates food pantry efforts, said WVU’s impact and support through Be Healthy extend beyond their financial generosity. 

“WVU came down, and they brought educators and administrators, and they’ve made boxes, they’ve filled boxes, they’ve emptied the truck — they’ve done everything,” Ann said. “It’s not just the monetary [assistance] — it’s the support we have with them.”

Maryanne Reed, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said working in the Clay communities had been an inspirational experience, and it illustrated the university’s commitment to the state as a land-grant university. 

Land-grant universities like WVU are institutions that vow to support advancements across a variety of fields through research and application as a means of service to their community. These fields include healthcare, agriculture, education, and more.

“For me, this is about what we are as a land grant mission and living it, and seeing it, and knowing that what we do in Morgantown can and should have a positive impact on these communities.”

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