by David "Alligator" Williams
COLUMN: Positive Vibes Engulfing Huntington
Photo Mayor's Office

I know Alligator Jackson is not the guy you expect to hear good news from and I've got to admit that I get more excited over a potential David Ball - Tom McAllister out front of City Hall than I do more positive stories. But over the last few weeks, there has been so many positive news stories developing around Huntington that even ol' gator has to take notice.
There's been plenty of entertainment around the Tri-State this summer and local residents have made these events a success.


The Third annual Huntington Rails and Ales Craft Beer Festival featured more than 50 breweries at the biggest Rails and Ales yet. The sold-out festival moved from Heritage Station to Harris Riverfront Park this year and featured 160 different craft brews.


Local Entertainment

Frank Moeller, founder and brewmaster of Flying Mouse Brewery in Troutville, Virginia, who was born and raised in Huntington, said he was glad West Virginia is doing a good job of embracing the craft brew craze.


"It's going to be good for everybody," he said. "It's good for revenues for the state and it's great to support small businesses. And there's a lot of collateral businesses that benefit from breweries. I mean, all these food venders, the food trucks, the restaurants - there's a lot of things (to) be gained from supporting craft beer."


In recent weeks, Huntington residents have been treated to The Regatta Classic and Hot Dog Festival downtown. Many Huntington residents ventured a half-hour up the river to Ironton, Ohio for The 12th annual Rally on the River, the biker-and-rock-music-fueled block party that too over downtown Ironton, with thousands of bikers rolling in from all over the United States to partake in rock music and biker events buffet.


Then, news broke of concerts coming to The Big Sandy Superstore this fall. Country artist Chris Young will perform Huntington on Saturday, Oct. 31 and three modern rock acts, Shinedown and Breaking Benjamin and Sevendust on Saturday, Nov. 21. Add this to the Godsmack and Rob Zombie show on October 6 and it is evident that live music fans have some good music to jam to this fall.
Revitalizing Downtown

Big news was announced for downtown Huntington with the news that of major revitalization rolling into the area. HuntingtonNews.net reported, "Significant improvements will be made to the south side of 3rd Avenue between 8th and 9th streets during the next two years."


HNN's report continued, "Capital Venture Corp., a local development firm owned by Philip Nelson and Jim Weiler, joined Mayor Steve Williams on Thursday morning to release more details about the $6.65 million project.


Capital Venture Corp. has purchased the former Bazaar building at 801 3rd Ave. and has an option on the three adjoining properties just east of the corner building. The four-building project will bring back to life almost 100,000 square feet of retail, office and residential space and employ close to 200 people.


The plans call for demolishing the former Rum Runners building and creating a courtyard that will provide gathering areas for customers to dine and lounge. A "foodie" market with an array of related businesses will go into the building at 809 3rd Ave. (old Super B/Whiskey Rocks building). The majority of the residential space will be located above Taste of Asia and offer two and three bedroom units with balconies that overlook the courtyard."


This new development along with Sheetz moving into the lot where Jeff's Bike Shop sits on 6th Avenue will bring much needed growth into the area. The residents that live close to downtown including many Marshall University students will finally have places to buy groceries from. Many students and other residents in that area do not have cars and while there are many stores from which to shop none have groceries available.


This development also brings more residential spaces to downtown and more jobs. The key to this success is that new stores pop up as well and offer affordable groceries and affordable meals. While there is currently a vast selection of dining experiences offered in the area, there is still great need for restaurants that cater to those on a budget. We also must hope that the new food shops also offer affordable food and not just cater to the upper class of Huntington. The success of these projects will depend on how much the average Huntington resident can afford to have access to these establishments.


Marshall students will also soon have a big new CVS Pharmacy to shop in on 20th Street as construction continues on the super-sized drug store.


While downtown is being revitalized, Hal Greer Boulevard, is continuing to receive it's facelift. Hopefully, the new project will yield a much needed grocery store for the residents of the Southside of Huntington and The Fairfield district. Many of these residents do not have cars and are forced to pay high convenience-store prices for food.


The Constant Success of Marshall University


Marshall university is always providing us with great news and it was announced that the The Marshall University Forensic Science Graduate Program once again ranked number one in the country for its students receiving the highest overall test scores, compared to other graduate programs participating in the Forensic Science Assessment Test, a national assessment test offered each year by the American Board of Criminalistics.


While Thundering Herd fans look forward to another promising year of college football, Montreal Alouettes quarterback Rakeem Cato, a rookie from Marshall University, was selected as one of the Canadian Football League players of the month for July. Cato, who thrilled Herd fans in Huntington the last few years, is hoping to hone his talents and pull a Warren Moon by eventually trading CFL stardom and experience for NFL stardom.

Success Fighting The Drug Epidemic

While these positive events have rocked Huntington the last few weeks, other positive events have been progressing. Mayor Steve Williams and Jim Johnson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Drug Policy, have led a charge that includes The HPD and local residents working together to take drugs off of the street. While no one is ready to crack open a bottle of champagne to celebrate it's success just yet, the progress has been evident as many of the drug dealers who came to Huntington to be residents of our city are now residents of West Regional Jail or another prison or jail.


The HPD has made several arrests and the judicial system has been sending some of them off to prisons somewhere in West Virginia. Overdose deaths are finally slowing after a dangerous streak that seen Huntington on path for 1000 overdoses this year and over a 100 deaths, hoping these statistics will not be this high at the end of the year due to local effort by many to stop the epidemic.


Mayor Steve has said that we just can't arrest ourselves out of this problem and while the HPD with tips from local residents are working on the supply side of the problem, others are rushing forward to help ease the demand side of the epidemic.


An Addiction Freedom event is planned for 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, and this will show the Tri-State how progress is being made to reduce the demand for drugs and show addicts how they can receive help.
The drug epidemic has hit Huntington even harder than it has hit other towns and cities and our city has received negative notoriety due to this. But the demand for drugs has led to a demand for substance abuse recovery facilities and local residents and organizations have responded by rushing to help treat addicts.


Rocky Meadows, executive director of Lifehouse, a therapeutic recovery community that provides 140 beds in a sober living environment has been at the forefront of this effort.


According an article in  The Herald-Dispatch , "Between Lifehouse's 140 beds, Recovery Point of Huntington's 100 beds, and about 100 additional beds in other sober living houses, there are residential recovery opportunities here in Huntington, he said. On Sept. 12, people will have a chance to learn about all of them.


Meadows said Addiction Freedom will be similar to a weekly gathering called the Movement, which attracts 150 or more people weekly to Expression Church, 1541 18th St., Huntington. The Movement takes place at 7:30 p.m. Mondays, and it usually involves music, praise and worship and often testimonials of those in recovery."

Prestera and The Healing Place have been crucial to help fighting the local epidemic as well. River Park Hospital has programs that help teens understand the dangers of epidemic and help shape their futures toward a positive life without drugs. River Park also helps recovery assistance to adult addicts. Many places in our area are helping addicts to recover from their addictions.

Helping Others

Other positive progress is evident through Huntington but is rarely noticed. Our city has long been a hub for treatment of Autism. An editorial in 8/16/2015 Herald-Dispatch http://www.herald-dispatch.com/…/Charles-DeLeo-Autism-cente… points out the progress that The West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University in Huntington has helped made. But other places like Autism Service Center, Starlight Behavioral Health Services, Inc., and ResCare have long been helping those with Autism cope and succeed. Autistic individuals have come from all over the state to get treatment and live in group homes. Although these places rarely get the spotlight on them their employees work hard everyday to help make their clients lives easier and more rewarding.


While there are far too many people involved to name everyone I do want to mention someone I have admired for their effort to make Huntington a special positive place.

Rev. Chip Graves of the Trinity Episcopal Church has helped expand the church's community outreach. The Herald-Dispatch wrote this about Chip and his church's effort.


"The Rev. Chip Graves of Trinity Episcopal Church has coined a new term for the way in which his church congregation and his church facility have recently opened arms to new people in the community.


It's not the only church going outside its walls to help people in the community and beyond. But it's something that he thinks is necessary for more churches to do, to serve the people of their communities as Christ would, and to reach new hearts.


He calls it metrotheology.


In its practice of metrotheology, Trinity is doing a lot of things outside and inside the walls of the church at 520 11th St. It hosts the Gathering, including a good meal, free for anyone who wants to stop in for food and prayer - not the heavy-handed kind, just the kind that reminds people God loves them. Practicing metrotheology also means showing up at as many meetings as possible about what community members are doing to address the drug addiction epidemic. It means offering up the church's parking lot for the River Cities Ministries and Marshall Medical Outreach, which through the generosity of many churches and Marshall, provides food, medical care and more for the homeless.


Trinity also houses Cridlin Food and Clothing Pantry, supported by several churches, and offers its rooms for everything from ballroom dancing to administration of CONTACT Rape Crisis Center and Head Start. It hosts 12-step groups, bridge players and more. It hosts free concerts, a pet ministry, is planning a Native American service. And the list goes on."

I mention Chip because I observed him when I was taking clients to church, I witnessed how he makes each person no matter how troubled their lives are, feel special. The way he helps people reminds me of my uncle Joe Hubbard in East St. Louis who was an iconic social worker who is a legend in that area. Chip has the kindness and work ethic that drove my uncle to help others for 50 years and still doing it in retirement.

Conclusion

It is easy to look at the problems that challenge our area and think that things are bad and we may be better off elsewhere. But, not only are things changing but each and everyone of us can take a role in helping make Huntington a better place. We all can band together and make an impact in our kid's and grandchildren's futures.


In fact, many of the people reading this may already be making an impact and not even be aware of it: just reaching out to someone in need, working at a job that helps make someone's lives better, or by spending money at a business inside Huntington's city limits can help. Huntington is our home and we can all be partners in it's success. Huntington is my home...Huntington is your home...Huntington is OUR home!