By Steve Keenan
Mingling with old friends and perhaps making new ones is one of the welcome by-products of Christmas gatherings.
Southern Appalachian Labor School held its annual Christmas celebration dinner last Monday at Historic Oak Hill School. And the festive mood was enhanced further when U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall II announced that SALS and Coalfield Housing will receive $81,200 in Affordable Housing Program funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh’s community investment department.
Rahall, D-W.Va., read a letter from John Bendel, director of community investment for FHL Bank Pittsburgh, to United Bank’s Donna Sellers, whose institution is the partnering bank for SALS. In part, the letter read, “You and Southern Appalachian Labor School are to be commended for your outstanding efforts. Community investment requires commitment, time and hard work to develop the project relationships and prepare the application. The payback in human and community terms is always substantial. Lives, families and communities are ever enhanced. The investment you have made returns compound interest.”
“This is truly good news for SALS,” said Rahall.
The SALS grant was among $13.5 million in grants approved by the board of directors of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh in the Affordable Housing Program (AHP). According to a press release, the grants will help finance 42 housing projects — six in Delaware, 21 in Pennsylvania, eight in West Virginia and seven outside of the bank’s district — creating 1,430 units of housing for very-low-, low- and moderate-income individuals and families, as well as those with special needs.
The 29 rental and 13 homeownership projects approved for funding will serve a wide variety of recipients, including the chronically homeless, seniors, individuals with physical and mental health disabilities, and individuals recovering from domestic and substance abuse, the release said.
“As a result of more robust earnings, the bank was able to offer this year nearly three times the amount of AHP funding awarded in 2012,” said Winthrop Watson, the bank’s president and chief executive officer. “We are proud to support the 42 housing projects awarded grants, and today’s board approval brings the total amount the bank has funded or committed to AHP projects since 1990 to approximately $182 million.”
According to longtime SALS Director Dr. John David, the funds are specifically directed to rehabilitate and/or repair 10 owner-occupied homes of low income families
The financial outlay of about $8,200 per home makes it “a challenge” considering the cost, if needed, of a heating system, roof, insulation and other factors, David pointed out.
To prioritize what will be done, SALS will first conduct energy audits with its energy audit equipment and trained energy auditor Barbara Painter.
“SALS Housing is extremely grateful to receive funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh in cooperation with United Bank,” said David. “Families live in challenging times and we are pleased to be able to provide low income homeowners with the opportunity to obtain home repairs that will result in improved housing conditions and energy savings.”
SALS plans to have a later official announcement with FHLB and United BANK officials, as well.
In his remarks prior to the annual dinner, Rahall recalled crossing paths with a homeless veteran at a local county courthouse several years ago. The congressman asked the man if he could have his permission to try to seek some assistance for him from the Veterans Administration. After a few days, the man agreed, and he was able to move into a home when his benefits claim was approved.
“I have had many similar experiences over the years, but this one sticks in my mind at this time of year, perhaps because this gentleman was so visible to so many, sitting on a courthouse bench, not far from where, today, the sounds of Christmas carols resonate,” Rahall said. “I cannot help but think of our Lord’s guidance to each of us as Christians to care for ‘the least of these’ among us when I think of that stranded veteran there at the courthouse.
“And just like the Christ child, the ‘King of Kings,’ who, himself, was born in the most unlikely of places, a manger, the Lord’s work here on earth sometimes finds itself in unlikely places, even a courthouse lawn.”
“Christmas in southern West Virginia is always made richer and merrier by the warm hearts and helping hands of our families who were raised to watch over and care for their neighbors — wherever, whenever they are in need,” he continued. “Day in and day out, throughout the year, West Virginians, like those who work and volunteer here at SALS, convey the season’s spirit of giving, rekindling the Christmas message for us all.”
Sen. Bill Laird was also among those in attendance at the dinner last week.
“I’d like to congratulate Southern Appalachian Labor School for another outstanding year,” Laird said while also extending “the warmest of Christmas greetings.” “You folks do a tremendous job.
“SALS is recognized for longstanding, many years of contributions to the community.”
Prior to the dinner, David briefed those present on several SALS-related topics and projects from 2013.
A key in the future, he stressed, will be to continue to seek alternate means of funding, as some funding sources are drying up.
Among the recent developments involving SALS that David mentioned were a $1,250 allocation from the Pyles and Turner Foundation; tax credits from the Neighborhood Investment Program through the WV Development Office; $5,000 from BB&T to assist in renovations at the SALS Historic Oak Hill School; work camp and community center support from the Fayette County Commission; and a house from Wells Fargo Bank.
Anyone wishing to make a donation to SALS can do so at: SALS, P. O. Box 127, Kincaid, WV 25119.
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