Group Workcamps

Volunteers remove shingles from the roof of a local house during one of the Southern Appalachian Labor School’s housing projects. SALS was recognized last month with the FAHE Voice of the Region Award for the work it does through its housing programs.

BEARDS FORK — The Southern Appalachian Labor School has a more than four decade history of serving the residents of Fayette County and the Upper Kanawha Valley. Recently the organization was recognized for its work through its housing programs.

John David, director of the Southern Appalachian Labor School, announced in a press release that the local organization has been honored by FAHE, previously known as the Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises.

At its annual meeting last month in Knoxville, Tennessee, the regional organization presented the Southern Appalachian Labor School with its FAHE Voice of the Region Award for raising awareness of the issues facing Appalachia and its continuous presence in local media.

“SALS has been a great partner in keeping FAHE up-to-date on their programs and celebrations, which in turn provides us with the stories we utilize to uplift and highlight the FAHE Network to the rest of the country,” Vonda Poynter, FAHE membership director, said in the release.

“SALS keeps us informed through the sharing of newspaper articles, editorials or clips from WAGE Radio about its continuing work in West Virginia.”

FAHE President Jim King praised SALS for its work in providing housing opportunities for area residents.

“As a regional membership organization of affordable housing providers in Central Appalachia, FAHE has long been proud to include SALS as one of its members.

“In our near 40-year history, we have worked hand-in-hand with this organization to provide appropriate affordable housing opportunities in their West Virginia service area,” he said.

FAHE works with more than 50 nonprofits across the Appalachian portions of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama and Maryland, as well as West Virginia which is wholly contained within the Appalachian region. FAHE uses its “expertise in finance, collaboration, innovation, advocacy and communication to achieve a more prosperous Appalachian region,” according to its website at

“The Southern Appalachian Labor School is extremely honored to have received this award,” David said. “It is a tribute to the great work contributed by those with SALS who work together on various needs with many others to ‘Make a Difference’ in the areas we serve.”

Among the housing programs operated by SALS either on its own or in conjunction with others entities and organizations are the following, according to the local organization’s website at

New River Safe Housing — Provides rehabilitation to dilapidated and energy-inefficient homes for low income families in economically devastated rural coalfield communities, primarily in the Fayette County portion of the Central Appalachian Empowerment Zone, which is comprised of parts of Fayette, Nicholas and Clay counties. Work ranges from substantial rehabilitations to weatherization, roofing, windows, doors and insulation.

New Page Housing — A housing development for low income families in the former coal camp community of Page, constructed with YouthBuild communities from colleges, faith-based work camps and Global Volunteers.

Coalfield Housing — Similar to New River Safe Housing, this program is primarily in the Fayette County part of the Upper Kanawha Valley Enterprise Community. It also includes work on abandoned homes obtained with tax credits through the West Virginia Neighborhood Investment Program and donations through the HUD Dollar Housing Program.

HOME Program — SALS constructs homes and qualifies families for financing through the West Virginia Housing Development Fund. Certified counselors assist families in preparing and processing their applications.

Housing Emergency Loan Program (HELP) — SALS assists income-eligible families to become eligible for special loans through the West Virginia Housing Development Fund.

Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) — As a certified CHDO, SALS is eligible to obtain funds through the West Virginia Housing Development Fund for special projects that assist the housing programs.

USDA-RD Rural Housing Service and SALS — SALS and USDA have a long and productive relationship with Housing Preservation Grant, Self-Help, and 502/504 Housing programs.

USDA has an impressive record for building strong relationships with lenders, home builders, community development organizations, non-profits, and housing finance authorities to provide better housing for very-low, low, and moderate-income individuals in rural areas. Last year, USDA invested $19.5 billion to help more than 148,500 rural families buy or make repairs and safety upgrades to their homes. Lisa Manley, a SALS housing specialist, explains that SALS contributes to this number by being a HUD-approved Housing Counseling Agency, a USDA Loan Packager, and West Virginia’s only USDA Self-Help program.

In southern West Virginia, SALS has assembled an impressive record with affordable rural housing for low-income families. According to David, SALS has rehabilitated over 250 homes, constructed 25 new homes, repaired over 1000, and rebuilt an apartment complex with 24 units.

Vickie Smith, SALS construction manager, sas the immense economic contribution and the improvement of living conditions in the area is impossible to calculate.

SALS traces its roots to West Virginia Tech where David, David Greene, Bill McCabe and David Morris began an extension program of labor-related courses for workers and their families as part of the Department of Social Sciences. Early grants came from the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education, OSHA, National Science Foundation, and the University Year in ACTION. West Virginia Tech at that time was heavily involved in War on Poverty programs that included affordable housing, community organizing, business incubators, legal services, and Black Lung counseling. Thus, the Center for Labor Education, as it was then called, was a natural fit.

In 1981, the Center was renamed as SALS and became a community-based non-profit organization headquartered in a donated building in Chelyan. When it burned, SALS obtained the former Beards Fork Elementary School, which had been closed and was in serious disrepair. With AmeriCorps help, SALS fixed the building, installed new HVAC, and began a community center component that continues to this day.

SALS also owns and operates a second old school building, the Historic Oak Hill School, which formerly housed Oak Hill Elementary School on School Street. Housing programs, a cafeteria, WAGE Radio, a library and much more are housed in the HIstoric Oak Hill School.

The organization also operates feeding programs and educational programs in various locations around the county.

• • •

A number of major organizations work with SALS each year in housing repair and other programs.

One such is the Global Volunteers, an international volunteer service program. The organization, based in Minnesota, matches volunteers up with service opportunities around the world, including China, Cook Islands, Cuba, Ecuador, Greece, Italy, Nepal, Peru, Poland, Portugal, St. Lucia, Tanzania and Vietnam.

The organization’s website ( claims the “highest-rated volunteer abroad programs since 1984.”

Global Volunteers offers “one-, two- and three-week opportunities to create, nurture and sustain the well-being of the world’s children and their families. You’re welcomed into homes, classrooms, clinics, community centers, hospitals, orphanages, childcare centers, libraries, government offices, farm fields and more on exceptional international service and learning programs.”

The organization does, however, work with three communities within the United States: the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, and the Appalachian location — the Southern Appalachian Labor School in Fayette County.

Global Volunteers who choose to visit Appalachia are involved in building repair and rehabilitation, after-school and GED tutoring, the Energy Express summer enrichment program, radio broadcasts and a community garden.

Among those volunteering in Fayette County this year was Mike Meixler, who enjoyed the experience. Sharing from his journal with the Global Volunteers, he wrote, “Thought of the day: We’re a far-flung group of people, from all over the western hemisphere — as far north as Canada, as far south as Brazil, as far west as California. We’re of different backgrounds, different nationalities, we have different political ideas, and none of us had met each other before Saturday. But, we all came here to Beards Fork, and here we eat together, live together, and work together — as a small community. And, as a small community, we’ve accomplished a great deal in these past few days for this larger community that we’re part of in Beards Fork and Oak Hill. It’s remarkable what can be accomplished when people put their differences aside and focus on the job in front of them.”

According to Peter Kelly, U.S. coordinator for Global Volunteers, SALS has hosted 119 teams totaling about 1,450 volunteers over the past 25 years.

Christian Endeavor, based in Pennsylvania, is a youth discipleship organization which believes that young people “have the potential to make an incredible impact on their generation and in their world,” according to the group’s website at

“Since 1881, we’ve been inspiring, equipping and encouraging churches in student discipleship. Our approach isn’t revolutionary (you don’t need another gimmick or add-on to your ministry), it’s tangible, intentional and biblical. …

“Because of the pervasive cultural norm of expecting very little of our young people, their abilities and God-given potential often remain buried — undiscovered and underutilized,” the group says on its site.

Domestically, Christian Endeavor hosts mission trips to SALS and to New Castle, Pennsylvania.

The group has sent at least 1000 people to volunteer in Fayette County for about a decade, according to David.

Group Work Camps, operating under the umbrella organization Group Mission Trips, has been “working with and helping communities across the United States and the world” since the early 1990s, according to the group’s website at “We work hard to bring meaningful service to the communities we serve. Since our beginning, thousands upon thousands of mission trip participants have racked up millions of volunteer hours serving people in need.”

Group Mission Trips offers volunteer opportunities for home repair, community service and international service.

Over the past decade, the organization has provided approximately 50 mission trips to SALS boasting around 18,000 participants, according to Mike Krantz, regional director.

In addition to these organizations, “SALS hosts every year numerous university and other faith-based student groups,” David said. “The count would easily total several thousand over the past two decades.”

Aside from leading to the FAHE award, SALS’ housing projects are winners for the community in general.

“(SALS) is a good organization,” Smith said in an interview with The Register-Herald earlier this year. “It does a lot for our community. It helps a lot of people who really need help.”

“In total, the number of people who have come to help exceeds 20,000,” David said. “Without question, those who have come have made a major economic contribution to this area. They have spent considerable money while here and SALS has spent an enormous amount purchasing building materials.

“Perhaps most importantly, they have significantly improved the housing stock in this area and made a vast contribution to assisting people to have safer housing, healthier nutrition and accented education. The total value of this contribution to the lives of many cannot be measured but is enormous,” David concluded.

For more on SALS, visit

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