A Shared History, A Sustainable Solution
“Coal has been such a large part of our community. It’s a heritage that many generations have passed on from father to son, grandfather to son to grandson,” said Dino Beckett, DO, CEO of the Williamson Health and Wellness Center and Board Chair of Williamson Redevelopment Authority. “We’re very proud of that heritage, but we have to discover other opportunities so that we can still raise our families here and have that ability to live here.”
Fortunately for Williamson, their resources as a coal community can also be reimagined to support and build a healthier community.
“You have coal miners and engineers that can take items, reconstruct them, and build these massive pieces of equipment that can do amazing things,” said Beckett. Williamson’s efforts capitalize on that spirit of ingenuity to create better health outcomes. “Once they identify the disadvantages they have and we give them the tools, they’re able to take control of their destiny and improve their health and wellbeing.”
Williamson leads West Virginia in categories such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes—and that’s in a state that on the whole usually ranks among the worst in those categories. They’re working hard to empower their residents to turn that around—through everything from health behaviors to entrepreneurism. The catalytic force behind this has been a collaborative effort called Sustainable Williamson.
“We were working on tourism, we were working on healthy foods, we were working on better housing—these were all being addressed, but they were being addressed independently,” said Beckett. Williamson was able to pool its many distinct efforts together to work toward the same goal under the Sustainable Williamson umbrella.
Now a walk through Williamson will expose you to sites unimaginable five years ago, according to Beckett: People running actively, whether in a half-marathon or for the first time in one of Williamson’s monthly 5ks; families taking their children to the Farmer’s Market; and people who once didn’t have the ability to farm or garden, but are now a part of their community garden — stories all captured on the community’s HealthySelfies.org website.
“You’re able to see a lot of people that have empowered themselves to identify the problems that they have—whether it be obesity or diabetes—and then what they’ve been able to do is take the tools that the community has given them to work on addressing those issues,” said Beckett.
Health and Wellness
The Health and Wellness Center started as a simple idea. The economic downturn that affected people across the country also underscored the entrenched health disparities that had plagued Williamson for more than a generation, since the coal industry began to wane. Beckett saw an increasing number of residents who were unemployed or without insurance, so they couldn’t afford to go to the doctor’s office. On Good Friday of 2011 they started a free clinic.