In March 2012, the AFT helped lead a public-private partnership to help struggling McDowell County, W.Va., and the participants were hopeful that things could be turned around economically and educationally. A year later, the Reconnecting McDowell project has begun to show that investment in communities can change people's lives.
- Broadband Internet service has been established in all McDowell public schools and in 10,000 homes through an investment by Shentel and Frontier Communications.
- The First Book program has provided 4,500 free books to local children.
- Through VH1's Save the Music Foundation, $30,000 worth of new band instruments have been purchased.
- The first new homes were built in the county in 20 years.
- New family literacy centers are being funded by Verizon.
- Save the Children started after-school programs for children.
- The state Supreme Court started a juvenile drug court in order to help teens get treatment and to combat truancy.
Reconnecting McDowell is just getting started, with numerous initiatives in the works, including creating a McDowell County Innovation Zone that is designed to allow public schools to have the flexibility to use cutting-edge strategies to raise academic achievement, a Teacher-in-Residence Program and the creation of 10 new Family Literacy Centers.
In 2012, AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “McDowell County is an American story that deserves a new chapter. Given the challenges, being conventional won’t be good enough. We will be flexible, creative and entrepreneurial and will take risks.”
In addition to AFT, several other unions, allied organizations and state federations are participating in the project, including the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, AFT-West Virginia, Communications Workers of America (CWA), SEIU District 1199, South Central AFL-CIO, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400, Mine Workers and West Virginia AFL-CIO.