Magazine article The Crisis

Home Improvement

Magazine article The Crisis

Home Improvement

Article excerpt

Ten years ago, after the state of Virginia announced plans to build a maximum-security prison in rural Bayview on the state's eastern shore, Alice Coles joined local efforts against the move. The county eventually tabled the prison plan and Coles, a single-mother of two who earned $5,000 a year as a crab picker, emerged as a leader in Bayview. The poor Black town is a 300-year-old community where some of the residents' ancestors, freed slaves, settled after the Civil War.

Farming and seafood industry jobs in the area began to disappear in the mid-1990s, causing the community to fall further into poverty. More than 100 African Americans were living in Bayview in substandard rental housing - shacks with no indoor plumbing, exposed wiring and in many cases lacking kitchen facilities. Buoyed by their victory, the residents formed Bayview Citizens for Social Justice to improve their community and living standards.

Coles and a core group enlisted the advice and counsel of non-profits, academics, government agencies, a generous architect and a project manager with experience working on rural poverty programs. It was a long haul, but after visits from civil rights leaders, public attention was drawn to their plight. Over the years, community clean-ups were organized and adequate housing, a clean water system, street lights and a village center with a grocery store, community center and child care center were planned.

Lessons in budgets, politics and lobbying were hard-won, but by 2004, Bayview had raised $10 million from federal, state and private sources. Last year, 14 families moved across the street from their dilapidated shacks into rental homes with indoor plumbing and central heating.

Coles's accomplishments garnered the attention of Ed Bradley, who did a story about Bayview for 60 Minutes in 2003. Today, Bayview continues to progress. …

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