BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Residents of Rainsville gathered at the Tom Bevill Enrichment Center recently to share their best ideas for a revitalized town. This community workshop was hosted by the Rainsville Recovery Committee, partnering with state and FEMA’s Long-Term Community Recovery coordination group. The meeting was the first step in developing a long-term plan for rebuilding the town.
Linda and Ralph Hall, active members of the community, were pleased with the meeting, which Linda described as productive and very beneficial. “I loved seeing the ideas that everyone contributed,” she said.
In a large, bright room lined by posters describing the issues confronting the community – housing, infrastructure needs and economic development – almost 70 townspeople gathered to discuss challenges and opportunities for the storm-tossed town.
Bejan Taheri, chairman of the Rainsville committee, welcomed the crowd and encouraged others interested in community recovery to join the group. Two of Gov. Robert Bentley’s cabinet members, Jim Byard Jr., director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, and Art Faulkner, director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, praised Rainsville’s community spirit – a wonderful example of “local folks taking care of their neighbors,” as Byard said.
Faulkner said that governmental agencies will help in the recovery in any way they can, but stressed the importance of local leadership. When others have made their contributions, he said, “you will still be here, making this community better, safer, stronger.”
With that, residents got down to work, breaking into small groups and using a technique called “community mapping” to define Rainsville’s assets, needs and opportunities. Meeting facilitators encouraged the groups to make lists, drawings, diagrams or other notes on long sheets of paper that covered every table. Among Rainsville’s assets, the groups noted a dependable work force; location near an interstate highway; good police, fire and rescue services; active churches; and a low crime rate.
The call to identify town needs and opportunities brought many lively responses: large issues, such as job growth and new industry; more educational opportunities, including technical training; and retail development – to very specific requests, such as the rebuilding of the more-than 100-year-old, one-lane Chavies Bridge, which is impassable to emergency vehicles and school buses.
Several ideas were targeted to youth in the community, such as a larger park connected to the sports complex, a mall with a movie theater, or perhaps a recycling center that could not only provide new jobs for teens but also teach them ecological responsibility.
With the recent tornado experience still on their minds, many expressed an interest in storm shelters, a mobile command post and more medical command centers to better serve the community in emergency situations.
In follow-up meetings to come, these initial ideas for the town’s rebuilding will be evaluated, prioritized and refined as recovery plans take shape.
John Boyle, a FEMA representative and moderator of the mapping exercise, told the crowd, “This is the beginning of a process that will take about six weeks – and it’s a real grassroots effort.” The community’s charge in the process: to identify opportunities, devel...