RIPLEY - Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote and improve quality of life. In return, it can produce a feeling of self-worth and respect. There is no financial gain involved. Volunteering is renowned for skill development, socialization and fun.
For 15 years, Main Street Ripley has celebrated the spirit of the volunteer through actions that have made the city of Ripley a better place to work, live and raise your children.
Treasurer Monnie Landis recalls the pride of being the first Main Street applicant to be accepted upon first application. Landis served as the executive director for eleven years.
"Bill Casto's presentation was polarizing. I have often said that his presentation was the key to us getting that approval."
"I can only remember being told no in this community one time. We have had tremendous support."
Landis and Casto had to spearhead a pledge drive to raise twenty thousand dollars before any bank would get behind the 501C3 volunteer organization.
A lot has happened since the summer of 1998. Main Street Ripley has brought in over three million dollars during this time through grant writing, donations and fundraising efforts.
They have effectively and meticulously funneled that cash into projects like the renovation of the historic Alpine Theater, lighting, sidewalks and receptacles in multiple locations. Then there is the countless Easter egg hunts, Christmas parades, contests and fourth of July and special event celebrations like West Virginia's Sesquicentennial celebration that Main Street Ripley held on the Jackson County Courthouse lawn.
Last year local businesses like Vale Furniture and Evergreen Florist were winners through one of many Main Street contests.
These events are just a drop in the bucket in terms of all that the organization has done for the city of Ripley. Just ask Ripley Mayor Carolyn Rader, who is on Main Street Ripley's board what she thinks.
"Main Street Ripley has added so much flavor to the City of Ripley. Through fundraising and grant writing they have been able to achieve great things for us and I am very appreciative."
She continued, "President Ronnie Waybright, Paula Casto, Sally Blessing and Monnie Landis have all been joys to work with."
Ollie Harvey, who was the Mayor of Ripley in Main Street's inaugural year (1998), is often referred to as "The Mother of Main Street."
While Marsha Humphry was the first Executive Director, the position is currently held by Paula Casto.
Casto's dedication to the city of Ripley can be seen in her actions. She carries out her Main Street duties with vigor as she attends nearly every youth sporting event, recital, community event and fundraiser in the city of Ripley.
"I really love what I do and I am passionate about this community. I am very proud of what Main Street Ripley has accomplished in 15 years and it's an honor to have been a part of it," said Casto.
Page 2 of 3 - The National Trust For Historic Preservation created the National Main Street organization. There are only 13 Main Street programs in West Virginia. Applicants must adhere to a comprehensive selection process.
Jennifer Ferrell, the State Coordinator for Main Street West Virginia's Development Office has been instrumental in Ripley's progression and development. Monica Miller, the Manager for Local Capacity Development in West Virginia has also been a source of guidance for Main Street Ripley.
"These ladies have been incredible and helped us grow," said Landis.
Many citizens mistakenly believe that Main Street Ripley is funded by the city. The organization is funded predominantly by donations and fundraising. While it works hand in hand with the city on specific projects, one is not a related component of the other. The Executive Director's chair is the only paid position in the organization.
Streetscape projects that include sidewalks, lampposts and lights are not funded by the city. The projects are funded by 80/20 grants that require a commitment from Main Street Ripley, mostly in the form of volunteer hours.
Streetscape projects have resulted in renovations from Church Street to Court Street, Court Street to Maple Street and Maple Street to Bridge Street.
In 2004, a Jackson County native donated three hundred thousand dollars for the renovation of the Alpine Theater and Main Street Ripley raised one hundred fifty thousand dollars for the cause.
"We have always managed to reach our fundraising goals when we have a project. We have been very fortunate through the years to have had incredible volunteers," said Landis.
Volunteers are the spokes in the wheel for the organization says Secretary Sally Blessing.
"We always welcome volunteers in any capacity. Our doors are open to anyone who wants to come aboard and help."
She continued, "Right now, we are looking for volunteers to wade the waters and clean the creek for the Mill Creek Water Trail."
The Mill Creek Water Trail will carry a Class I classification and will help Ripley connect with West Virginia Tourism and bring tourism dollars to Jackson County in the form of hotels, restaurants and general sales for the local businesses.
There will be an input ramp at Rollins Lake and the trail will run from Cedar Lakes to Mill Creek. There will be five inputs and five outputs.
Boy Scouts from Jackson County troops are currently making the kiosks for the trail.
The Mill Creek Water Trail will open later this year. Kevin Hall is the Project Manager and you guessed it --- Kevin is a volunteer. You can download a nifty application at www.mainstreetripley.org for Apple or Android phones that will provide you with an easy to navigate guide to Ripley area businesses. Members get extended services thorough the application.
Page 3 of 3 - MSR has won over 25 awards through the years including the Governor's Main Street Innovation Award in 2009.
Memorial Brick Walk Laser engraved paver bricks are sold and placed in the streetscape areas in town. It has been one of the organizations most popular fundraising methods and has helped beautify the area's streetscapes.
All in all, Main Street Ripley has logged over 150,000 volunteer hours in fifteen years. Its inaugural membership included 44 members and stands at about 150 today.
"We really want to increase our membership base. We have a lot of work to do in our city," said Casto. You can stop by Ripley Main Street's new office at 109 North Court Street or call 304-372-1637 to find out what you can do to make your community a better place.