Dewey Houck

Rural Appalachian Improvement League, Inc.
Purpose Prize Fellow 2006

Improving and preserving the community by a force of committed volunteers

Dewey Houck, 71, grew up in Mullens, West Virginia, in a small Appalachian village set between two coal camps. He left after high school but returned after an early retirement, intent on working as a full-time volunteer to help his hometown reverse high rates of poverty and unemployment caused by the decline in the coal industry. In 2001, shortly after Mullens was hit by the worst flood in its history, Houck founded The Rural Appalachian Improvement League, Inc. (RAIL). Initially RAIL worked to revive the waterlogged town, but soon expanded its focus to include the development of sustainable solutions to improve education, economic conditions, environmental quality, housing, and cultural and historical preservation. Under Houck’s leadership, RAIL has created literacy, arts and fitness programs and established a community center. New priorities include attracting industry to abandoned mine land, cleaning up local streams, helping with local home repairs, and boosting services to children and schools. The League accomplishes all of its work through the efforts of volunteers, including AmeriCorps and VISTA members.