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Local Character: Pauline Sturgill

When 13-year-old Pauline Sturgill visited family in California for the summer, she expected a vacation full of fun, but it quickly turned to one of the most inspirational experiences of her life. On a day trip with her uncle to Tijuana, Mexico, cardboard houses full of needy families and children lined the streets as Sturgill strolled through in awe of the terrible conditions that these people had to face in their daily lives. It was through these experiences that Sturgill decided she would do everything in her power to make sure those back home never ended up in the same circumstances.

Following years of service-oriented jobs, the Williamson Housing Authority (WHA) finally gave Sturgill a way to turn her vision of fighting homelessness into a reality.

The WHA provides quality, low-income housing to locals in need. However, the WHA offers more than just housing to the area; they provide numerous other programs to better the community. Sturgill’s job as executive director allows her to tackle homelessness head on through the management of four public-housing properties and three community buildings.

One of the major ways the WHA continues to serve the area is through their community buildings. The WHA building at Victoria Courts now houses a daycare, and the location at Liberty Heights houses a resident-owned restaurant named Mawmaw Betty’s. The third location located near Williamson Terrace serves the community as a Family Resource Center.

The Family Resource Center, or FRC for short, offers countless resources for community members to use to their advantage. Sturgill’s vision of a family-oriented WHA is truly the focus of FRC programs such as summer camps, after-school programs, and free lunch programs. The center even houses a Reading Garden to give community children a safe, quiet place to focus on their love of books. The FRC offers resources for adults, as well, such as classes on financial literacy or exercise. For more information on the programs offered by the WHA, check out their Facebook page here!

Nevertheless, the WHA finds much of their success in their housing properties. As one of the oldest public housing authorities, Sturgill and the WHA staff are dedicated to modernizing the properties and making residents feel at home. “Our residents won’t take pride in our properties unless we do,” Sturgill said when speaking on the continuous maintenance and updates that the WHA provides across their 248 units.

Much of the units house families and children and Sturgill ensures that this is always an important aspect when considering how to improve the properties. “My goal has always been that no child should be sanctioned for living in public housing,” Sturgill said. In order to achieve such a goal, the WHA has installed playgrounds on their properties, formed close relationships with local police and fire departments to ensure safety, and enacted a no drug tolerance policy.

It is through these constant improvements, upkeep, and occupancy, that the Williamson Housing Authority was named a high performer by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which is the highest quality score issued by the Public Housing Assessment System.

This family-oriented frame of mind follows Sturgill into her home life as well. Though Sturgill spent most of her younger years out west, her family is rooted in the Appalachian area where they helped to settle the Kentucky town of Paintsville and own an ecological reservation in Mingo County.

One of the key aspects in Sturgill’s decision to call Appalachia home was the core value of family that she noticed in the area. Though it was a bit of a culture shock from the big city life she’d known before, Sturgill saw the true beauty of having a family-oriented community after her mother and her had their own experience with homelessness. “There is a graciousness of people that I’ve never seen anywhere else,” Sturgill said. Sturgill continues to embody this gracious family-like atmosphere in both her work with the WHA and her home life.

Sturgill and her husband reside on Sturgill Mountain Homestead, her husband’s family dwelling, which houses up to five generations at a time. Here they have lived a truly Appalachian lifestyle for 42 years and counting. Pauline and her family practice sustainable agriculture to grow their own fruits and vegetables while being sure to can and preserve them for future use. The family raise livestock to harvest their own meat, though Pauline is a vegetarian. They also claim a few of the animals as their family like their pet pig, Diana. The family also takes pride in beekeeping for their own honey. All of these practices tie back into the true history and lifestyle of Appalachia that we are known for.

Aside from the sustainable lifestyle the Sturgill’s practice, they also embody the creative side of Appalachia. In fact, Pauline is an artisan at heart. She is known for her delightful baking creations, breads, and jams, as well as, art pieces and quilts.

She and her family serve as a reminder of the lifestyle and culture that makes Williamson and all of Appalachia a unique, heartwarming area. Sturgill’s work with the WHA and life at Sturgill Mountain Homestead serves as a primary example of the potential in Appalachia, especially the Williamson area.

It is with visions like Sturgill’s of an optimistic, helpful community that Williamson can move forward and grow. Sturgill said, “Williamson has tremendous opportunity.” It is up to our community and our Appalachian family to take advantage of that opportunity, and Sturgill and the Williamson Housing Authority are doing just that.

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