When US Army Maj. Richard Ojeda returned home to Logan County a few years ago, he was shocked at what he found: Garbage in streams and along the roads, prostitutes and drug dealers roaming around plying their wares in broad daylight and a whole lot of apathy among the
public and elected officials.
Ojeda had been posted from Fort Bragg to the Far East in his military career and has recently been relocated a little closer to home. What he found when he came back was shocking to him. Ojeda went into town and was approached by prostitutes and drug dealers. Later he got into a verbal dispute at a public meeting over the drugs, crime and dilapidated structures that were giving Logan County a black eye.
“People in charge had let the ball drop,” Ojeda said, noting that in local politics, candidates often roared like lions while running for office, but became as docile as lambs when dealing with those same issues once in a position of authority.
Logan Empowerment Action and Development came out of that experience and Ojeda’s desire to see Logan County become the same kind of wholesome place that he had experienced as a rambunctious youth himself.
“I came back from Afghanistan and they stationed me in Beckley,” he explained on Feb. 5, when he spoke to the Lions Club of Logan about the need for people to work together no projects that better and benefit the community.
Ojeda’s immediate family had moved even closer to home, making it possible for him to return to Logan County when he had time off from his job. Ojeda was so upset over the changes he had seen in his hometown community that he began trying to shake things up — writing letters to the editor, confronting politicians at public meetings and finally working with like-minded citizens to form a new organization that would address many local problems directly. Since LEAD has been formed the organization has worked with individuals and other groups on a variety of projects such as neighborhood clean ups as well as dredging tires out of the rivers and streams.
Ojeda noted that it is important to do beautification projects because of the numbers of tourists who now come to Logan County to ride the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.
“There are numerous organizations across Logan County that are trying to help,” he said. “I get a lot of credit for LEAD, but that credit should go to other people who have helped form it, including Steven Hill, Kay Tomblin, Sean Wolford, Larry Rogers and many more. It took a lot of help.”
Ojeda noted one problem — that seldom gets addressed — had reared its head during recent flooding.
“In today’s world many people do not even know their own neighbors, and are often unaware when there are elderly people in their community who are endangered when bad weather strikes. These people get overlooked during such disasters,” he noted.
LEAD has had several successful projects including the Make-It-Shine project which will return this year and LEAD volunteers pulled so many tires out of creeks and streams last year that the organization has set the goal of gathering 1,000 this year. LEAD also made 160 pairs of shoes available to local high school students. Christmas presents worth thousands of dollars was given out during Operation Santa as well.
“We have so much to be proud of,” Ojeda said. “Look at Mr. Patel’s child, who is a competitive chess champion. That is another success story just like Landau Murphy and we as a community need to support children and families involved in academics and other pursuits, not
just sports,” he said.
“We need more drug rehab programs. I feel that is a bigger issue than drinking water projects. If you can get one person off drugs and back with their family you have not only saved their life- you have saved a family.”
Ojeda said that people who have kicked drugs also need help in the form of local businesses who will hire them and give them a chance instead of shutting the door because of their past. “You have to forgive,” he said, noting that his own military experience had shown that people who had been given up on can change and become successful.
Working together with like-minded groups and individuals is the secret of LEAD’s success.
“We will not pick up your trash,” he explained. “But we will come and help you pick up your trash.” Ojeda noted that people do seem to be taking more pride in Logan County noting that several areas which were cleaned up have stayed that way.
Ojeda noted that many community leaders and organizations such as the Barnett family, the Omar Area Crimewatch and local fire departments have partnered with LEAD for such projects.
“I could care less who gets the credit,” he said. “Because when we are successful, it is everybody who wins. No one person or group can do it all- but by working together we can achieve a lot. We can work together to make positive change happen. This is our home.”