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SharePrint Media File

Type: Video

Series Title West Virginia: A Film History

Filmmaker Mark Samels

Company West Virginia Humanities Council

Format DVD


Twenty-two-year-old Mary Behner, a bright, energetic daughter of a Presbyterian minister in Clarksburg, had dreamed of doing social work overseas. Her father convinced her to look closer to home. She was hired to open a church mission in Scotts Run.

Bettijane Burger: My mom was really shocked. She had never seen so much poverty. Newspapers on the walls, no clothes for kids, no shoes, sickness, bedbugs. She would wash lice out of people’s hair, children’s hair after she got to know them better. Hopelessness, there was no food, no money. If you lost your job, you had nothing. There was no hope.

Narrator: Behner converted an abandoned company store into a community center called The Shack. She turned a walk-in refrigerator into a shower, filled dusty store shelves with books. Behner taught children about health and nutrition, formed a community choir and created the county’s first black Girl Scout troop.

She urged families to plant gardens and raise their own food. But when Behner asked coal companies to donate seeds, they refused.

Burger: Even though Scotts Run was only nine miles away from Morgantown, it was a world of difference that many people were afraid to cross. So she put the kids on a bus and took them into town. One of the people told me much later, he said, when your mom took us to have lunch at a restaurant, we were very scared. She taught us that we could do this. This was the first time that we sat down and ordered from a menu, but we were all very scared.

She made them believe in themselves. She gave them new opportunities.

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