HUNTINGTON - The Bethel Memorial Park Cemetery in Huntington serves as the final resting place for more than 800 African-Americans, including veterans from many different wars.
However, the cemetery has fallen into neglect over the years with overgrown brush that makes much of the cemetery and its grave markers inaccessible.
The board of directors from a local nonprofit organization is hoping to change that with a new project that helps recovering addicts to pay court fines and restitution.
Recovered Solutions is a nonprofit organization that trains recovering addicts to renovate homes, giving them skills and confidence to reenter the workforce. The organization currently employs eight people to renovate five properties in Huntington.
After hearing about the current state of the cemetery, the organization's board members came up with the idea to hire those same employees to clear away brush and return access to the graves.
The employees' work will then go toward paying any restitution, fines or other fees, such as the cost to reinstate a driver's license, said Sandra Clements, Recovered Solutions board member.
"Bethel was the burial place for most of the African American folks in the city, and to have it overgrown and inaccessible is absolutely disgraceful," Clements said. "We owe it to the people who are buried there. Their families should be able to go out and visit their loved ones."
Clements said cleanups of the cemetery have been conducted in the past, but there was never a plan to continually maintain it over the years.
"It's our hope that our plan will be different," she said.
The organization wants to continually hire its employees to maintain the cemetery as it gains new members, she said. Efforts are just now entering the planning stages.
Clements said they have to see how many employees have fines or restitution and then determine the number of hours required to pay them off.
Board members, potential volunteers and people interested in the project are asked to attend an informational meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 11, at the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church on 15th Street.
There is currently one person who donated money to begin work on the project, Clements said. Those wanting to make a donation may send a check labeled for the Bethel Cemetery project to Sandra Clements at PO Box 2224, Huntington, WV 25722. Anyone interested in learning more about Recovered Solutions and its board of directors may visit www.recoveredsolutions.org.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.