CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As a girl, Virginia Lewis spent 13 years living in Delbarton, but never really noticed the disrepair of many of the homes until she saw them featured in a Michigan newspaper.
"I had traveled to Michigan to baby-sit for my sister's twins and one day I opened up the Grand Rapids newspaper and saw two full pages of housing dilemmas in West Virginia," Lewis recalled. "Particularly in Cinderella Hollow in Mingo County."
Those images stayed with Lewis, now 58, who has devoted more than half her life to creating affordable housing opportunities.
On May 2, Lewis will be inducted into the West Virginia Affordable Housing Hall of Fame, a recognition given by Habitat for Humanity of West Virginia.
In 1977, Lewis helped create the Mingo County Housing Authority, where she served as executive director for 30 years.
"I had been working with a community development agency with the county and the housing authority spun off from that," she said. "There was a need for housing and still is in southern West Virginia.
"What I found was in order to do housing you have to have public infrastructure. It's very difficult to build and construct single-family houses, particularly if you have no water or septic system," she said.
Realizing that, Lewis became project coordinator for the Mingo County Commission, and under her leadership approximately 75 percent of the county was equipped with public water.
"It has been extremely rewarding," she said about her career. In 2009, Lewis retired from the housing authority, but has continued fighting to secure affordable housing for low-income families.
"Southern West Virginia is very deteriorated. Some places, floods have devastated areas and you see huge populations of mobile homes," she said. "You see a great many of FEMA mobile homes that are supposed to be temporary but somehow become permanent."