A Project for Students and Citizens

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Bayou La Batre: Week Two

In Bayou La Batre on May 30, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Angela Cleary is living democracy in Bayou La Batre, Alabama.  Originally from Birmingham, she is a senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies at Auburn University.  Living Democracy is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.

I believe the towns involved with Auburn’s Living Democracy program have one thing in common, regardless of their different locations around Alabama: potential. Whether a town’s potential is being utilized, is unseen, or is untapped, it is there.

Bayou La Batre is a resilient coastal town in the process of bouncing back after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010. Both of these disasters took a toll on its economic and social well-being. The effects have been direct and indirect losses of income, and morale, hope. There are a number of service providers and outlets for the affected families. These service providers aim to help locals rediscover Bayou La Batre’s potential as Alabama’s seafood capital in a number of ways.

Boat People SOS has started a program, Bayou HOPE, whose slogan encompasses their mission to rediscover potential: “empower youth, empower community.” Even the acronym HOPE  – Harmony, Opportunity, Perseverance, Empowerment – seeks to recognize and use the community’s potential. Bayou HOPE gives a voice to the local residents by partnering middle school, high school, and adults with one another to determine positive, constructive projects.

Engaging the youth in civic opportunities is the first way BPSOS is helping the community realize their hopes and dreams, and therefore their potential. There is a need for programs that give kids the chance to become local leaders and reach their full potential as citizens. BPSOS has taken a community needs assessment that names the lack of community events a Bayou La Batre’s primary problem. Positive role models and organized events serve as a form of prevention from the youth dropping out of high school, doing drugs, committing crimes, getting pregnant, etc. which have also been identified as a problem in any community. Bayou HOPE will channel the youth’s potential and energy into creating and holding their own events.

Bayou HOPE seeks to tap into the community’s youth potential by helping them create, organize, and run a local community farmer’s market. The citizens of Bayou La Batre are hoping a farmer’s market will help locals see they can personally be the change they are seeking in their hometown. Instead thinking negatively about the lack of events, a farmer’s market will motivate individuals to come together and participate in a positive weekly gathering. Social capital will have an effect on the number of high school graduates, illegal activities, and teen pregnancies.

Economically, a local farmer’s market will connect vendors to consumers, and recognize this new potential to make money. There are a number of small produce stands in the Bayou, but there is a need for a larger outlet for their extra resources. The resources include fruits, vegetables, seafood like oysters, crabs, shrimp, arts and crafts, etc. A market will provide an economic boost for an unrecognized potential, the small businesses around the region.

The diversity of Bayou La Batre is another untapped potential. The market can cater to many different types of consumers since there are South Asian, white, black, and Hispanic populations. This variety of citizens should be reflected in the types of things being sold. The variety of goods and products will be appealing to all types of visitors and can be used as a marketing tool. Socially, a diverse community market will help close the gap between the races by providing one outlet, one location, to bring together all types of people.

The senior citizens also have very high potential in Bayou La Batre. Not only can they offer their wisdom and time, but many of them have their own backyard gardens, specifically the Vietnamese seniors. They have a particular diet, and they want things that aren’t available in regular grocery stores. A small scale, local market gives them a chance to sell what they grow, socialize, and provide product diversity.

Social, economic, and diverse potential are all resources that the farmer’s market hopes to utilize. The youth, adults, and senior’s plan to make this dream a reality is going to be so amazing for this coastal community. I am excited to be part of such an empowering, positive movement led by Bayou HOPE and BPSOS.

Linden: Week Two

In Linden on May 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Blake Evans is living democracy in Linden, Alabama.  Originally from Deatsville, he is a junior majoring in communications in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University.  Living Democracy is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.

Symbols and characters of inspiration are abundant in Linden.  From the local library to the fire station and all the way up to city hall, leaders of progress are currently making strides to mold Linden into not only a beacon in the Black Belt region, but for all of Alabama.  Leaders like Mrs. Joyce Morgan, Mr. James Creel, and Mayor Mitzi Gates are each uniquely molding Linden into a progressive place to live.

Marengo County’s librarian, Mrs. Joyce Morgan, is the epitome of progress.  She has been working at the county library in Linden for over ten years.  Since her start, the small town library has grown to resemble anything but small, partly because she pushed to have the library moved to a large and very unique location close to Linden’s City Hall.  Through her guidance, the library now boasts many excellent computers and free Internet service for anyone willing to walk through the door.  Also, the library offers fun programs in the summer for children to attend.  Mrs. Morgan hopes to instill the love of learning and reading in Linden’s upcoming generation at a very early age.  Furthermore, GED classes are offered in the large conference room that takes up much of one side of the library.  Mrs. Morgan has grown the library to be a presence in the community that not only builds an upcoming generation of progressive citizens, but also one that encourages personal growth among the older generations of citizens.  Finally, it is important to note that Linden’s Library is not immobile.  Thanks to Mrs. Morgan’s hard work, she has been able to provide the library with an excellent, state-of-the-art Bookmobile.  The Bookmobile is driven by Linden’s Fire Chief, Mr. James Creel, four days a week.  This allows citizens around the community to be able to check-out books at various locations, and sometimes even right outside their own homes.  Mrs. Morgan is continuing to work hard to further the positive impact of Marengo County’s library, but she has already made an impression that will never be forgotten.

Linden’s fire station is another location of prominence where the culmination of active citizenship can be seen.  All a person has to do is learn the history behind the name of the station to find that this is true.  B.W. Creel Fire Station is named after the former fire chief.  However, fighting fires has become a family affair in Linden, and the name Creel signifies not only the past, but the future as well.  As mentioned above, Mr. James Creel, Mr. B.W. Creel’s son, is the current Fire Chief.  The Bookmobile’s dedicated driver feels a unique sense of attachment to Linden through the fire station.  I know this because he has told me he is trying to put in one hundred years of service collectively between him and his father.  Public servants such as Mr. James Creel signify the type of commitment that a city must have to advance in an ever-growing and ever-changing world.

A third location where advancements are being made on a daily basis is Linden’s City Hall.  City hall is the place where so many of Linden’s great civic events such as Chilly Fest and Easter at the Gazebo are born.  Also, is it the place where innumerable decisions are made that affect all of Linden’s citizenry.  Whether those decisions concern the business sector, general quality of life, or any other aspect, extensive deliberation occurs in city hall that will ultimately change Linden.  A major contributor to those deliberations is Mayor Mitzi Gates.  Mayor Gates has held her position for almost four years, and in her first term she has been an important factor in developing Linden.  According to Bruce Ward, the city’s secretary, Mayor Mitzi Gates has been very proactive reaching out to the community, and this can be seen through increases in citizen participation at events such as Chilly Fest.  Also, Ward said that the Mayor has done an excellent job spear-heading grants that are currently helping progress the city’s economy, industrial opportunities, and even the city’s landscaping.  Furthermore, he said that Mayor Gates is very active in civic organizations such as the Quest Club which holds a Pumpkin Patch Festival every year.  Mayor Gates is currently working diligently with citizens on a DVD project that hopes to encourage economic growth in Linden for years to come.  Whether she is working for community development or economic and industrial development, Mayor Mitzi Gates is daily exhausting all efforts to make Linden a much better place when she leaves office than when she entered.  With attitudes like hers, Linden will achieve great heights.

Mrs. Joyce Morgan, Mr. James Creel, and Mayor Mitzi Gates are only three examples on a laundry list of inspirational citizens in Linden.  Through their unique work, they are serving as guiding lights in Linden.  Their actions are making Linden an extraordinary place to live by encouraging the citizens of Linden to daily serve Linden by living up to their fullest potential.



Cahawba, Selma, Selmont: Week One

In Selma / Old Cahawba on May 30, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Andrew Odom is living democracy in Cahawba, Selma, and Selmont, Alabama.  Originally from Prattville, Andrew is a recent graduate of Auburn University (political science) and will begin Jones School of Law in Montgomery in the fall.  Living Democracy is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.

Selma is a place that is definitely growing on me, and I have only been here a few days. From the immensely historic atmosphere to the rich cultural diversity, there is plenty to explore and appreciate here.  The residents of Selma are especially proud of their city and what it has to offer, and the people are what make this place what it is. I am thrilled to work with the individuals of the Old Cahawba Foundation in their efforts to promote, reclaim, and establish an important part of our state’s history on a day-to-day basis. I am even more excited to get to introduce this part of history as well as much more of local art and culture to young people in Dallas County Schools’ gifted program. There is much to be learned and to discover.

In order to get a feel of the local culture, I attended an event held at Phoenix Park and Water Ave. called “Unity in the Community.” This event featured worship and gospel groups from around the city as well as international cuisine cooked up right here is Selma. The purpose is to bring people together to taste and hear the diversity of their city and celebrate life as a community. This event was definitely a highlight of my first week here, and I feel that many more events such as this are to follow.

If I could describe what I have discovered that makes this community unique and special, I have to say the people. A city is defined by its inhabitants who live and work within it, carrying out the day to the functions of life. The citizens here in Selma recognize and understand the historical significance of their city and work to preserve it as well as to build new bridges to the future.

It is an especially unique experience for me to be living in a piece of history, the John Tyler Morgan House. This edifice was the original location of Morgan Academy, a local private school that sees thousands of students enters its doors every year. I believe that just by living here in the house helps me to start conversation with locals as it is such a well known landmark.  The house also contains the offices of the Cahawba Foundation and the Alabama Archaeological offices. So I am a new resident in a living laboratory. There is a deep, dark basement within this edifice in which I have visited at night and can feel the thick presence of a rich history (sometimes audibly)!

The summer months constitute much planning and development for the Old Cahawba park and all of those involved.  Jonathan Matthews and Linda Derry and many others are hard at work obtaining grants as well as contacting descendants of those past residents of Old Cahawba. I am helping to implement those grants and developments, particularly the new bicycle trail. After I meet with Mrs. Susan Wood, who works with the Dallas County Board of Education, we will coordinate an event to get students in the park and on the bike trail.  The event will be a ribbon cutting and “first ride” celebration to debut the new donated bicycles and bike racks as well as the guided bike tours that will take place this fall. This event is very important to Old Cahawba because the design and layout of the first state capital is best toured by bicycle, and this method is healthy and fun for all ages.

The bike trail holds lots of potential for Old Cahawba, because not only will it attract bike trail enthusiasts, but it will be family friendly. Part of my goal is to have the students with whom I am working help prepare for and participate in this event. This is still much planning to do and conversations to hold, but I am confident that we are off to a great start here in Selma and Old Cahawba.

Hospitality is a word I would like to define Selma with as I was warmly greeted by the members of Church Street United Methodist Church, and I have been well fed so far! I believe that those individuals, many of whom are local professionals will be prime candidates for a career shadowing program that will take place in the coming weeks. These folks are eager storytellers, and I feel that my students and I can learn a tremendous amount by just spending time in conversation with these local folk.

As I meet new people every day and continue to develop relationships within this community, I am confident that I am learning as well as teaching. We can learn so much about life by getting out of our comfort zones and putting ourselves out there. Selma is a big opportunity, and I relish these moments each and every day, with every person I meet. These next nine weeks will go by fast, so I must keep at my work and strive to make every day, every hour, every minute, count. Selma and Old Cahawba Living Democracy is blazing a trail through rich and rewarding history, and I know that many will reap the benefits of this treasure!


Hobson City: Week One

In Hobson City on May 30, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Marian Royston is living democracy in Hobson City, Alabama.  Originally from Roanoke, Alabama, she is a senior majoring in history at Auburn University. Living Democracy is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.

My first week in Hobson City was full of unexpected, yet wonderful experiences. I thought I would hit the ground running with the community needs assessment when I arrived, but instead, the project began at a much slower pace. Fortunately, this afforded me the opportunity to get out into the community and learn more about the people and places that make this place so special. I spent much of my week working with and speaking to individuals who live and work in Hobson City; moreover, they all have a great love for the town. From these encounters, I was able to gain vital insight into the heartbeat of the community.

My exploration of Hobson City took me to civic places, organizational meetings and private homes. Every experience left me with a new impression of the tiny municipality. Everyone I spoke with all possessed the same love for their community and sincere hope for a vibrant future.  These conversations led me to understand the lifeblood of Hobson City, which has helped the town survive through the duration of its tough history. The key to its past, present and future is simple: pride.  The pride that Hobson City’s citizens have in their home is strong, and it has created a loyalty that will help fuel the community and economic development process.

One of the most unique characteristics of Hobson City is its rich history, and everywhere I’ve been this week, I have heard pieces of Hobson City’s story. As the first town in Alabama founded solely by African Americans, the townspeople have plenty to talk about. Everyone I spoke with to this week was more than willing to share with me their memories of the town’s past with me. One such individual was Mrs. Katie Pyles, who is a third generation Hobson City native. She sat down with me Friday morning and shared some interesting tidbits about the town history.  Mrs. Pyles was even kind enough to lend me some historical artifacts. Her pride in her home made her happy to share with me. When others in town found out about my interest in Hobson City’s history, they were more than willing to lend me information.

Of course with a rich, unique history comes unique traditions and Hobson City has one very wonderful community tradition. Historically, May Day was a way for the town to celebrate the end of a school term and usher in the summer season. Over time, town stopped observing the annual tradition, but thanks to the efforts of the Hobson City Community and Economic Development Corporation (HCCEDC), Hobson City had its 5th Annual May Day on Saturday, and I was fortunate enough to attend. The event brought out families from the community for a day filled with fun, games, food, music and lots of fellowship. The entire event had the atmosphere of a big family reunion, and for those in town, I believe that’s exactly what it was. Former residents came home just for May Day, and they were all happy to be there.

I believe that my time in Hobson City will be an experience that I cherish for the rest of my life. My first week was full of enlightening experiences that led me all over town. The more I learn, the more I fully understand how special the place is, not only in the heart of its citizens but also to the state of Alabama. I look forward seeing how the connections I made this week pan out through the rest of the summer. It is my hope that the relationships I’ve made will only grow stronger, and that these people will be of help through the community assessment process. It all comes back to pride, and I’m definitely proud to be here.

Elba: Week One

In Elba on May 29, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Alexis Sankey is living democracy in Elba, Alabama.  Originally from Highland Home, she is a sophomore majoring in psychology at Auburn University. Living Democracy is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.  

I am very excited to finally be in Elba! It feels good to actually be living here now and getting to know everyone in the area. More importantly, I’m most excited to get started planning for the youth art program called JumpstART. Even though I’ll be quite busy with that, I hope to take on other endeavors, so that I can get deeply rooted into the community.

I would say that my first full week here in Elba was interesting to say the least. Throughout this week I’ve met so many people. I’ve met church members, business owners, parents, and many more people. I’ve also learned a bit more about the town history since I’ve been here. For the first few nights, I was staying at the historic bed and breakfast in town that has a marker on it to signify the flood level from the 90’s. I thought it was really cool that I was sleeping in a bit of history. I’ve enjoyed getting to learn more about the town and the people day to day.

One thing that I think sets Elba apart from any other town is an emphasis on being self-sufficient. The city of Elba is fully aware of what they want and need, and they have no problem working toward getting it themselves. Everyone here lends a helping hand wherever they feel they’re needed. When strolling through the downtown area, you notice that almost every business has a person’s last name in the name of the business. It’s all self-started and self-owned. This, to me, shows that each of these people saw a need in the town for something, or felt they had an idea that would contribute to the town, and acted on it. I love living in a place that is not just content, but always striving for more.

Apart from the art program, JumpstART, I want to find other ways to get engaged in the community. I’ve already started digging for some new venues. So far, I’ve realized that a great deal of civic conversations and mingling takes place in churches. Religion is a very important part of life in Elba. I’ve been attending the young adult Bible study held in the coffeehouse every other Monday night. It’s been a lot of fun so far. My community partner, Mart Gray, is a local pastor, so it wasn’t hard to get involved. Also, I’ve been spending some of my mornings and afternoons at the coffeehouse. Usually I’m there having meetings or doing work planning for JumpstART, but I try to make myself available to meet as many people as I can. So far, I’ve met many interesting people day-by-day who in some way have had something to offer. I’m also looking into getting involved with the local senior citizens center. I’ve been talking to one of the coordinators there, and we’re deciding if we’d like to do art there as well, or if I should just come to help with whatever they might need. We’ll see how that develops!

The thing that will keep me most busy throughout the summer will be the JumpstART project. The age range is from 4 years old to 4th grade. My hope is to get local artists from the community involved. We’ll be incorporating real art materials (pastels, watercolors, etc.), town history, and art vocabulary. At the end we’ll have a huge celebration that will include an awards ceremony, as well as a display of each child’s artwork. This will take a lot of work, but I’m certain that with my community partner and all the other connections I’ve made within Elba, it is more than possible. We’ll be meeting twice a week to engage in challenging art projects and hopefully some field trips! I cannot wait to see the outcome of all of our collaborative efforts. I’m also excited to see the creativity that can come from such young minds. It’s all about the youth and the community this summer. Since I’ve arrived in Elba, we’ve hit the ground running. Good things are sure to come in these next nine weeks, I’m sure of it!