A Project for Students and Citizens

Living Democracy in Collinsville: Week One

In Collinsville on May 13, 2013 at 1:46 pm

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By Mary Beth Snow

My first week in Collinsville is in the books, and I feel like I’ve lived there for an entire summer already. We’ve gotten some good work done on our projects, but in reality, most of the week has been devoted to settling in, exploring, and meeting people.

Something we talked about a great deal in preparation for this summer is the concept of “third places” – places in the community where people casually encounter each other. These places differ from official meeting places in that there is no set time or plan for interactions there; it spontaneously occurs. They’re essential to healthy communities though. The definition of community involves people meeting together, and for people to meet and form authentic relationships, they have to be able to do that naturally. Third places are where community is built.

One of the best third places I have experienced this week is Jack’s. Being a longtime Jack’s lover (it’s my favorite fast food restaurant) I was very excited to find out that my community had one, and even more excited to find out that it was such a922789_157015994471333_1053150698_n crossroads of community. There’s a group of men who meets there for breakfast every morning, which includes Myles Smith, one of my community partners. I ate lunch there twice this week with Myles. I met a host of interesting people there, including a former mayor, two chicken farmers, and a woman who is one of twelve siblings.  Every time we go back, I am introduced to someone else from Collinsville, and I love it.

Another thriving third place is the gym I joined. The time in the evening I have been going is apparently a very popular time for high school students to work out, because every night it has been packed with people working out, talking, and laughing together.  Everyone noticed that I was the new girl in town right away, so on my second night there, someone introduced himself to me. After a few minutes of talking we discovered that he is friends with the daughters in my host family and actually goes to the church where my host father preaches. On the same night I met him, I had sat next to his mother at Bible study just an hour before.

I’m very lucky because my community partner, The Collinsville Public Library, is a thriving third place. In a time when most public libraries go undervalued and underused, the Collinsville library is filled with people every day. People come to get books, use the computers and internet, make copies, have meetings, or just to spend time with their neighbors. It is a beautiful facility, located on Main Street downtown, and functions as a hub of community for all different members of the Collinsville population.

The library is on the first floor of a recently renovated building, and the second floor is still in the process of renovation. The annual Friends of the Library Plant Sale was held this Thursday and Friday to help raise funds for the renovation efforts. Various local gardeners, nurseries and businesses donated plants and flowers, and we set up a temporary plant stand in front of the Collinsville Drugstore.    I was fortunate to spend all day Thursday sitting under the tent at the plant sale meeting locals.  As Myles said, “40 percent of it is for the plants, but 60 percent is for the library.” People came by, many commenting that they didn’t need anymore plants this season or would be doing well to plant what they already had, but no matter what they said about needing plants or not, they bought some out of love for their library and a desire to help their community. Vick, Pam, and Mrs. Weaver offered their gardening expertise to customers while Myles and I handled the money and chatted with the visitors. More than once someone came by just to say hi and tell us that they would be back the next day to buy their plants, and Myles bought plants for friends who were unable to make it but planned to pay him back Sunday at church. When the Collinsville school bus drove by, a couple of children yelled out the window “Hey Mr. Myles!” and car honks weren’t an uncommon form of greeting.

I’m so excited about my weeks to come in Collinsville. I’ve already seen so much of the good in this community- people who love their hometown, who are so willing to help in any way they can and who are ready to welcome a stranger like me into their community. More adventures are to come… so stay posted!

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