A Project for Students and Citizens

Helping the bayou starts at its roots

In Bayou La Batre on June 28, 2013 at 10:46 pm
Laney Payne instructs an antsy Bible class at Hemley Church of Christ. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Laney Payne instructs an antsy Bible class at Hemley Church of Christ. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

By Nathan Simone / COMMUNITY REPORTER

It may not be sufficient to say that the bayou has received another angel.

With the arrival of Laney Payne May 30, Bayou La Batre welcomed a new helper to the Hemley Church of Christ, a collaborator in trying to find sustainable innovations for Gulf seafood and a friend to neighbors and younger adults in the surrounding region.

Payne has been living and working at Hemley Street side-by-side with Church of Christ co-founder Daphne German and Billy Spaulding, who opened the church in 2003.

According to German, Payne has meshed right in with the church’s mission and sought to help wherever and whenever she is needed.

“Laney is a godsend,” German said. “What are we going to do when she’s gone?”

The food pantry of Hemley Church of Christ is only open Monday and Tuesday. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

The food pantry of Hemley Church of Christ is only open Monday and Tuesday. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Aside from specific duties like assisting with handing out food via the church’s pantry or teaching Bible school on Sundays, Payne has reached out to the local youth population to host sleepovers and plan athletic events.

One such event was a sleepover for high school aged girls, held at the church the weekend of June 14.

Payne said she and the girls had a fun night tie-dying t-shirts (all of which said “Bayou Blessed”) and playing while also discussing tough issues such as teen pregnancy, continuing education beyond high school and how they could use their talents to improve Bayou La Batre.

In her time away from Hemley Street, Payne has been involved in helping an oyster farming class proceed along with the instruction of Dr. Bill Walton, assistant professor and marine fisheries extension specialist at Auburn University. The classes alternate between being held on Dauphin Island and at Delta Port Marina in Coden.

Walton’s focus has been working with “farming” oysters in the rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico by transplanting juvenile oysters to wire baskets that stay suspended in the water column. The unique device, called an upweller, also allows the oysters to be removed from the water and sun-dried once a week, killing barnacles and seaweed that can impede growth.

One of the class’s members is Rosa Zirlott, co-founder and employee of the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama. Zirlott said that the classes so far have been intriguing.

“I’m one of those types that if I’m going to tell someone to do something, I have to do it first,” Zirlott said. “So far, it’s been interesting and challenging.”

Rosa Zirlott (left) talks with Laney Payne about the work of OSA. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Rosa Zirlott (left) talks with Laney Payne about the work of OSA. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

One of the most important lessons Payne said she has learned is the value of investing in people. She realizes that money will always be an issue for starting and stopping projects, but that to really build community and empower others doesn’t cost a thing.

“To invest in someone and take a personal interest in them is free,” Payne said. “But the benefits to all involved can be tremendous.”

From simply talking to people and discussing their daily lives, Payne said she’s gained more of an insight as to how life works down in the bayou.

“It’s a world away from Auburn, but I can identify with almost everybody,” Payne said. “They have down-home values just like I was raised with, and want the same things out of life.”

In a relatively short amount of time, Payne has gone from being known as “that girl from Auburn” to being known by name and good works.

As long as Payne continues her forward path helping others and learning about life in coastal Alabama, the bayou will continue to be blessed with another angel.

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