A Project for Students and Citizens

Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

Living Democracy in Marion: Week Six

In Marion on July 31, 2013 at 2:25 pm
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Health care professional checks blood pressure at weekly hypertension clinic in Marion.

Living Democracy Collaboration Award

By Catherine Tabor

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

Community is the focus of Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts’ Living Democracy program. What makes a community? How can a community be either good or bad? How can communities improve? These are just some of the many questions seven Auburn University students have been asking themselves over the last few months. From Collinsville to Selma to Bayou La Batre, these students have learned valuable lessons about how communities work in Alabama.

During my time as a Living Democracy Fellow in Marion, I have learned that community is not defined by how many buildings hold thriving businesses on the courthouse square or by the city limits. For Marion, community is the people. The people in the churches, schools and workplaces are all the foundations of community.

A few local organizations recognize that Marion needs healthy citizens to have a healthy community. This is where Sowing Seeds of Hope, the Perry County Health Department, and Samford University’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy come in.

Samford University, the Perry County Health Department and Sowing Seeds of Hope all possess missions to help. Samford helps its students cultivateMarion 5 their talents by connecting them with professors and faculty who can pass along grains of wisdom gathered from years of experience in a demanding and often challenging world. The Perry County Health Department “offers clinical and environmental services to the public.” And Sowing Seeds of Hope provides many services to the community, ranging from housing to healthcare.

These three distinct entities unite to help the citizens of Marion and Perry County in a free hypertension clinic offered every Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m. Dr. Charles Sands of Samford University and Sowing Seeds of Hope’s Executive Director Frances Ford started the cardiovascular risk reduction clinic, which is known locally as the hypertension clinic. However, blood pressure checks are not the only things going on every Wednesday afternoon at the Perry County Health Department. The clinic also checks blood sugar, weight, cholesterol and educates patients on use of medications and a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Pilar Murphy, an assistant professor at Samford University who originally hails from Arkansas, states that she has seen the positive effects the clinic is having in the community. For example, the Friendship Baptist Church now has a partnership with Samford’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy. The pharmacy students come to Marion once a month to host a health fair and a healthy dinner.

Dr. Sands, who recently retired, told everyone at his his tear-filled retirement party attended by family, friends and beloved patients, that this was not the last time Perry County would see him. After taking a year off to serve as a missionary, Dr. Sands said he plans to be back in Marion helping in any way he can. Explaining the partnership between Samford and Sewing Seeds of Hope, Dr. Sands said, “Samford originally started in Marion as Howard University and this is our way of saying thanks and paying tribute to our home.”

Samford sends two pharmacy students who intern in Marion for one month as part of their Senior Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience. Dr. Murphy said the interns from Samford benefit by working at the clinic in Marion because  they live in the community five days a week. The experience also gives them a new perspective on rural health. The interns are able to see the conditions that impoverished citizens face. Murphy said, “A lot of our students haven’t actually had to deal with people who are dealing with a lot of the things our patients are dealing with.”

Marion 4The hypertension clinic is widely publicized so that Marion residents are aware of the free services offered. Along with a newspaper ad that runs every week in The Marion Times Standard, the clinic also contacts various local churches and hosts a radio program called “Body Love” that airs on WJUS 1310 AM and 94.3 FM every Wednesday morning. Each week’s volume of patients varies, which is usual, especially for a small town. This summer, the clinic has averaged about 10 to 12 patients but some days up to 24 people were in the waiting room ready to be seen.

Epictetus once said, “It takes more than just a good looking body. You’ve got to have the heart and soul to go with it.” Maybe Marion doesn’t have the prettiest body in Alabama. But despite every hardship, Marion always gets up and tries again. The Samford students and I, through the Living Democracy experience, are learning that it does have a big heart and bright soul.

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Living Democracy in Selma/Old Cahawba: Week Nine

In Selma / Old Cahawba on July 30, 2013 at 9:10 pm

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“Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”

By Taryn Wilson

Inspired by the 133rd Psalm, the Exchange Club operates by this motto. Two years removed from its centennial anniversary in 2011, the Exchange Club stands at 21,000 strong with more than 700 chapters all over the United States and Puerto Rico. Founded in Detroit at a luncheon gathering by a group of businessmen who wanted to “exchange” ideas, the Exchange Club continues to be an organization in which members are encouraged to bring their respective talents and interests together to accomplish goals in the community.

The largest service organization operating solely in the United States, Exchanges places an emphasis on “activities designed to benefit, award and develop our nation’s youth, promote crime prevention, serve senior citizens and recognize military and public safety service providers.”

Selma’s chapter of the club meets at the St. James Hotel every Wednesday and has its gatherings over lunch. Motivated by the club’s three core values ofimage-1 Family, Community and Country, Selma’s Exchange Club places its focus on projects that improve these three areas. Selma’s Exchange has new leadership in command and a renewed desire to make a positive impact on the community.

The club has a history of receiving national awards for its projects, and the desire to repeatedly meet these goals continues into the present. Most of the awards focus on the number of projects undertaken by the Club, but some have the added caveat of recognizing the group for increasing membership. Maintaining members in a time when many are too busy to be active in activities outside of work and family has proven to be a difficult for civic organizations across the board, but the Exchange Club here has made it a goal not only to maintain the current membership, but also grow it. With multiple civic organizations in the area, joint members are welcomed and encouraged to participate.

image-3The members are now assessing the viability of existing projects and looking for new opportunities. The projects that the Selma Exchange Club undertakes generally fall under one of their Four Pillars of Americanism, Youth Programs, Community Service and Child Abuse Prevention. Projects under discussion include passing out flags at patriotic celebrations and honoring a local law officer or firefighter with periodic awards for their service.

The group is also discussing the Freedom Shrines they sponsor in the area. Freedom Shrines are “permanently mounted collection of 20-30 of the most important and historic American documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Gettysburg Address.”

Freedom Shrines are a way for the Exchange Club to give local citizens, especially youth, “proof that the freedom and greatness we enjoy today were not purchased easily.” The displayed documents are intended to remind citizens of gifts that should be cherished and protected.

The Selma area currently has at least 12 Freedom Shrines in varying locations, including schools and in the Selma Mall. Rededicating current shrines and dedicating new ones is a goal of every Exchange Club, with the eventual goal being to have a shrine in every junior and senior high school in the nation.

The group also supports the Book of Golden Deeds Award. The National Exchange Club’s longest running project, the Book of Golden Deeds Award recognizes community members who volunteer above and beyond to make their communities better places. This year’simage-2 recipient was Howard Tinsley, a local Exchange Club member of more than 27 years. A 22-year military veteran and longtime American Red Cross member, Tinsley has been serving the community in various capacities for many years. Present at the recent awards ceremony were many of the past Book of Golden Deeds Award recipients, including AU Living Democracy Community Partner Sheryl Smedley.

In a society where negative headlines get more attention than positive ones, Selma’s Exchange Club continues to do positive work in the community. Its members show dedication and a desire to better their community, and that is all that can be asked of any civic organization. They have a strong commitment to family, community and country, and it is organizations like Exchange Club that will continue to create and utilize engaged citizens, wherever they may be.

Youth pitch ideas for businesses at Selma conference

In Selma / Old Cahawba on July 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm
Students showcase their idea for an "exotic" buffet for their peers. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Students present their idea for an “exotic” buffet to their peers at Selma Youth Conference. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

By Nathan Simone / COMMUNITY REPORTER

If “we” keep working together in Selma, you may soon be able to say “oui” at a French restaurant proposed by Selma youth.

Wearing t-shirts that ask on the back “What time is it?” and answer “It’s time to believe in me!,” the fifth annual Selma Youth Conference brought together students of all ages July 25 and 26 for hours of teambuilding, skilled learning and the reminder that education is always key to bettering oneself.

In just two hours over two days, Living Democracy Fellow Taryn Wilson was able  to get approximately 30 students participating in the conference thinking in the entrepreneurial business mindset of planning, debating and creating.

The atmosphere of the camp was intellectually festive, like a celebration of learning. Even though they were required to think critically and produce work, the ability for the students to socialize and exchange ideas meant more smiles and more creativity.

Students were encouraged to ask questions and probe their peers to think critically. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Students were encouraged to ask questions and to think critically. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

The students split into six loose groups and were given markers and a large sheet of paper to draw up a plan for a business. On the second day of the conference held at the Selma Interpretive Center, students finished their plans and made presentations to their peers.

Some were creative and highly ambitious, like a French restaurant (Cherie L’lori) to be headquartered in Rio de Janeiro and a new line of shoes (brand name: G-T3CH) with a built-in television.  Other teams stayed in the realm of practicality.

One group proposed a paper mill located in Selma that sold glow-in-the-dark paper, something many might think could actually be quite popular with college students and late-night independent thinkers.

Another had a grand list of stores to include in a new three-story Shearson mall, including boutiques and specialty shops named after (and presumably owned by) the creators.  All the group members agreed that “Selma needs a better mall.”

An exotic buffet that would serve food and showcase culture from many different parts of the world was also pitched as an idea.

Students work on a business plan for an outlet mall near Selma. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Students work on a business plan for an outlet mall near Selma. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

During the sessions, Wilson set no guidelines about how the students were able to plan out their businesses, and she was pleasantly surprised at how thought out even some of the more fantastic ideas were.

“It was nice to be able to work with real kids on real ideas,” said Wilson. “Some of the plans could actually work, and I just hope they realize that with proper planning and the right mindset, it could be their reality.”

Living Democracy in Hobson City: Week Six

In Hobson City on July 29, 2013 at 2:29 pm
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Hobson City citizens gather to hear plans at city council meeting. (Photo by Audrey Ross)

Big Topics on Small Town City Council Agenda

By Audrey Ross

One of the most important aspects of a community is its local government, and Hobson City is no exception. Just off Martin Luther King Drive, inside what

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used to be Hobson City’s C.E. Hanna School, one will find the city clerk, the mayor and the rest of Hobson City’s city hall crew. The meetings, held every other Monday at 6:30 p.m., take place inside the old school that now serves as city hall. Just inside the long, open room where the meeting occurs are two stacks of handouts for the attendees of the meeting. One stack contains the minutes and other information from the previous city council meeting and the other stack is the agenda for the current day’s meeting.

In addition to the usual crowd of city council members, city employees and the mayor, everyday citizens are welcome to join the discussion and take part in their own government. A surprisingly large group of citizens came out to see what was going on in their community at the city council meeting of July 22.

As citizens filed inside the room and into the old church pews, the meeting was soon called to order. After the beginning prayer and reading of the previous meeting’s minutes, the first issue was brought to everyone’s attention. Hobson City is planning a community celebration to bring all of the town’s local churches together on August 19. In a town of 765, the churches are extremely important in uniting local citizens. The hopes of this special celebration are to further develop that sense of community. The mayor, clerk and city council members discussed the details of this celebration and shared in the excitement of a community-building event.

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Council meetings are held in former school that houses city hall. (Photo by Audrey Ross)

Diane Glenn then approached the city council members to discuss a promising grant application. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program under discussion could potentially provide Hobson City with $350,000 to use toward renovating old and damaged properties within the town’s city limits. The city had applied for the CDBG program the previous year but was not awarded the grant. Glenn explained that a crucial piece of the grant application is showing that the city and/or property owners would be able to maintain the renovations. The council members discussed how this could be done and how much of the city’s money could be set aside for this project. Although most of the council members were hesitant to make any monetary commitments from the city, the benefits to the city in the event that it was awarded the grant were apparent. At that point there was a consensus that it was time to take a leap of faith and commit to finding one percent of the total grant amount, $3,500, to continue to seek the funds. Other topics discussed at the meeting included a nearly $3.5 million project to improve the city’s recent water problems.

What all of the topics of discussion had in common was a feeling of hope for brighter days to come. Initial reactions to such enormous and sometimes daunting projects may be that a tiny town of less than 800 people like Hobson City isn’t up for the challenge or that there simply aren’t enough funds. In many cases like these, all it takes is one person to stand up and believe that change can be made to inspire the rest to stand together and get things done.

Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week Eight

In Bayou La Batre on July 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm
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Students wade into Gulf waters to learn about oyster farming techniques from Auburn University’s Dr. Bill Walton.

Experience with oysters holds pearls of wisdom

By Laney Payne

If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.

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A handful of baby oysters.

As a 23-year-old psychology major at Auburn University, never in my life did I think I’d be in “Bayou Reeboks” oyster farming alongside the field’s best.  But, as a Living Democracy Fellow working in Bayou La Batre this summer, I’ve learned firsthand about the heart and soul of this coastal community.

Two months ago, I thought oysters were the slimy goodness that came on the half shell smothered in cocktail sauce. Never once did I think I’d be chest-deep in the waters that grow the delicacy. Under the instruction of Dr. Bill Walton, Auburn University’s aquaculture extension specialist, and Scott Rikard, Auburn University’s aquaculture nursery manager, I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn the walk and talk of the oyster business.

I have learned about everything from triploids to Shellfish Aquaculture Review Boards to plot acreages to screening silos. After hearing about the amazing anatomy of oysters and how special upweller tubs can serve as temporary growing stations, I can now add a piece of oyster experience to my resume. In this process of discovery, I have grown to respect the individuals who live their life at the mercy of the tides.

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Laney Payne puts screens in silos for upweller site.

Unlike the wooden desks of my usual Auburn classroom, the classroom here is held more than a mile offshore in the cool coastal waters underneath the beaming sun. With my back against the aluminum railing tucked inside a bright orange life vest, I took in the beautiful Alabama waters that support the families who shared the boat as we headed out to the “farm”.

Without a John Deere tractor in sight, the oyster farm Dr. Walton is helping to develop nourishes a variety of oysters of all shapes in sizes. From Australian long lines to off-bottom cages, the oysters develop organically in their natural habitat with the help of people invested in seeing their “crop” flourish.

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Worker assembles oyster cages.

The oysters we see on our plates atop saltines are just the final stage in a long line of work known by the oyster farming crew. At the Auburn nursery, the oyster farming business begins even before the babies exist. They spawn each oyster on site and create their own oyster “seed”. From there, the babies take a trip from tub to tub to soak in the freshly pumped and filtered seawater for nutrients and oxygen. As each oyster develops, they are moved to a larger mesh screen and eventually taken out to the true “farm” stage in the wild. There they will stay until it is harvest time.

Oystering is much more than just a way of life for many of the people along Alabama’s coast. It’s a family tradition, and it’s in their blood. Whether it be through Auburn’s nursery or from the local wild waters of the Gulf, the oystermen are here to stay in the bayou in spite of the many troubles that have given them every reason to leave.

Through my oyster adventure, I have found myself drawing connections between this sea creature and restaurant delicacy to the people I have come to connect with and love. When just a microscopic animal, oysters swim in search of the “taste” of other oyster shells to attach to and make their “home”. The way they see it, if someone (an oyster in this case) has survived and flourished there, they can too. This process is called “spat-on-shell” to the people who know the industry. To the rest of us, it is simple safety in numbers.

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Participants in class grade oysters for aging.

The people of the bayou are much like the “spat-on-shell” oysters themselves. With every odd against them — Hurricane Ivan, Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill — they have survived. By sticking together, close to family roots and tradition, the people here will thrive.

As a 23-year-old psychology student, I never knew my journey would lead me to the realm of “oyster farming”, but I am blessed that it did. By doing something I have never done, I am receiving things that I have never known. This Auburn-turned-bayou woman is watching her harvest flourish and blessed to be on the journey that is Living Democracy.