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Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week Ten

In Bayou La Batre on August 14, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Laney Week 10 2A Bayou Thank You

By Laney C. Payne

As a 10-week resident of the small coastal town of Bayou La Batre, I would like to say thank you to the place that has allowed me to call it “home.”

Surprisingly, this took no time at all. From the common “Hey, how are ya’” that often goes overlooked to the gentle waves from shipbuilders and shrimpers, I want to express how much these simple gestures have taken me in and made my transition from visitor to neighbor such a smooth journey.

Although known by most as “that girl from Auburn,” I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each and every one of the folks I’ve had the honor ofLaney Week 10 1 speaking with this summer. You have allowed me to learn about myself, test my preconceived limitations, conquer many fears, hear my calling, test the waters, overcome many obstacles, and get back in touch with the simple things we often forget in the day-to-day rush that is modern life.

Thank you for the memories made at Ole’ Maria’s famous karaoke nights with the “Dauphin Island Sweetheart” and the late night drives out to “Lightning Point” to check the day’s catch. Thank you for the conversations at the drawbridge and the best bread pudding in the Gulf region at Von’s Market.

Thank you for the laughs shared with friends at Hemley Road Church of Christ and for the stories from Mr. Gordy. Thank you for the time spent in Craig’s ’85 Chevy unloading case after case of bananas for the hard-working souls of the crab shacks and the figs from “Chim Boy” and the crew.

Thank you for the haircuts at Kay Leves De Salon by Haley and the complimentary banana pudding at the Lighthouse. Thank you for the evening drives with Mrs. Ollie and the humor of the barefoot bayou kids during Sunday breakfast. Thank you for Mr. Roosevelt’s wisdom and Mrs. Daphne German’s drive.

Thank you for the citizens speaking their mind at a Monday night city hall work session and the civic leadership helping to create change. Thank you for the blue-eyed baseball boy trying to make it big in a small town. Thank you for the colorful options at the Bayou Shirt Shop and the friends made feeding birds in the Greer’s parking lot.

Laney 4Thank you for the Dauphin Island beach bound soundtracks and the sweet serenades from the bayou’s own Hank Williams. Thank you for the crickets and coastal sounds that have put me to sleep and for teaching me how to really shuck an oyster in my “Bayou Reeboks.” For all this and much more I am thankful.

As I began my Living Democracy journey just 10 weeks ago, I set out to define “community.” Before my time here, I thought community was simply the town you grew up in or the place you call home. I didn’t grasp the idea of what it means to “be” community, to pick each other up after everything has told you to stay down and grow together as neighbors and family.

Sitting here now, I know community is family. It is getting engaged, seeing what needs to be done, and simply doing it. One of my favorite bayou residents, Craig Clary, has taught me, “find a need, fill it.”

That is exactly what this small town has done. No longer is Bayou La Batre “three strikes you’re out.” From Ivan, Katrina and the oil spill, this circle of neighbors has rebuilt the place that I now call home. Seen within the eyes of each worker enjoying a break on the picnic tables outside seafood shacks and the hard steel men of Horizon’s or Steiner’s, Bayou La Batre is back and here to stay.

From my time in the bayou, I have learned what it takes to get involved, and that is not much. It’s just something you simply do because it’s what’s right;Laney Week 10 3 taking civic responsibility for not only yourself but for your community as well.

It is finding a way to get your own voice heard and finding ways to utilize your passions for the betterment of others. Civic engagement goes far beyond service.  It is an active way of life, holding yourself accountable for the happenings within your streets and finding ways to knock down boundaries and get back to the “neighborhood” lifestyle, a way in which being a good neighbor goes far beyond lending a cup of sugar.

I will take all of this with me as I continue on my educational path and find myself immersed in a new community in my near future. I challenge each of you to try just a piece of what I set out to find during my ten-week Living Democracy experience. Stop a neighbor and say hello, invest in a stranger, and slow down.  You might just be surprised at what you may find.

Bayou La Batre, please know that I will be forever grateful for being your own “that girl from Auburn” this summer.

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Living Democracy in Elba: Week Ten

In Elba on August 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm
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Sierra Lehnhoff, Farris English conduct summer art session in Elba. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Elba experience provides life lessons

By Sierra Lehnhoff

The past 10 weeks spent in Elba as part of the Living Democracy program was an experience, to say the least. The program was filled with ups and downs, leaps and stumbles and a lot of growth for me. I’ve never been a very forward person when it comes to asking for items or help from another. Although I am driven and will work hard on any task given to me, I will put off any task that requires me to ask for someone’s help, permission or collaboration. I don’t think there is anything more nerve-wracking to me. Surprise, surprise- this is a lot of what Living Democracy is.

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Lehnhoff explains Living Democracy project at Rotary Club meeting. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Through Living Democracy I have become more open to the idea that asking for help, donations or collaboration isn’t so bad. It didn’t always work out, but when things did work out I got the help I needed for my community projects. The zombie run could have never happened without taking the first step to being more socially forward. Without speaking out to people, we wouldn’t have had any donations or attendees.

I had to ask storeowners to put up fliers in their stores in multiple places in multiple towns for the run and for the children’s art classes I directed this summer. It was hard because with every “yes” you get comes a couple of “no’s” as well.

Asking for a bit of help doesn’t seem half as daunting as it used to be, and now I don’t really see what I thought the big deal about it was. If someone says no, you move on and go ask someone else. You keep asking until you get a yes. Sometimes if you don’t ask, people pass up the opportunity because they assume you don’t want their help even if they are willing to give it. By not asking you have basically cheated yourself out of any option at all besides no.

Aside from the major life lesson I gained, it’s been a good time in Elba. I have enjoyed my frequent lunches at Just Folk Coffeehouse with everyone who lunches there. I loved having the kids in my art class. They were all so great and having a room full of 10 kids can be frustrating when they’re screaming and running away from a spider. However, nothing beats the moments when they said they were having fun or thanked me for teaching them how to draw something new.

Sierra Week 10 1

Lehnhoff gives instructions to participants in Elba’s first summer Zombie Run. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

The zombie run was every ounce as stressful as it was rewarding, but I loved the outcome. I’ll always laugh about putting out hay bales at 8 p.m. with three teenagers and having to run back to the car soaked because it decided to rain when we were halfway through building the trail in the woods. Who knows, maybe I’ll decide to start my own zombie run in Auburn this year or the next?

Lastly, I would like to thank a whole slew of people who offered me their help and support during my 10-week stay. Especially those who helped, donated and reached out to me when I asked for help because it was especially hard for me to request such assistance.

First, thank you to everyone who helped in the zombie run: all the attendees, Kenneth Calhoun, Jack and Meredith Brunson, my mother, Mike Spencer, John Gray, Brinley, Justin Maddox, Ryan Renfroe, Ed Cowen, the owners of ACE Hardware in Elba, Mr. Sparks and INZI Controls, and all of the teenagers who stayed after to help clean up!

Thank you to all the parents who let me teach their kids art this summer! I enjoyed teaching them and seeing the art they made. I hope they continue to grow creatively. Thank you Debbie Jared for letting us use your room for art class as well. It was great! Thank you Ed and Myrna Cowen for letting me live with you- it was amazing to get to know ya’ll! You were so hospitable and AMAZING cooks. I don’t think I’ll eat half as good home cooking ever again like I did with you two.

Photo 6 154

Lehnhoff paints new sign for Restoration 154’s Pea River Outdoors shop.

Thank you to Mart Gray, my community partner and lively traveling minister. I appreciate all your support and helping me gain support through your church family. I also appreciate the good food and tables for art class! A big thanks to Restoration 154’s Justin Maddox and Philip Box for reaching back to me after I reached out to you! I hope all your endeavors go well and hope to see more of ya’ll in programs to come through Auburn! Thank you for your help, support, and the opportunity to paint your sign for Pea River Outdoors.

Thank you to all of those who embraced me, supported me, and guided me as I was in Elba! I know I have a lot of names to list and I might forget a few, but everything you did for the Living Democracy program and me is greatly appreciated.

Lastly, thank you so so so much Farris English. She was my right hand lady during this whole adventure, and I don’t think I could have made it without her. Farris helped me with art class, and she helped with the zombie run a LOT. She took on a lot more than I ever expected from her and kept my head from popping off some days when I had a lot on my mind. I enjoyed all of the work and the fun with her. It was a great summer with a lot of growth and memories. Hope to see you again soon, Elba!

Living Democracy in Hobson City: Week Seven

In Hobson City on August 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm

CAM00849Community Enablers reach out to those in need

By Audrey Ross

Community Enablers of Calhoun County serves Anniston, Oxford, Hobson City, and surrounding communities in the county.  The purpose of the organization is to ensure that the needs of the community, whatever they may be, are met. The Community Enablers provides those in need with food, clothing, furniture, school supplies, and any other necessities it can to help citizens make it through difficult times and get back on their feet.

Maudine Holloway, a Hobson City native, started Community Enablers 42 years ago in conjunction with the Haven Church ministry group to extend the church’s impact outside church walls. Holloway started out by simply knocking on doors and asking, “What do you need?”

From these humble beginnings, the program has developed into a much-needed resource for struggling families. By reaching out into the community, Holloway and her fellow do-gooders have managed to create a unique program that strives to tackle the difficult problem of poverty and hard economic times.

CAM00852Headquartered in a small and unassuming building pressed up against the Anniston YMCA and Methodist Church off Noble Street in downtown Anniston, the Community Enablers may at first be difficult to find. However small, the building provides basic needs to approximately 5,000 people a year and that number continues to grow.

Working with limited funds can be a challenge. However, much of the food that is given away is donated directly to the Community Enablers from local supermarkets. All of the clothes are donated by other citizens in the area. Despite relying mostly on donations, the Community Enablers always has a large selection of food and clothing. Visitors of the center, after completing applications and providing identification, are welcome to enter the food or clothing rooms and choose their own items.

“There’s no sense in giving them a bunch of food or clothes they’ll never use, so we let them choose,” says Holloway.

Another very important factor for Holloway when running a community-aid program is to make sure those that come in are not ashamed to ask for help.

“We try to have folks leave here with dignity,” Holloway says. Recently a kindergarten teacher who had just lost her job entered the center and was new to assistance programs such as this one. It can be very difficult for an independent person to admit they need help, but Holloway doesn’t see it as giving handouts. “This stuff already belongs to the community. We are just servants distributing it.”

After serving the community for 42 years, Holloway has plenty of inspiring stories to tell. One story in particular is a stand out. Near the beginning of the Community Enabler’s founding, there was a local man who was building a new bathroom on his house. The bathroom was great, but he did not have any plumbing system in his house. Holloway, together with the Enablers and other community groups, worked to dig a well for this man so he would be able to use his new bathroom.

“He told me that we changed his life,” Holloway commented as she remembered that special day.

With every great story there are also great challenges. Servicing an entire county is not an easy task, and it is a constant struggle to keep enough funds around. Holloway says the most challenging part of providing this service is not being able to provide everything. She would like to have enough money to help with medical bills and bus passes, but these things can add up quickly. In the meantime, the Community Enablers also functions as a kind of “hub” for assistance. If they can’t provide you with something that you need, they can most likely point you in the right direction.

Holloway also started the Sable Learning Center for children in Hobson City. The Sable Learning Center is a free afterschool and summer program that provides children with a meal and additional education away from school. It is another challenge to fund the Sable Learning Center, but Holloway remains hopeful.

“Every time we are almost down to nothing, we get another blessing and we can continue a little bit longer.”

This persistence is what has kept these programs running decade after decade, through the good times and the bad. Surely the Community Enablers will continue to serve the area of Calhoun County for years to come, and thousands more will benefit from Holloway’s dedication.

Living Democracy in Marion: Week Seven

In Marion on August 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm

marion quilt 1A Quilt is More than a Blanket:  A Labor of Love

By Catherine Tabor

Every Tuesday at 10 a.m., women from all over Perry County gather at the Lincoln Normal School in Marion to discuss the latest town gossip and theirmarion quilt 10 families, to spend time with beloved friends and to quilt beautiful pieces of artwork. Summertime is the time for vacations and relaxation from the business of everyday life. But for this group of women the way to relaxation is through the eye of a needle.

The West Perry Arts and Crafts Club, as it is formally known, owes its existence to Mattie Atkins who founded the club seven years ago. The recipient ofMarion quilt 6 several grants from the Black Belt Arts Initiative, the club has been able to survive and flourish over the last few years.

The atmosphere in the room where the ladies meet Tuesday mornings is relaxed and friendly. This is not a place to be stoic but a place to have fun. The morning is started with a round of hugs. After everyone is greeted properly, a small television is set up at the front of the room, and the “Price is Right” is put on in the background.

With three different quilt frames, one small, one large and one electric, there are plenty of spaces for the women to sit and sew. The electric frame has been having some problems, but that did not slow the members of the quilting group from setting themselves up at the other two stations with projects already half finished.

Visitors are welcome to come and observe the ladies at work. They are also more than welcome to take a seat andMarion quilt 11 make a stitch or two on one of the many quilting projects laid out. “If you want to learn how to sew, you can make a stitch,” is a repeated phrase heard in the sewing room when visitors are present.

This particular Tuesday, there was some exciting news. Someone donated a laptop to the sewing club. But even with this new hi-tech addition, one the ladies in the room were very grateful for, it did not deter the quilters from hand-stitching their quilts.

Sewing and quilting are skills passed down from mothers and grandmothers and the ladies of the West Perry-Marion Arts & Crafts Training Center knowmarion quilt 9 how important tradition is. They occasionally host youth from the Marion community to teach them about their craft. This particular day, two young people in attendance were put to work threading needles and learning to stitch.

Mattie Atkins reminisced about how her mother first taught her to quilt. “She would let us make a stitch on the corner of the quilt,” Atkins said. “But not in the middle, no, never in the middle.” Atkins laughed at the memory of learning how to quilt from her mother as she skillfully stitched the part of the quilt she was working on.

The room was quiet, but it was the kind of comfortable silence shared by a group of people who are completely at ease with themselves and each other. There was no need for chatter, although occasionally a joke or two was shared or an observation made. Yet there was no urgency for conversation in this group of women who knew each other so well.

Marion quilt 12Phylicia Rashad once stated, “Any time women come together with a collective intention, it’s a powerful thing. Whether it’s sitting down making a quilt, in a kitchen preparing a meal, in a club reading the same book, or around the table playing cards, or planning a birthday party, when women come together with a collective intention, magic happens.” And magic can certainly be found in the room of the Lincoln Normal School where the sewing group meets once a week, on Tuesday mornings.

Evidence of the magic can be seen in the beautiful projects they quilt and sew. But the stronger sign ofmarion quilt 8 magic is in the love the ladies of the club possess because they love with all their hearts. They love their hometown of Marion. They love to quilt and sew. They love each other. And they love to teach visitors to love the same.

Quilting is an art that takes decades to master, but the ability to love has taken mankind millennia to learn. And one group of women in Marion, Ala., has the exceptional talent of being able to do both with extraordinary skill.

Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week Nine

In Bayou La Batre on August 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm

grand bay lodgeMasons of Lodge No. 767 form ‘family’ that serves community

By Laney C. Payne

Grand Bay Lodge No. 767 F. &. A.M is a secret society with open doors to the community they serve and love. Celebrating their 100year anniversary this past April, Lodge No. 767 is an organization of motivated men proud to be a brotherhood of service-driven individuals.

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Lodge hosts monthly community breakfast. (Photo by Laney Payne)

“From the bottom of my heart, I tell you it’s second to Christianity. If you find yourself a good Christian and a good Mason, you got yourself a mighty fine man,” said Mosspoint Mill retiree and 33rd degree Mason Butch McKeithes.

Founded on the basis of moral standards, mutual understanding and the belief in a brotherhood where all men are created equal, the Masons of Grand Bay aim to serve their community in whatever way they are needed. To these men, the brotherhood goes deeper than memberships and meetings: it’s family.

“It’s hard to keep up with what we do. We keep the lights on at the service station, we help the ball teams, we take care of our own. This is family here,” said McKeithes.

What seems like an average one-story brick building with simple lettering on the side to most is the meeting ground for the Masons in this small coastal community. Over a southern meal of sausage, grits and eggs at the lodge’s monthly community breakfast, I learned first-hand about the love this group of men has for the place they each call home. Although previously intimidated by the mystery that often follows the Mason name, I found myself immediately at ease within the wood-paneled walls of the lodge filled with the small town humble heroes who are the Freemasons of No. 767.

Laney Masons 2

Blaze Everette

“We aren’t better than anyone else. We just pride ourselves on making a good man better. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” said southern Choctaw County native Mason Blaze Everette.

Everette, an eight-year member and past Worshipful Master, lives and breathes Masonry. With a wedding band on one hand and his Worshipful Master ring on the other, Everette said he enjoys teaching others what it means to be a part of the Freemason family.

“From John Hancock on one side and Grover Cleveland on the other, we have always been Masons. I always knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” said Everette.

J.D. Barrow Laney

J.D. Barrow

Involved in everything from child identification programs to helping the local Alma Bryant High School volleyball teams and serving as a local hurricane refuge site, Lodge No.767 never ceases to keep the community moving towards a sunnier Grand Bay.

“My favorite thing we do is hand out Constitutions to the youth here. I love seeing their faces when we teach them what it means to be an American. It’s something they need to be proud of and now a days, they don’t know enough about their roots,” explained Everette.

But their work doesn’t stop there. The Masons of Lodge No. 767 make sure each veteran headstone in the community is honored with wreathes each year and commit themselves to education and serving their neighbors.

Outside of community service, Masons offer opportunities to individuals of all ages. Whether you serve as an Eastern Star for women, Rainbow Girls for youth, or the DeMolay Association for young men, everyone can find a way to get involved in Freemasonry. However, membership takes time, dedication and even a strict investigative period before one can claim the name of Mason.

Butch Masons by Laney

Butch McKeithes

“You have to really work your rear end off, but it’s something real special,” explained McKeithes.

McKeithes, a past Worshipful Master, has climbed his way to 33rd degree Mason, a venture that makes up only one half of one percent of all Masons in the world.

“You gotta’ be a good type person, and people have been so kind to help me get here. I don’t even think I’m worthy of all that,” said McKeithes, proudly wearing his red, white, and blue Mason ball cap.

I have found the Masons of Lodge No. 767 far from what I expected to find behind their heavy wooden doors. After I was greeted with sweet southern hospitality and a plate of grits, the men of 767 showed me they are there for each other and for the community they call family.

The motto of the Masons is 2b1ASK1, or “To be one, ask one.” With just a few simple questions, you may be surprised at the kind, down-to-earth and service-driven individuals you will find.