A Project for Students and Citizens

2013 Fellows

Meet our Living Democracy Fellows for 2013

Kaleb Kirkpatrick – Linden

By Austin Lankford


Kaleb Kirkpatrick

Living Democracy Fellow Kaleb Kirkpatrick hopes to share what he has learned about downtown revival from living in Mobile when he lives and works in the smaller West Alabama town of Linden in the summer of 2013.Kirkpatrick is a sophomore studying public administration at Auburn University. He will be working with local citizens for 10 weeks this summer in Linden.  “Coming from Mobile I have a good idea of what a great downtown is,” Kirkpatrick said. “I have used that as a vision to inspire the projects I will be working on to help the community thrive.”

Working alongside his local community partners, Brenda Tuck, director of Marengo County Economic Development Authority, and Katherine Friday of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, Kirkpatrick’s top goal is to help upgrade Linden’s downtown area.

Kirkpatrick wants to start small projects such as painting, planting and fixing up the downtown gazebo area. But he also has bigger plans in store.

“The big project is going to be an art walk, which is much like Auburn’s summer nights event,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s a night during the summer where all the businesses downtown are open.”

Kirkpatrick’s vision for the art walk is that people will come out and interact with the local businesses and each other. A portion of the art that will be displayed will be generated by the youth of the community through an art competition that Kirkpatrick will coordinate. Along with the art walk, Kirkpatrick will assist the city with a Fourth of July celebration. “One of my main goals is to help develop traditions that will last.”

The Auburn University Living Democracy Project in the College of Liberal Arts is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.

Sierra Lehnhoff – Elba

By Nathan Simone

“Elba is able!”

Sierra Lehnhoff, an Auburn University student studying communication, said she hopes to embrace this motto to the fullest when she becomes a Living Democracy Fellow in Elba, Ala., this summer.

Sierra Lehnhoff

Sierra Lehnhoff

Lehnhoff  will be working closely with Mart Gray, pastor of the Covenant Baptist Church in Elba, to develop programs, which will be based in downtown Elba’s Just Folk Coffeehouse. (http://www.facebook.com/justfolkcoffeehouse)

Lehnhoff said she hopes to help develop a wide range of art-related activities for citizens designed to connect them to their home.

Lehnhoff said she is looking forward to getting to know the residents of Elba so that she can help develop positive change through a close network of outgoing individuals. She said she would like to bring people back to public gathering places such as local shops and eateries.

“They really are an able community,” Lehnhoff said. “They have a lot of resources and dedicated people who want to make changes.”

Serving the community is nothing new for Lehnhoff, who learned to love helping others by being heavily involved in her church youth group. Born in West Palm Beach, Fla., Lenhoff traveled extensively as she was growing up. Those experiences help create a desire for adventure and service. “For a long time, I aspired to just leave the country and go volunteer in a foreign land, but as I got older, I realize the value and need for local engagement as well.”

Lehnhoff said her passion for creative outlets such as photography will influence some of the projects she hopes to develop in Elba.  “I hope Living Democracy helps me gain skills while I really help the community.”

The Auburn University Living Democracy Project in the College of Liberal Arts is a yearlong collaboration between students and citizens on issues that matter to local communities.

Catherine Tabor – Marion

By Austin Lankford

Catherine Tabor

Catherine Tabor

Catherine Tabor always knew of Marion, Ala., but had never truly visited until she decided to spend her summer of 2013 there as a Living Democracy Fellow.

Tabor is a freshman studying English literature and is from Centreville, Ala.  She will be working in collaboration with her community partner Katrina Easley, with the Alabama County Extension Service.

“I didn’t have a clear picture of what Marion was,” Tabor said. “When I went for the first time, my community partner gave me a driving tour around the town and what I saw and what she told me kind of opened my eyes to a whole new world.”

Tabor learned that the town, which has a population just shy of 4,000, possesses an all-natural and organic focus in that many citizens grow a lot of their own food. She also learned that the people of Marion stay true to their roots in the history rich Black Belt town.

Tabor’s idea for the summer is to work with local youth on a range of leadership activities connected to Marion’s culture and history.  She also hopes to create opportunities such as Mock Trial teams for area youth.

“I want to focus on local music, artists, writers and food,” Tabor said. “I also want to bring in people from surrounding areas to come see Marion because it is an historic and pretty place.”

Looking forward to her summer in Marion, Tabor said, “I think the biggest thing for me is community.  When I think of Living Democracy, I think of community, and I want to foster and cultivate relationships that may not have existed before.”

Audrey Ross – Hobson City

By Mary Beth Snow

Hobson City has an advantage that this year’s the other 2013 Living Democracy communities don’t: Audrey Ross has a  year of experience in the Auburn University program under her belt.

Audrey Ross

Audrey Ross

Ross, a sophomore from Siloam Springs, Ark., spent last summer in the town of Valley, Ala., as part of the Living Democracy program.

This summer, Ross will be the Auburn University Living Democracy Fellow for Hobson City, a community founded in 1899 as the first all African-American municipality in Alabama.

She will be working with the Hobson City Community and Economic Development Corporation (http://www.hobsoncitycdc.org/) to help build a brighter future for the town of less than a 1,000 people.

Rossm, a double major in math education and Spanish, said she plans to carry what she learned in last summer in Valley, where her favorite experience was starting a youth leadership program, to Hobson City.

She said, “The most rewarding part was seeing how dedicated the kids were with their own project ideas. They were more dedicated than any of the other adult volunteers. That was really encouraging to see how interested they were in doing something for their community.”

Ross said she hopes to institute a similar youth leadership program in Hobson City, encouraging the younger generation to step up and make changes. One of Audrey’s other goals for the summer is to work in the area of economic development.

She said her main objective is to encourage citizens of the town to take an active part in changing their community. This perspective on local involvement is the most important thing she took away from Valley and one of the tenets of Living Democracy.

Taryn Wilson

By Austin Lankford

Taryn Wilson

Taryn Wilson

Taryn Wilson said she believes her Summer 2013 Living Democracy experience in Old Cahawba and Selma will be a perfect fit because of her interest in entrepreneurship and eco-tourism.

Wilson will be working in Selma Ala., in collaboration with her community partners, Linda Derry of the Old Cahawba Archaeological Park ( http://www.cahawba.com) and Sheryl Smedly, executive director of the Selma and Dallas County Chamber of Commerce (http://www.selmaalabama.com) .

In discussions with her community partners, Wilson discovered the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers are top assets in the area. Wilson said one focus of her summer work will be helping to develop a canoe trail, particularly at the Old Cahawba historic site. The canoe trail will identify local landmarks and wildlife.

“Once we get things lined up, it’s my hope that everybody will be able to partake in it, and that everybody will be able to learn something new about their community,” Wilson said.

She also plans to use her entrepreneurial skills at the Old Cahawba welcome center and gift shop. “In the gift shop, we want to start to incorporate some of the local arts and crafts so people passing through can get a feel for Old Cahawba’s history,” Wilson said.

“I want to help make positive changes for myself and the community,” Wilson said, adding that the Living Democracy program creates “a perfect opportunity to exercise this idea.”

Wilson, in ROTC all four years during high school, said she believes that experience will help her succeed this summer.  “I definitely think knowing the benefits of effective planning will be super beneficial to me during my time in Selma this summer,” she said.

Wilson said she is honored to have the opportunity to make an impact in her Living Democracy work this summer.  “Because Selma is willing to take me in, I feel like I owe it to them to do my best job,” Wilson said. “They are giving me a capacity to serve so that’s what I want to do.”

Mary Beth Snow – Collinsville

By Nathan Simone

Servicio, amistad, comprensión. 

While many might not be able to decipher the words above, the Hispanic population of Collinsville, Ala., would be able to tell you that these words represent three important concepts: service, friendship and understanding.

Mary Beth Snow

Mary Beth Snow

Mary Beth Snow said she believes in these words and has loved the Spanish language and Hispanic culture since she began studying both in high school. For Snow, being a 2013 Living Democracy Fellow in Collinsville is literally a dream come true.

She said, “I don’t want to grow up into someone who hasn’t experienced the world. Living Democracy will help me to more fully experience my own corner of the world, which is something that I believe a lot of people miss out on.”

Her main community partners are Jennifer Wilkins and Margaret Goldthreat with the Collinsville Public Library. They will collaborate on a variety of projects designed to unify and beautify different parts of the North Alabama community.

Snow, a psychology and Spanish major at Auburn University, said some of those efforts will include creating a bilingual community newsletter and teaching Spanish language classes to interested adults at the library.  Snow said she also wants to be involved in community beautification efforts during her summer in Collinsville.

Originally from Decatur, Ala., Snow comes from a background of educators who are committed to service and helping others become self-reliant.

“Growing up, it was always put into my head that you should serve other people,” said Snow. “It’s selfish to go out into life only thinking of yourself. I can’t do that.”

She added, “I’m not much for short-term volunteering. I think it will be much better to invest myself in a community and form long-lasting relationships with people while having the freedom to create.”

Laney Payne – Bayou La Batre

By Nathan Simone

Laney Payne

Laney Payne

The residents of Alabama’s seafood capital, Bayou La Batre, Ala., treasure their home for its natural beauty and bountiful harvest from the sea. However, the 2010 BP Oil Spill and devastating hurricanes have created challenges Living Democracy Fellow Laney Payne said she hopes to help address in the summer of 2013 when she lives and works in the community.

Payne, a 23-year-old junior in psychology at Auburn University, will spend the summer working with citizens and her community partners Dr. William Walton, assistant professor in Auburn University’s Marine Fisheries and Aquaculture department, and Julian Stewart, Alma Bryant High School’s Aquaculture Program director.

Payne said growing up in St. Mary’s, Ga., has prepared her for the upcoming experience in Bayou La Batre. “I grew up in a town where you walked everywhere and knew everyone,” Payne said. “I was around people in the shrimping industry who worked on boats. These people have a heart, down-home values, that I identify with.”

She will be working with her community partners and local citizens on creating a project titled “Half Shell High School” that will develop an oyster-farming model to be used by Alma Bryant High School students and further educate youth on opportunities within the industry.

Payne will also be working with “Bayou Angel” Daphne German of the Hemley Road Church of Christ and community members on a variety of projects.

Bayou La Batre is a diverse place, with 22.8 percent of the population identifying as Southeast Asian, including Vietnamese and Cambodians. The diversity of the community influences the culture of this Mobile County community, Payne said.

Payne said she’s excited to meet a whole other group of people outside of her own world. “I love hearing people’s stories and learning how people live completely different than me,” said Payne. “This is going to open my eyes to a whole new world of people and customs.”

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