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Spending summer in Elba becomes ‘best decision’

The Living Democracy Program granted me endless opportunities I wouldn’t have had elsewhere. Spending my summer in Elba was the best decision I ever made.

When I agreed to the program, I had no idea the impact that it would have on my life. I can say that I am truly a different person walking out of the experience than I was when I entered it.

Through the help of my community partners, I made connections with people both in and out of Elba. I had the opportunity to participate in meetings with the Elba Historical Commission, the Elba Rotary Club, and with local and regional experts gathering to discuss details about the Elba Dam site.

Mikailie is wearing a blue tshirt and jean shorts while standing on a rock in front of the Elba Hydroelectric Dam

In Elba, I was surrounded by the most wonderful, helpful, and kind people. I have truly become part of the Elba family and will forever be indebted to this beautiful community.

Seeing the enthusiasm, the residents of Elba have for making a difference is so inspiring.

I know now that small towns can have big dreams, and those big dreams are achievable for small towns.

People like Laurie Chapman and Justin Maddox along with the rest of the Restoration154 team are the beating heart of Elba. It’s people like them who give me hope for small towns, but especially for the town of Elba.

Miss Marilyn Chivetta compared Elba to a diamond, saying that it can be an amazing place, it just needs a little work. That statement could not be truer.

When Dr. Wilson showed me around on a spring day trip for the Sonic Nation performance, I was questioning what my summer would look like. But, within the first 24 hours of living in Elba, I felt a sense of belonging.

Through the Living Democracy Program, I was able to assist many different organizations across Elba. A few of these organizations include the Elba Senior Center, Restoration154, the Elba Public Library, the Elba AnimalControl Shelter, and Marley Acres Farm.

Having the opportunity to learn skills at Marley Acres and The Elba Animal Control Shelter helped me discover my true passion. With the guidance of the Whitworths, I realized that I am capable of following my dreams.

At a very young age, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but as I grew up, I believed that that dream was unattainable. After being in Elba I have come to discover that no dream is too big or unachievable.

Mikailie smiles while helping shear a shape with a man in a red shirt and baseball cap

I was constantly granted the opportunity to have experiences I wouldn’t have had elsewhere. From sheepshearing and camel riding to making connections with Elba elders, I had the most diverse and wonderful summer.

Along with Laurie Chapman and Justin Maddox, I had the most amazing time in Birmingham checking on the progress of the Elba Theatre marquee before its completion. During the trip, I was able to sit in a lunch meeting with individuals from Alabama Humanities Alliance.

After learning about their organization, we were taken on a private tour of historic theatres in downtown Birmingham. This tour included both the Lyric Theatre and the Alabama Theatre.

It’s opportunities like these that wouldn’t have been possible without the Living Democracy program. The slogan “communities as classrooms” didn’t make sense before I started the program, but now it’s crystal clear.

Going through the internship I gained valuable skills that can only be obtained from actively participating in the daily life of a town. Elba has been the most influential classroom I have ever stepped foot in.

I learned that just because people are living in a different situation than you, doesn’t make them any less worthy of kindness and compassion.

Not everyone has the same luxuries, experiences, education, or financial security that you have. But just because we have differences, those differences are not the defining factor of who someone is.

Mikailie stands in front of the new marquee on display at Elba Theatre

I learned that people are more than their situations. Most people look down on individuals struggling with addiction or battling financial hardships, but I found inspiration in Miss Marilyn Chivetta’s story. She is a prime example of a phoenix rising from the ashes. She dedicates her life to reaching out and helping those in need.

I think we need more people like Marilyn in the world. We should all strive to use our experiences and knowledge to positively impact the lives of others.

Most importantly, it only takes one person with a passion to influence a positive outcome.

Speak up at your next city council meeting or plan a meeting with your mayor. Your voice matters. It is people like me and you who can make a difference for the betterment of all.

Mikailie holds up her cell phone to record an interview with Elba's Mayor

I challenge you to take that leap of faith. I did to participate in this program, and it was the best decision of my life.

Tags: Elba

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