Living Democracy

Collinsville Provides Journey of Discovery

Crystal Rawls inside Collinsville libraryI put off writing this final article and reflection about my time in Collinsville, Alabama. I kept telling myself that it’s me just being lazy.  But in reality I know that this means that my summer there has completely come to an end. This summer I not only realized my own potential but also made a family of my own through learning about what democracy is like in a town that looks after its own.

Before I even arrived in Collinsville to start my first day as a Living Democracy student, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to be of much help to a town that was so graciously letting me come in for ten weeks. I thought that I might end up not making difference.  But, once the initial shock passed, I began to understand more of what I had to do.

I got to know everyone I worked with and attended as many events around the community that I could because I quickly realized that everyone in the community was involved with something. Everyone had something close to their heart that they wanted to be involved with to help their community. Whether it was VBS, reading programs, or helping to bring life back into the historic Cricket Theatre, I made sure that I worked along side people in the community who understood that community and civic engagement could be accomplished with the help of those around you, those who share your insights, wants, and hopes for a community that will not let itself go below water.

I’ve learned that networking is as big of an asset as everyone makes it out to be, especially in a small town where everyone knows each other. You know that you can count on the people recommended to you and that everyone can benefit and has something to give no matter what the project is.

I’ve learned that just being able to show up to an event or a community gathering is enough to show that you care and that you can support the cause no matter if you can help or not. Showing up and listening is helping. Just because you can’t donate thousands of dollars doesn’t mean that you can’t at least give hope to everyone around you. If you all work together, you can accomplish something together, even if it’s small or takes years to complete.

Headshot of Crystal RawlsCollinsville does an exceptional job with coming together just for that purpose. Even though there are a ton of different community leaders and projects being tended to, everyone does their part to help out as much as they can. You can’t get anything done if you stand around and look at each other. That’s how Collinsville taught me to just try.

No matter what, just give whatever you want to do a try. It’s not a failure if it doesn’t work out. It’s a valuable lesson that allows you to grow and build off of it so that you can learn from it.

The democracy in Collinsville is full of people that try and try again to make their town better, not only for those who live in it now, but for those who will live in it later. They are preserving and building so that they don’t become another one of those towns that just dies. They are the town that will keep fighting to reassert who they are as a community that literally lives and breathes for its citizens of all ages.

Collinsville taught me so much about myself.  I learned from being surrounded by people who genuinely care and want to do their best because trying is a success, not a failure. I’ve learned to really listen more and pay attention to what common needs and wants are in a community. I have more faith and confidence in myself now than I did when I first showed up on the scene. I now know what I want out of my life and what I want to accomplish because I understand how to work with people no matter what the odds may look like.

In a matter of ten weeks, a small town in Alabama that I had never heard of until a few months prior managed to take my heart and mind by surprise. They didn’t win me over. Saying that someone or something won you over implies that they had to try and make you see what they see. When it comes to Collinsville they don’t try to make you comfortable or happy. It just comes naturally to them because they have an understanding of community and family that other places should take a lesson from. They provide for and help each other no matter if they disagree or get upset with each other. I believe the kindness and openness of the people in that town are unmatched by any town or city I have and will ever be in.

Auburn has branded itself as the place where you can go to be a part of family:  a community that has your back and will be there for you. “Join the Auburn family,” they say. Well, the past four years at Auburn carried me to a community that I can truly call family.

It’s interesting to me that, when I look back on my time there, I remember the fear that others in the town had of local teens growing up and leaving Collinsville for good because it’s too small for what they want to do. No one but the teens that leave know if they will ever come back one day to stay for good and raise their families there.     

Sunset in CollinsvilleHowever, I do feel that those who do leave for a number of years will come back permanently because they know that the people of Collinsville are always there. The doctor, the librarian, the barber, the restaurant owner, and many others are always there wishing for the best for their town and the people of it. If they have you come and stay, they are more than elated.  Once you leave they still are because they know that no matter where you go you will be the best you can be and know that they are always hoping for the best for you.

I honestly don’t think that I’m doing the city of Collinsville much justice in this final reflection because there is just so much they taught me and brought of me that I feel as if I walked away benefiting the most from them.

Words can’t always describe how Collinsville makes me feel. I know that even though I’m no longer there every day, a piece of Collinsville will always be with me no matter where I go. I can’t and won’t forget what Living Democracy allowed me to experience for one summer. I just want to thank everyone that makes Living Democracy what it is and the people of Collinsville for giving me the time out of their day to learn not only about myself but also about how democracy works.

Last Updated: August 06, 2015