Living Democracy

Collinsville teaches lessons about community

Sutton and WilkinsWhen I got accepted to be a Living Democracy Fellow, I was excited and nervous to start my summer journey. When Dr. Mark Wilson told me I would be in Collinsville, Alabama, for the summer, I knew it was not far from where I grew up in Albertville.

Although I am from the same area in Northeast Alabama, I was quite unfamiliar with Collinsville. I knew the interstate to Tennessee ran through there. I also had heard a lot about Trade Day, the giant flea market held there every Saturday. 

But I soon learned there is so much more than that in Collinsville. 

When I started, Jennifer Wilkins, the director of the public library, introduced me to everyone we met. I think she knows almost every single person in Collinsville. She is just the friendliest person I've ever met. People see her and feel inclined to say hello and engage in a conversation that leaves them smiling because of her positivity and warmth. 

Whitney leading summer school activityOne day, Wilkins sent me to Collinsville Elementary to talk to the director of the summer school. When I walked in, I was greeted by the colorful murals painted along the walls of the halls and the sweet sound of laughter floating out of the class rooms.

When I reached Ms. Clanton’s room she asked if I would help some over the summer with the kids. I tie-dyed tee shirts, planted flowers, read books and created ocean-themed relay games. I have a passion for working with kids so I naturally grew close to the groups I interacted with. 

One day, I was in Piggly Wiggly, Collinsville’s local grocery store, when I saw one of the second-grade boys there with his mom and brother. He said, “Hey look! It's Miss Whitney!” Then they dashed down the aisle to give me a hug and tell me about a recent field trip.

This was the moment I realized it was going to be hard to leave Collinsville. That is just a small example of the relationships I built here. The whole town seemed to adopt me as one of their own. 

Whitney working with a kid on a projectMy host family, Mark and Patricia Shatzel, treated me like I was their own daughter. Patricia cooked so well I thought about moving in with them permanently. Working in Collinsville the last few months was much more than a summer job. It was an experience I learned from and will remember for the rest of my days. 

Collinsville taught me that community is important. People in the town lean on each other and support each other in many ways. One way Collinsville community members show this is by shopping locally and supporting the business owners in town.

People in Collinsville use their resources wisely and are not stingy with them. 

When someone has a big garden that does well, they give away fresh produce to their friends and neighbors without a second thought. 

One of the most important lessons I learned in Collinsville is the importance of having relationships and really knowing the people in your town. I noticed people here actually having conversations. It is valuable to leave your phone in your pocket for a few minutes and interact with people around you.

I cannot express my gratitude enough to the people at the library, my host family, teachers, and the children and adults that I grew to know and love this summer. The lessons I learned and memories I made in Collinsville will forever be a part of me.

Thank you for an experience I will never forget! 

Last Updated: August 09, 2017