Living Democracy

Collinsville Teaches the Importance of Community

Collinsville Public LibraryWhen I was first informed that my summer as part of Living Democracy would be in Collinsville, Alabama, I was excited and nervous. Even though I have lived in North Alabama my whole life, I knew nothing about Collinsville. All I knew was that I wanted to be of service to others and learn more about my role in society.

My time in Collinsville this summer has been one of new experiences, learning hard lessons, and growing as a member of civic society. I have learned what it means to contribute as a member of a community.

I am very thankful for Mark and Pat Shatzel for allowing me to stay with them for the duration of the summer. They were very kind, and Pat cooked me the most delicious food every week.

This summer I worked with Jennifer Wilkins and the rest of the staff at the Collinsville Public Library, as well as with Dr. Frances Koe and her staff at her clinic, Valley Care DPC. The experiences at both of these places have helped me build my confidence.

Dr. Koe's ClinicWhile working with Dr. Koe, I learned valuable lessons about what it means to serve the community. One must be open to all people and be willing to go the extra mile. Dr. Koe was a mentor to me as an aspiring rural physician. She goes out of her way to do home visits and nursing home visits for members of the community, which is rare in today’s hectic society.

At the clinic, I was confronted with the harsh reality that many people cannot afford health insurance. It was something that I did not want to accept, but it helped me learn what I can do to help the members of my community. I learned that all people deserve quality health care, no matter their socioeconomic status. I came into contact with a new type of medicine, direct patient care, which provides care to those without insurance. The things I learned about medicine are so beneficial to me, and I will hopefully be able to use everything I learned some day in my own clinic.

Children's program at the libraryWorking on the summer programs for children at the library, I learned a lot about trial and error. I learned that it is okay to realize that something is not going to go as planned. I also realized that it is so much better to give than to receive. Being able to provide for the children of the community during our programs was such a blessing.

I also was pushed out of my comfort zone to experience new parts of civic life. Attending city council and civic club meetings allowed me to realize an important truth: the only way to be involved in a community and have a part in civic life is to engage in the community and hear the voices of others.

At the city council meetings, I heard citizens voice their concerns, and council members were informed of what community members wanted improved. I realized that this is the only way for citizens to effectively change what they want to see different. I am excited to attend city council meetings wherever I end up living in the future.

Most importantly, this summer I learned that effective community change doesn’t have to be big or glamorous. It can be as simple as saying hello to a new person, waving at a stranger as you drive by, or gathering donations for those in need. All it takes to work for good in a community is the drive to start something. I also learned in Collinsville that a project for a community depends on people who are willing to help. The more people get involved and back the project, the more successful it will be.

I was so blessed to be surrounded by some of the kindest people during my time in Collinsville. They were more than willing to support me and help with anything I was doing. I realized that the key to community work is having a group of people willing to back you in everything you do.

Erin teaching in a classroomA quote I read online the other week sums up my experience. Michael Lee West said, “There was another thing I had forgotten about the South: It was the one place on earth where an unsuspecting person could get killed by kindness.” This is so unbelievably true. I am grateful for the people I have met and the encouragement everyone has given me.

Through this experience, I feel prepared to go out and contribute in whatever community I am in. I have learned that it is so important to get involved, meet new people, and extend kindness to everyone. Thank you to everyone in Collinsville who made this summer life-changing. I can’t wait to come back to this little town in the valley.

Last Updated: August 03, 2018