Elba's Embrace Warmed Caroline Allen's Summer
When I first decided to join the Living Democracy program last fall, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I knew I wanted to do something different; something not in an office and in a new place. I knew I was passionate about building community, serving others, and getting to know people of all walks of life.
I took a chance, and ended up in Elba. But I wasn’t the only one who took a chance. The people of Elba took a chance on me. Laurie Chapman, Justin Maddox, and Philip Box looked through several resumes and applications and hoped I would be a good fit. Jack and Jane Brunson went out on a ledge and said yes to housing a complete stranger for ten weeks.
The Elba Community Food Bank let a college kid from out of town come in to try to help with a project so many people from different churches and organizations have built together. The Elba Church of Christ welcomed me around their children and families. The Rotary Club fed me. The Lions Club listened to me. The Interact Club gave me the reins and worked alongside me in the South Alabama mid-July heat. I am so glad I took a chance on Living Democracy, and I’m incredibly humbled and grateful Elba took a chance on me.
During my time in Elba I met so many wonderful people. Hard working, resourceful, generous, and caring people were at every corner, and not a day went by that I didn’t feel appreciated or at home. At every store, church, restaurant, or sidewalk, I was greeted with a smile and a kind word. I moved into a town I couldn’t have even pinned on a map, and in just ten short weeks I found a home. I was invited into peoples’ churches and homes, to their family dinners and birthday parties. The people of Elba welcomed me with open arms and full hearts, and I will never be able to thank them enough for that.
I hope that I was able to return some of that love. I spent many hours at the Giving Garden, a project that touches the lives of many people in the community. The volunteers at the food bank became my friends. I was in awe of the people there who truly embody a servant’s heart. Chelsea, the fearless garden manager, taught me so much about gardening, as well as the personal satisfaction that can come from working hard for a good cause.
The rest of the Restoration 154 team is not only family to me, but inspiration as well. Their passion for their community and the people around them is so contagious. Whether it was sitting at the boat shop, picking vegetables, or selling hamburgers, I am glad that I could do my part to help them. I learned so much from Laurie about how to run a non-profit, as well as how to think creatively to not only solve problems, but add and improve, even when a need as not yet been identified.
I watched people come together as their high school students graduated, their baseball and softball teams represented their town, and their country celebrated July Fourth. Elba gained statewide recognition through the Main Street Alabama program this summer, and I watched the city bubble over with pride. That pride in who they are and where they have been is propelling them toward a bright future.
This small town, which seemed slow to me at first, is continually buzzing with hard-working, dedicated citizens. From the mayor in city hall to the youngest kid on the playground, every person in Elba seems proud to be from there. They love their city, and now I do too.
I want to again thank everyone I met in Elba for embracing me and welcoming me and letting me get to know you and learn from you. I have grown as a person and as a future professional from serving along with you and building stronger communities. You have so many incredible things going on in and around the city, and I appreciate you trusting me enough to let me play a small part in those. I hope that I have left a positive impact on some of the town, and that my presence helped to make Elba better. I look forward to visiting you again soon, and I proudly carry a piece of all of you, and a piece of Elba, in my heart.