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Summer in Collinsville Opens Doors for McCauley

Shaye McCauley’s love for reading started early in life.  “My family and I would always bring word searches or books for our eight-hour drive to the beach,”  McCauley recalls.

Her experiences helped McCauley see books as a better way to pass time than anything else. However, she first realized that reading was a luxury for some when she worked in the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) through her high school in Franklin, Tennessee, for two years. This program provided children from failing schools with enrichment opportunities.

McCauley’s extroverted and encouraging persona showed through when she was a “reading buddy” for a young girl in the program. By the end of the two years, the young girl came out of her shell, showing McCauley more evidence of the power of words and relationships.

Later on, as a student at Auburn University, McCauley was made aware that too many children in Alabama were reading below grade level. Wanting to meet the problem head on, McCauley decided to major in education, later switching to social work.

“I turned to social work because I could impact and reach out and get people to come out of their shells and let down their guard,” she said.

In the summer of 2014, the 21-year-old McCauley channeled her passion for reading and community action to the North Alabama community of Collinsville as a Living Democracy student.  She partnered with the Collinsville Public Library, helping them with summer reading classes for children. She was able to bring free books to the effort through the Scholastic Family and Community Engagement (FACE) programBy the end of her ten weeks there, the Collinsville reading group jumped from just a few young children to more than 25. McCauley said that parents told her that they started reading to their children more often as a result.

She also conducted reading classes for Hispanic immigrants in the area and started computer classes for older people who wanted to learn more about computer applications such as Facebook.

Today, McCauley is working as an intern in Washington D.C. with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

She said her experience with Living Democracy is helping her with the internship. “Living Democracy really gave me the confidence to be like, hey, my thoughts and my ideas can be turned into projects that can be beneficial to other people. I understand my capabilities,” McCauley said.

In her internship at NAMI, McCauley is a helpline referral specialist who takes calls about their research and from those suffering from mental illnesses and problems. McCauley also works as a policy analyst, drafting letters to legislators about mental illness issues.

Looking ahead to graduation in May of 2015, McCauley said being able to start her own projects and writing published articles about her summer in Collinsville helped her prepare for future opportunities.

“Ideally, what I’m looking for is a job that really reaches out to oppressed populations such as women, people of color, and the LGBT community.”

McCauley has applied to the Peace Corps and plans on taking this time in her life to build even more experiences in living democracy.