Living Democracy in Appalachia: A Visit from the Clearfork Community Institute

By Mark Wilson

0408_kclo_marie03_atb_t607The Clearfork Community Institute in Eagan, Tennessee is housed in a renovated coal camp school, one of the last ones in the Clearfork Valley still standing. Most of the folk living in this valley moved out decades ago, following jobs that went to the cities.  Some people stayed.  Some people moved back after getting hurt on the job or retiring. Marie Cirillo recently retired as director.  She moved to the area on 1967, and she has spent the last four decades organizing local people around issues that matter to them.

IMG_0494We had the good fortune this week of having her, along with CCI’s new director Marie Webster, and Volunteers in Partnership Jesse Scott and Sam Marlow on campus with us.  On Wednesday, several AU students joined the CCI team on a tour of AU’s Rural Studio, and on Thursday, the group spoke to the Introduction to Community and Civic Engagement and Women in Leadership classes.  That evening, the group led over 40 participants in a session on rural community development in the age of ecological destruction.

IMG_0498The CCI example of community development is an important one, since it represents the ability and will of citizens to take action on issues that matter.  People in rural areas matter, and our friends are a reminder of why urban and rural communities should find find creative and innovative ways to work together.  We look forward to another spring class, another semester of collaboration, and another spring break filled with adventure and learning experiences.


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