Auburn mentoring program creates opportunities to strengthen community

By Carol Nelson, Office of Communications and Marketing



Macon County juniors and seniors, some now recent high school graduates, are developing skills related to life, work, college and service as part of a mentoring program offered by Auburn University students led by Mark Wilson, director of Civic Learning Initiatives in the College of Liberal Arts.

Students meet every other week throughout the school year, share a meal and take part in sessions on topics like money management and philanthropy, offered by Auburn's Cary Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies; test preparation for the ACT and the Alabama High School Graduation Exam; and career planning.

Through the program, many of the high school students are fulfilling requirements for Bridge Builders Alabama, a two-year program designed to prepare young people to become leaders in their communities.

"We found a partnership with a small rural church, Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church, located between Notasulga and Tuskegee, which allows us to hang out with the students, have a meal and work on something that matters," Wilson said.

This year, the students took part in an educational service and beautification project. The group worked with Kay Stone from the Auburn University Environmental Institute; as part of her outreach efforts, Stone has created an environmental art program through which she teaches students that a person can be a good steward of the land without being a scientist.

"One of the ways we tie art into science is through stained glass mosaics," Stone said. "Mark approached me about doing benches with the students that would be placed in various public locations throughout Macon County."

Students met with Stone and her assistant Heather Hughes to determine the artwork and messaging for three benches. Stone and Hughes mocked up several of the student ideas, and students chose their top three: "Let Macon County Blossom," "Education is Key," and one that depicts three historic buildings in Tuskegee.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, community members, local politicians and family members joined the students to apply the stained glass tiles to the benches. Later, the students participated in another workday where they grouted and cleaned the tiles to complete the benches.

The first bench, decorated with the theme, "Education is key," was placed in front of Tuskegee Youth Safe Haven along with a "little free library" and a pear tree, which was donated by Blooming Colors of Auburn. The students installed the bench and the library and planted the tree in early May. The other benches were placed, one each, in Tuskegee's town square and the other in Notasulga.

Jocelyn Zanzot and Kevin Moore of Auburn's College of Architecture, Design and Construction and artist Dan Neil, curator of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, led students through the design and building process for the little free library, which offers free books housed in a small structure to members of the community. Students held book drives to build a collection, and citizens can now freely borrow and return books to the free-standing dollhouse-sized library.

"Community projects have a knack for helping university folk from different disciplines figure out ways to collaborate, and this particular project is a good example of how people from several colleges did more together than they could have done separately," Wilson said. "We need more of that."

Elizabeth Graham, a 2013 graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in Tuskegee, said that the mentorship program has taught her not only about the things she wants to do with her life, but to think about how those things can benefit others in her community.

"I'm not about to leave my community, but I'm leaving high school," she said. "I'd like to see the community get better rather than see it constantly go down. I'm very involved in the community through this program and through other programs, so I get to see the good and the bad. I want all to do well; I want all to have a goal and to strive for more."

The mentoring program is funded in part by the Appalachian Regional Commission. To learn more about the project and the students' experiences, visit the blog at

Last Updated: June 17, 2013

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