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Mary Afton Day

Community and Civic Engagement and Living Democracy Fellow
College of Liberal Arts

Mary Afton Day, named for her father's favorite poem "Sweet Afton" by Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns, is a Community and Civic Engagement and Living Democracy Fellow in the College of Liberal Arts. A desire to help others and an internship in Greensboro, Ala., where she organized tornado recovery efforts, aided citizens in applying for utilities assistance and mentored youth, guided her to study public administration and community and civic engagement. This week, Day will accept the 2013 Award for Outstanding Student Contributions to Service-Learning and Higher Education from the Gulf-South Summit on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement through Higher Education.

1. What led you to public administration and civic and community engagement?

I was barely into my second month as an Auburn freshman when I knew pre-optometry was not the major for me. I had never been math or science minded, but I have always had a passion for helping people. I was ignorant to the fact that I could be just as much help without a medical degree as I could with one. So I marched myself – and my folder – over to Tichenor Hall and became an "undecided" liberal arts major. It wasn't until after my spur-of-the-moment summer internship with the nonprofit organization HERO, the Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization, in Greensboro, Ala., that I found my calling. Ever since, my college career has been focused on networking and learning all things community and civic engagement, and I couldn't have found a better fit! After graduation, I would like to spend more time participating in revitalization efforts in Alabama's Black Belt region and I hope to one day establish my own nonprofit for at-risk youth and single mothers.

2. What have been some of your most memorable service-learning experiences as a civic and community engagement student?

I have three all-time favorite experiences. The first is from last year's spring break trip to former coal-mining town Eagan, Tenn. In the Liberal Arts practicum course Community Development in Appalachia, we learned about this small, unincorporated area in the Clearfork Valley of Tennessee. While there, we implemented a "photovoice" project and conducted interviews with the elders of the community. Fellow student Evan Lutomski and I were paired with Troy and Alice Cox. Troy and Alice live in the same hollow 300 feet down from where he was born. The couple's story and views of life made for the most memorable afternoons during that week.

Second, from this past summer, I participated in a "green bean drop." While sorting through more than 2,000 pounds of green beans, I made the acquaintance of 86-year-old Mr. Jimmy Scruggs. Mr. Jimmy is an Auburn pharmacy graduate, a Navy veteran and retired pharmacist of Marion's College City Drug. We bonded over Glenn Miller, America in the 1940s and Tony Bennett. Who knew sorting green beans could be so wonderful?!

Lastly, again in Marion, I had the pleasure of interviewing the ladies of the West Perry Arts and Crafts Club for my community-wide photography project. Ms. Mattie Atkins and Ms. Eunice Hewitt are two women who have had many experiences and are filled to the brim with sweet words and guidance. Watching their hands glide over the community quilt and listening to their life stories is an experience I will gladly pass on to friends and family. I wouldn't trade these moments for anything.

3. You call yourself an "Army brat," and say that your parents passed down the "travel gene." What have been some of your favorite trips?

I'm proud to say that I have participated in two cross-country road trips: one was a family vacation following the Lewis and Clark Trail out West, and the other, a girls' trip with my sister to Yellowstone National Park. In summer 2010 I had my first hop across the pond to jolly ol' England where my family and I spent three weeks exploring England, Wales and Scotland. My favorite memory is visiting New Cumnock and seeing the Afton Water. I hope to travel to Ireland in summer 2014 after graduation. I also hope to visit all 50 states – so far I'm at 40, total. Then, I'll begin tackling continents and countries!

4. How do you spend the rest of your free time?

I spend the remainder of my free time collecting vintage vinyl. I always say music isn't music unless it has white noise. I pride myself on never purchasing a classic record for more than $10. The majority of my priceless collection is from my amazing dad. Second to baseball, my dad and I share our love for records while grooving to The Stylistics. My favorite finds include my original press Beatles' Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band for $6 at a small antique shop in Arab, Ala.; Otis Redding's The Soul Album at our very own Angel's Antiques for $7.50 and Pat Benatar's In the Heat of the Night for $1.

When I'm not hunting through cardboard boxes and shelves full of dusty vinyl, I'm out being a "tourist" taking pictures. Photography is one of the most expressive of my hobbies, and I enjoy capturing with a camera how I see the world around me – rather corny, but it's the truth; the eye and the lens sometimes don't and can't capture the same views, and it's an exciting puzzle to try and make it happen!

5. If you could give one piece of advice to other Auburn students who want to get involved in serving the community, what would you tell them?

I would have to say to not be afraid of failure. The whole idea behind service is knowing how far you can go and how far a community is willing to meet you. You can't force change or relationships. Service can be a wonderful experience for both parties if you know it takes time and that it is a process.

Feb. 25, 2013