I am a product of my community. A product of this community. Long before the Love where you live movement. Before the fashion of older buildings and exposed brick. Before the idea of downtown restoration, there was me. A shy little girl raised right near the poverty line in a trailer park in this community. Free/reduced school lunches and Medicaid. I am the daughter of a hard-working Dan River Mills mechanic. Blue-collar was not only his stereotype but legitimately the color in which he wore. Twelve-hour shifts were not foreign to him. Caring for his family started long before his workday and long after.
Hard work and respect were integral values taught within our home. Wednesday night church and Sunday School each week were non-negotiables. We had little, but took good care of what we had. Truthfully, it was more than enough. I never wanted for anything, and I didn’t know any different. Nintendo game system and Big-League Chew on the weekends. Endless hours playing in the creek and woods throughout the summer made me into the person I am today. We played till the streetlights would come on or until we heard our daddies’ whistle telling us to head on home. In the trailer park, everyone looked out for the children. I spent many days at other kitchen tables enjoying a meal. I watched television with the elderly couple two lots down. This community became a family. I was shaped and molded by Head Start preschool and my public-school education. This is the community that shaped me.
I spent most of my teenage years trying my best to get away from this community that helped raise me. It wasn’t “cool” to stay in Danville. Getting out was the only way to success. Going to college was an option, but ultimately, running away from this dying city was the best way to ensure happiness. I had no intentions of going to college if I couldn’t get out of this godforsaken town. I wanted to leave and make a life for myself outside of these city limits. When all plans to escape failed, I applied to Danville Community College. I started working with young children and slowly this community awakened my passion and life’s calling of working with young children. Remember that girl that had no intentions of attending college, well she found her spark and wouldn’t settle for anything less than learning more. My time at DCC was hands down some of the most formative years in my college education. I found my love of early childhood development, and I wanted to dive in further. An associate degree was nice, but my love of learning left me wanting more. I contemplated all my transfer options, and I considered once again escaping this community that helped build me. Even when others advise of bigger institutions, areas of more resources, and locations with more career opportunities… I still found myself on a college campus in my hometown. Averett University was an amazing educational experience that helped mold my passion for educating young children while supporting my strengths as a student. This college, this community, shaped me.
My time at both Averett and Danville Community College are experiences in my life that I would never exchange. That’s something this get-out-of-dodge girl never thought would happen. I only wanted to move away with a fresh start, maybe follow all the cool kids. Remember, this was before loving your hometown became trendy. Long before we re-imaged our town’s identity. This was during our city’s biggest factory shutdown. I sat in class with women twice my age who had built a career and life at Dan River Mills. When the factory shut down, these women had to rebuild their entire lives and rethink their careers. These women knew my father for their decades of time spent at the mill. Working in textile was all they ever knew. This community, which was falling apart, was also the community that helped shape me. The community that helped rebuild lives for those beautiful souls sitting beside me in class. Something about seeing a loss like this helped me be grateful to have found my passion, grateful for the opportunity to attend college.
In 2009, I found myself at yet another crossroads, considering moving away from this community I had started to love. I married my best friend that year and ultimately; we stayed. Throughout my early adulthood and most of my teenage years, I often felt stuck in Danville. However, it was during those first few years of marriage, and as my husband and I built our life together, that I realized something different. I wasn’t stuck in Danville. I was called to Danville. I was meant to stay in this city that built me. I was meant to serve in this community that shaped me. So here I am, born, raised, stayed, and educated in this city. Every time I log in to teach a course at DCC, every time I take my children for a walk past the Averett campus, every time my children see the Dan River Mills smoke towers and shout, “That’s where papa worked,” I am reminded that this city in my Home. Always has been, and always will be. This is the community that shaped me.