Contributed by Dal Macon, February 2016
Working with the Student Health Coalition (SHC) during the summer of 1971, my role was to coordinate the support staff of non-medical students during each Health Fair. The background to the need for that position, I was told, came from the preceding summers. During ’69 and ’70 the experience of exploring what the program was to be, for the most part, had been greeted with open arms and calls for more. In 1970, a caution had been practiced with selecting who had been invited to participate, and so SHC’s plan for increasing the staff in ’71 brought hesitations. But, the idea also was viewed with a willingness to try it from the reason that a large number of local people would probably be attending the fairs. And this consideration justified at least experimenting with a larger staff.
Their responsibilities included taking medical histories and keeping records, together with the more repetitive lab jobs such as taking blood pressure. And from that, my responsibilities were handling the staff’s scheduling, everyone’s job assignments, dealing with unexpected needs and, generally, overseeing for a smooth daily operation. During that summer we occasionally conducted two Health Fairs simultaneously and dividing the staff into two teams, fairly, became another responsibility (and a challenge).
My filling the role was moderately successful, but not without complaints. Examples were that some of the staff had been overlooked by repeatedly being assigned to less interesting jobs or that I had not given some problems adequate attention. I do seem to recall that one or two people left early with the opinion that their experience had not matched their anticipation. By the summer’s conclusion, the overall evaluation of the many aspects of SHC and the Health Fairs was positive, but the experiment of expanding the support staff was viewed as more negative and not to be continued. In many ways the operation had been strong, but not as much due to or proportional to the larger number of workers.
Briefly, my personal experience was very positive. The values of wanting social-economic-political change had grown in me during my undergraduate years, but at that point they were still at only a beginning point. By the end of the three months, though, those ‘beginning values’ had become much more tested and real. The SHC focus on local residents as defining successful community change was and continues to be confirmed. While becoming a full time ‘organizer’ or ‘worker’ was not to be my primary commitment, the summer with SHC has colored my perception and thought of community ethics– both political and non-political–ever since.
Since that summer of ’71, more has happened in everyone’s life than can, even generally, be described. But in a very few sentences here, an attempt will be made to point at why, forty five years later, I’m still in the area and what kinds of things I’ve done.
The following eight years were not in Appalachia. Rather, supporting myself with various jobs and traveling, choosing studio art and returning to school for it, and getting married were among the significant events.
Through much more coincidence and circumstance than intention, deciding to move back to the area was due to both of our interests. My wife, Marian Colette, also had an exposure to community work in the Kentucky County that neighbors the Clearfork area. One decision led to situations that led to more decisions. Since being here, most of my time has been spent being a spouse/parent, teaching on the very small college level, doing art when time allowed and, yes, being involved with community issues, projects, and programs.
For example, being seen as an ‘artist’, I painted some murals. For a number of years we fought successfully against the invasion of landfills just north of Jellico. Ironically, Marian was the one that worked with the Center for Health Services (CHS) at Vanderbilt and operated a Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker (MIHOW) program that grew into a larger family program operated by local people. I had my own jobs, but taught GED students in the evenings.
Serving on the board to the Woodland Community Land Trust (WCLT) was an invitation that was made out of people knowing me as someone who had been around and a guy who did some art. By that time, the mid 90’s, I had begun teaching as an adjunct on the college level, our kids were in school, and time was even more limited. As much as WCLT has achieved many of its purposes by providing a stability and hope to some, it has not been easy or without problems or, even, setbacks. I continue to serve on the WCLT board.
That’s enough to generally point at what I’ve done. We’ve enjoyed ourselves as much from just living in the country as the other reasons. Opportunities to become involved are always around. The SHC experience gave me an openness to live here, to see some of the area’s problems, to work towards solutions, and, most of all, to know and enjoy the people who live here.”