November 16, 2023
– By Gabrielle Lamplugh –
ENI Community Liaison Emily Simpson has lived in Crossville, Alabama for her whole life. Emily shared that this northeast Alabama community of a couple of thousand residents has greatly influenced who she is today. While many young adults long to move away from their hometown, she couldn’t be more proud to call Crossville home.
“Everybody is always very supportive,” Emily said while sharing how she has been inspired to contribute to her community.
When she first finished school, she invested in the revival of downtown Crossville, opening a business on one of the city’s main streets.
“I opened my first business right after high school and it was actually one of the oldest buildings in the downtown,” Emily explained.
“We were able to fully renovate that building,” Emily said. “I look at it as giving back to my community because we took this old building and restored it and so it now is a main focal point and scenic view for the town.”
Currently, Emily is also contributing to the community in her capacity as an ENI Community Liaison. As a part of her role, she oversees the local Youth Community Council and is helping with the development of Crossville’s healing zone. She shared how meaningful it is to contribute to this evolution in her hometown.
“The healing zone is in the park where I grew up,” Emily recalled. “Where I went to play and had soccer games and softball games – it’s more personal to me because the town is all I know.”
Emily is also excited to contribute to youth development in the community through ENI’s Youth Community Council. Kids in rural areas don’t always have access to the same resources that kids in bigger cities have. But getting kids involved can help strengthen the community. It also can improve the kids’ leadership skills, community knowledge, and social and emotional health.
“It’s very important for kids [that] when you’re in the community, they need to be involved,” Emily said. “I feel like it needs to start at a young age when you begin to give back to your community,” Emily said.
As for the future, Emily can’t imagine a town that she would be happier to call home.
“I feel like I really couldn’t ask for a better place to live,” Emily shared. “And, I feel like I get to experience all of the things that other people do. I didn’t miss out just because I didn’t live somewhere else or move away and then come back.”
ENI Community Liaison David Perez shared a similar sentiment. He has also spent much of his life living in rural communities, including his hometown of Kilpatrick, Alabama.
While David didn’t intend to stay in Kilpatrick after completing his degree at Troy University and his military service, he is grateful for the way that life has turned out. Currently, David commutes between Kilpatrick and Birmingham for work. He shared how this experience has changed his perspective on leaving his hometown.
“You think things should go one way, and they don’t,” David said. “But I like going back to the quiet, I like going back to what I know…it worked out in the sense that it allowed me to grow personally.”
David shared that part of that growth has been the ability to be a mentor and contribute to youth development in his community. When he first returned home, he spent time as a substitute teacher. And these days he leads the local ENI Youth Community Council.
“[It’s rewarding] being able to go in there and have conversations with the school-aged kids and expose them to new ideas,” David shared. “Especially for Hispanics, a lot of them aren’t used to seeing someone that went to school or served in the military.”
David said his teaching career also helped him better understand the challenges and changes that young people are facing. He believes that he can play a special role in helping to prepare them to take on the adult world.
“Youth are going to grow up and add to this new world that’s changing,” David explained. “It’s pretty different from when I was young and there are different ideas and especially in a small, rural community there are tough conversations.”
“You have to talk them through those things,” David emphasized, sharing that he is proud to be a part of those conversations.
Whether they are mentoring students, incubating businesses, or contributing to community development, David and Emily are proud to be living in their hometowns on purpose. From their perspective, no matter where young adults live, they can play an important role of transforming the heart and health of their communities.
To learn more about ENI’s commitment to engaging young people and helping them live with purpose in their hometowns, check out our new ENI video series entitled “Click Play.” There are videos on Equipping Youth to Lead Change, Engaging Youth as Health Leaders, & a wonderful example of starting an organization for youth from scratch (PHYRE).