Local teens lead community effort

Published 3:08 am Monday, January 31, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
Civil War soldiers still need leaders.
Youth Leadership Atmore (YLA), a program designed to help teenagers become leaders in their community, is trying to rebuild a nearly forgotten cemetery, housing the graves of Confederate veterans and turn-of-the-century residents of Atmore.
Williams Station Cemetery, at the end of Church Street, was left neglected for around 20 years after the Boy Scouts renovated the cemetery as their service project in 1985, YLA adviser and program director Valerie Owens said.
YLA is made up of 20 11th graders from Escambia Academy and Escambia County High School. After seeing the cemetery they decided to adopt it as their own service project.
"We found out about this cemetery on history day," Samantha Smith a member of YLA said. "We were just appalled when we saw the way this place looked."
History day is the day YLA learned about Atmore's past.
"We met at the Episcopal Church and got a history lesson about the church and we did a hayride through town that took us here," Smith said as she looked around the cemetery Saturday.
Years of neglect and the damage caused by Hurricane Ivan has left many of the graves with broken markers and has destroyed much of the fence around the cemetery. An oak tree appearing to be over 100 years old was knocked down by the storm and destroyed a Woodsman of the World grave marker, Smith said.
"After we get things cleaned up we want to plant flowers and replace the fence," she said. "We'd also like to contact some local funeral homes and find out what they do as far as upkeep."
Owens is fond of Smith and the leadership she has shown during this project.
"Samantha (Smith) is sort of the leader of this group," she said.
Smith denies the claim.
"I'm more like a secretary; I keep up with stuff," she said. "It makes things easier on everybody if someone keeps up with stuff."
The property is currently owned by the Methodist Church, but the city is looking into taking over the maintenance of the cemetery.
Upkeep of the cemetery will be an ongoing process, Mayor Howard Shell said.
"I applaud these young people for what they are doing," he said.
Shell recently attended lunch with the YLA to discuss the project and other concerns about the city. He was very complimentary of the students' intelligence and interests in Atmore's history.
"They are very astute individuals who seem genuinely interested in what is going on in Atmore." Shell said.
Owens became involved with YLA after going through the Leadership Atmore training program last year."
"The impact of the program made such a difference in me," she said. "I heard that YLA no longer had anyone to advise them and I wanted to make sure it continued so I offered to do this."
The program accepts applications from area students and begins each October with an overnight retreat designed to build teamwork skills.
"They have to complete an application and there's also an interview process to be selected for the program," Owens said. "Brooks Memorial Funeral Home provides transportation to our events; we have gone to Swift Lumber Company and Muscogee Iron Works. We were supposed to begin our service project in December but the Hurricane pushed it back."
YLA hopes this project will inspire people in the community to keep the cemetery nice, which will in turn help preserve the small town's rich history.
"We are trying to get a street sign to let people know this is here," Owen said.
The city has approved for a sign to be put up, Shell said.
Saturday was the first day YLA was able to work on Williams Station Cemetery, but it is not its last. A company has volunteered to cut up the fallen tree and another has volunteered to rebuild the fence, Smith said.
"We'd like to thank the people who have already helped us and everybody who have donated money and supplies," she said.
Anyone wanting to make a monetary donation or labor, please call the Owens at the Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce at

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