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Reaching for a Small Town

From 1971 to 1972 I was a VISTA1 worker in Marked Tree, Arkansas, USA. I had a hard-working VISTA partner named Nancy Jones. After we left, I kept in touch with people in Marked Tree by letter. Then in 1997 Nancy and I made a return visit. We were welcomed with open arms and hearts.

What we were most remembered for was our work with children. These "children" and their families were the people we were able to continue, or pick up, our relationships with, in spite of years without contact.

In 1999 Nancy and I returned for the black school reunion. I began imagining these friends having the tool of RC. When I got home, I sent copies of Black Re-emergence, made telephone calls, and wrote letters to people in Marked Tree. I contacted Dorothy Marcy, the Area Reference Person in Fayetteville, Arkansas, about her leading an RC workshop in the town. We decided she would lead an introductory workshop on April 15, 2000.

To get ready I kept in regular contact with several people in Marked Tree, especially my "chosen leader," Martha Jean Perry, a black first-grade teacher. I called Alma Burt to encourage her to bring her contacts from Dumas, Arkansas, and I asked another Marked Tree friend and his partner, Akilah Eldridge, from Little Rock, to join us.

Marian Wagner, a woman in my RC class in Vermont, decided to come with me to the workshop. She and I arrived in Marked Tree on April 13. We visited as many people as we could, toured the grade school where Martha Jean teaches, made final preparations (bought snacks, checked out the gym where the workshop would be held), and invited every black person we talked to and every white person Martha Jean saw as supportive in her life. Dorothy had told me, "Yes, invite everyone, young and old."

On April 14 I got to meet Dorothy, whose voice, heart, and thinking I had been getting to know on the phone over the past six months. Now there were four RCers in the motel in Marked Tree -- Marian and I from Vermont, and Dorothy and Paula Ellington (Dorothy's alternate Area Reference Person) from Arkansas. Jeffrey Chambliss, a Co-Counselor from New Orleans, Louisiana, came on the next day.

On April 15 we arrived at a sparkling-clean gym. The workshop began with nine people, including a young adult and a young person from Martha Jean's family. This number was added to and taken away from many times during the nine-to-five workshop.

Songs brought us together. At the end of the afternoon session, when people were scattered over the bleachers, Dorothy began singing "Amazing Grace," and the gym was suddenly full of amazing grace as we walked down from the bleachers and back to the stage.

Dorothy was amazing grace. She was beautiful, flexible, open, and loving in her passionate presentation of theory, in spite of continual introductions, interruptions, and background noises from outside, and sometimes inside, the gym.

The day was "for the books"2 in terms of being original, creative, flexible, and in, and of, the heart of the community.

Dorothy and Paula invited people to a fundamentals workshop Paula will be leading in Fayetteville and one Diane Shisk will be leading near Eureka Springs. Dorothy is proposing that the next workshop in Marked Tree be in six months. I heard the Dumas contingent talking about a workshop in Dumas. I am committed to calling Martha Jean one night a week.

We did good. I am very happy. There is lots more to do, and it will happen.

Marilyn McEnery
Danville, Vermont, USA

1 VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America, a United States-sponsored program through which volunteers work to improve the self-sufficiency of low-income communities in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam.
2 "For the books" means outstanding enough to be written up in the record books.


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00