News Volunteer-Leaders Vital to Local Communities

Volunteer-Leaders Vital to Local Communities

Volunteer-Leaders Vital to Local Communities
June 3, 2024 |

By Marlee Jackson

Time may be a precious commodity, but Alabama Farmers Federation members Lisa Lake, Melanie Stokley and Will Crenshaw aren’t afraid to clock countless hours serving their communities.

That servant-leadership is one of the Federation’s greatest strengths, said Federation Organization Department Director Matthew Durdin.

“Many of our county board members are leaders in their churches, civic clubs and so much more,” said Durdin, whose department works directly with county boards, plus Women’s Leadership and Young Farmers committees. “Lisa, Melanie and Will are great examples of folks who understand the value of being invested in the communities they call home. They know change starts small and are willing to get involved, dig deep and make an impact.”

For poultry and cattle farmer Lake, a laundry list of volunteer work spans local and state levels. She serves on the Cullman County Farm-City Committee, is her church’s Vacation Bible School director, teaches an adult women’s Sunday School class and serves on the Federation State Women’s Leadership Committee.

She’s also a member of the Alabama Water Resources Commission.

Lake’s farm background is vital as she and 18 other appointed commissioners review proposals to manage Alabama’s vast water supply. Though Lake said she’s still learning the ropes, she’s willing to ask questions and prioritize problem-solving. This year, that’s included championing private property rights and encouraging plans to prevent floods.

“No matter where I’m serving, I like to ask, ‘How can we make this better?’” Lake said. “We sometimes talk about a problem but don’t always want to talk about solutions to make it better.”

In Alabama’s southwest corner, Stokley similarly spent the last decade improving life — and reducing litter — in Washington County.

Stokley annually coordinated Alabama PALS (People Against a Littered State) Clean Campus presentations for second graders in all county elementary schools. Stokley’s involvement with the Washington County Farmers Federation (she’s a faithful participant in Women’s Leadership Division sewing contests) helped source funding for Clean Campus poster contests.

“I told them, ‘We’ve got to have money. These children will work for a good prize,’” said Stokley, a former educator, remembering her conversation with the board.

Melanie Stokley has championed Alabama PALS (People Against a Littered State) for more than a decade. Last fall, the Washington County Farmers Federation honored the former educator for her impact and influence with a special plaque.

The ask paid off.

Young artists and fledgling anti-litterers earned cash prizes for depicting the “Don’t Drop It on Alabama” message. Many earned state honors, too, though Stokley said the real payoff was seeing youth care about the world around them.

Stokley is now dialing back her Alabama PALS volunteer work, though her heart for service still beats strong. A can-do attitude, ready smile and cheerful nature help Stokley care for relatives, give sewing lessons, pack food for the Backpack Buddies program and smock clothing for her great-grandchildren.

That volunteer spirit is the lifeblood of Alabama PALS, said Assistant Executive Director Jamie Mitchell. The nonprofit has just three employees.

“Melanie has more energy and passion than many younger people I’ve met,” Mitchell said. “She’s a dynamo. If I could get a Melanie in every county, there wouldn’t be a piece of litter left in this state.”

Butler County Probate Judge Ann Steiner Gregory has a similar view of Crenshaw, albeit for securing election integrity. Crenshaw has volunteered at his Manningham community polling place for over 30 years. 

“We need poll workers like Will who know people in their community,” Gregory said.

Will Crenshaw is one of thousands of poll workers who volunteer each primary and general election to ensure voting integrity. He’s volunteered for over 30 years and is encouraging younger community leaders to give their time to poll work.

It’s an important, uncomplicated job, Crenshaw said. Each polling location has a minimum of four workers whose main duty is checking IDs and passing out ballots. Technically a volunteer position, poll workers earn a small stipend for attending voter school to brush up on expectations and working primary and general elections.

Now retired from raising cattle and row crops, Crenshaw readily sacrificed those three days of work during his early years working polls. The tiny time commitment was, and is, worthwhile, said Crenshaw. 

“If you want to try to make a difference, volunteer as a poll worker,” Crenshaw said. “You feel like you’ve made a difference if you’re involved.” 

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