By Larry Lee
South Alabama had cast winter’s drab coat aside and was welcoming Spring’s cascade of colors as I left Montgomery on a recent Saturday morning and headed down the interstate.
Past Fort Deposit and Priester’s Pecans. Past Greenville and Bates House of Turkey. Past Georgiana where Tee Tot taught a young Hank Williams to play the guitar. To Evergreen where I turned right toward Repton and Ollie and my destination of Monroeville.
A town of 6,700, Monroeville will forever be linked to its most famous citizen, Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Thousands of tourists visit the town each year, drawn by the mystique of the book that has sold 30 million copies.
But my mission this day was culinary, not literary. I was a judge for the first-ever Big Butt BBQ Bash, a fund-raiser for the Monroe County HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Pre-school Youngsters) program. Obviously someone looked at my waistline and figured that I enjoy eating.
HIPPY works with the parents of four and five-year old children. Parent-educators visit homes for 30 weeks to teach a lesson to a parent, who then teach their child. This way, not only do children get a head start on school, but in many cases a parent gains in parenting skills and their own self-confidence.
This is the eighth year for HIPPY Monroe County. About 700 children have been served so far. The annual budget is $150,000; about 60 percent is raised locally.
Cindy Kennedy chairs the local HIPPY advisory board of 18 folks. They began planning their event in late 2012. “We knew it would be a big undertaking and we wanted to do our homework,” says Kennedy, whose husband, Mike, is mayor of Monroeville.
One of the first things they did was contact the Alabama Barbecue Association for pointers. The group joined ABA which got their event on their calendar and website. ABA also oversaw the judging the day of the event.
Some 16 teams were in the contest, five of them from Louisiana. Competition was in three categories; pork, chicken and ribs. Grand Champion was Randy’s Rib Shack from Tibbie, AL, just down highway 17 from Chatom in Washington County.
At the end of the day Cindy and her band of devoted volunteers raised $15,000 for a cause they strongly believe in.
As I headed out of town, after getting my fill of some of the best BBQ I’ve ever tried, I realized that what I’d been a part of was not as much about HIPPY as it was about the basic decency that makes this such a great land in which to live.
This scene of reaching out to help our neighbors is repeated countless times each year in every community. This coming together of people from all walks of life for the common good. A time when Republicans, Democrats, blacks, whites, conservatives, liberals, Baptists and Catholics put aside whatever differences they may have to share in striving for a mutual goal of simply making this land better for all of us.
It’s a spirit that has been on display since this country was first settled. A spirit that culminated in barn raisings and gathering a sick neighbors’ crop once upon a time.
And unfortunately, it is a spirit that is too often missing when our political leaders come together these days. Rather than seeking a common good, politicians seem far more intent on dividing and conquering in some mad dash for power.
The good folks who support the Monroe County HIPPY program are already planning their next BBQ contest. It will be April 18, 2015.
I encourage you to go ahead and mark your calendar. You will have some great food, a good time and a wonderful lesson in what this country is really all about.
Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education and frequently writes about education issues. [email protected]