Love Builds Community

Selena traveled with several of her Collab Lab colleagues on a “SEE THE POSSIBLE “trip sponsored by Danville Regional Foundation.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a leadership conference hosted by NC Rural. In one of the icebreaker assignments, we were asked to write a poem about where we are from. This activity allowed me to take a trip down memory lane. During those days of growing up in Danville, Va., the scent of the dye from Dan River Mills filled the air on some days. Stadium seats at George Washington High School were packed at all sporting events, not just because we had great teams but because our school spirit was incredible. I reminisced about cruising on Sunday evenings in Ballou Park. The city with a river running through it will always be my hometown, but over the past 21 years, Caswell County in North Carolina has become home to me.

Love Builds Community
Selena Thornton Knyla Harris Photography

I moved to Pelham, NC just a few months before my oldest son was born. Soon after his arrival, I decided to end my career as a beautician and enroll at Piedmont Community College. My goal at that time was to attain my degree and open a counseling center for women. Little did I know I would fall in love with rural life. My love for Danville has never left me, though. Over the years, I have found myself concerned about matters in both Danville and Caswell.

Many of my childhood friends and family members are now community leaders and business owners in Danville, and I do my very best to support them as much as possible while also being actively engaged in community building in Caswell. It is exciting to see the community work taking place around the Dan River Region, and I am in awe a lot of days that I have a front row seat.

I have had the opportunity to live out a childhood dream of mine. As a little girl, I used to sit on the steps in Rippe’s as my grandmothers and aunts shopped. I imagined myself modeling the beautiful coats and hats. Now I have the opportunity to travel to Danville and live out that childhood dream.

Love Builds Community
Selena teaches the youth in Cool Beans and several of the Danville Church Based and Community tutorial sites how to grow fruits and vegetables in vertical gardens. Her goal is to have a tower garden in every public school in Caswell County.

Over the past year, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work alongside my former track coach, Kenny Lewis, with the Danville Church and Community Based Tutorial Program. Tutoring sites will be available in Caswell County this upcoming school year. I will be helping these sites in the Danville River Region as the STEM coordinator, monitoring the program and teaching the children how to grow vegetables in tower gardens.

Serving on several boards in Caswell, such as the Chamber of Commerce, Piedmont Progressive Farmers’ Cooperative, and the NC National Women In Agriculture Association has allowed me to reunite with Danville Regional Foundation (DRF) and be a part of the community collaboration efforts they are implementing throughout the Dan River Region. I was a member of the very first Collaboration Lab, which includes individuals from various organizations with a variety of roles and responsibilities. Not only did we learn about others’ organizations, but we also learned about how we can collaborate with one another to make the Dan River Region healthier and happier for all of us who live and play here. We were able to see the differences and similarities in our communities. Most of all, we were able to identify possibilities to form positive community collaboration.

I am fortunate to be a part of two initiatives that DRF has been working on here in Caswell County.  The first is the Pelham Community Council. Pelham is not the only Caswell community that DRF is working with; this is just the focus group in which I am involved. The goal is to help DRF understand the wants, needs, and challenges of residents in each community group and to navigate ways in which the foundation can support community improvement projects.

Love Builds Community
Selena and the Cool Beans Ag Kids during their BACK-TO-SCHOOL PEP RALLY held at the Pelham Community Center.

The other initiative is the Caswell Education Collaborative, which focuses on supporting Caswell students, parents, and faculty.  More about this initiative will be available this fall. Both projects allow me to learn from other residents in Caswell, but most of all, to see the endless possibilities our rural community has to make life in Caswell even better for our children without losing the rural landscape. As a local farmer, I appreciate that.

For many years, I have hosted women’s empowerment workshops all over the Dan River Region, meeting and forming friendships and partnerships with many women in the region. This has been a humbling experience and an honor that I value greatly.

My love for the Dan River Region and my hopes for creating even more sustainable opportunities for our young residents to safely and healthily grow and thrive are the reasons my life quilt has patches of Danville, Caswell, Pittsylvania, Halifax, Chatham, and Person counties beautifully woven together.

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