Did you awake this morning and stretch? Most of us do. And if we didn’t before we got out of bed, we certainly do while getting dress. We stretch and bend over to pick up shoes, to open a drawer, to perhaps pull up slacks. Let’s face it…We all stretch our bodies. But what about stretching our minds, our activities, our souls, and most importantly our vision?
Cotton has been a staple industry of the south for three centuries. To many people, cotton would seem more agriculture than industry but the southern United States, particularly Mississippi and Alabama developed cotton, a crop that made Egyptian textiles plentiful and beautiful, into an art form. The Mississippi Delta, land in the northwestern part of the state, grew some of the finest cotton in the world, thanks in part to the surrounding waters of the Mississippi River. North Alabama became famous for cotton used for industrial purposes like towels and bedding, duvets, and upholstery.
Merrimack Manufacturing Company of Lowell, Massachusetts opened a textile mill in Huntsville, Alabama on July 9, 1900. The company used Merrimack Hall, built ten years earlier, as the hub for the mill village. Houses had been built for the mill employees and by 1913, Merrimack Mill Village consisted of houses, a school, hospital, store, and cemetery. Ten years later the store which was a two-story building built in 1890 was enlarged to twenty-five thousand feet to serve as a community center. The newly refurbished Merrimack Hall opened its doors with the Merrimack Drug Company, two barbershops, a grocery store, a bicycle repair shop, and a café. The second story included a gymnasium and two large meeting rooms used by local civic groups and the community.
Merrimack Mills (a second mill built within ten years of the first), grew to over sixteen hundred employees. Today, a century later, the town of Huntsville has enclosed Merrimack Village. Less than three hundred of the original duplexes constructed as employee housing remain. Merrimack Village Historic District became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. But what happened to Merrimack Hall?
In 2006 Alan and Debra Jenkins purchased Merrimack Hall and stretched their budget to renew the building and its purpose. Today the building serves as a concert venue, the upper two rooms now an auditorium with a stage. Musicals, comedians, and concerts delight the public. Those are the sideline purposes, though. Merrimack hall was renewed for a much larger purpose. You see, Debra Jenkins was determined to stretch the vision of all who drove past the dilapidated building. She was a woman on a mission, a woman with a purpose.
Today Merrimack Hall is a 501c3 nonprofit organization and that gymnasium on the upper floor serves as the home for Dance Your Dreams. Their website says it best: “Our mission is to provide visual and performing arts education, and cultural activities, to children and adults with special needs and to provide quality professional entertainment to the community. Our Johnny Stallings Arts Program (JSAP) serves more than 500 children, teens and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities each year through a variety of weekly classes and special programs. In addition to JSAP, Merrimack Hall also gives back to the community by providing facility use to other nonprofit organizations, and reduced or free tickets to the underserved. Since opening our doors in 2007, Merrimack Hall has given back more than $1.5 million to the community. Each time you purchase a ticket, you are helping to fund our outreach programs, and we thank you for your patronage!”
Volunteers give of their time three times a week to be dance partners to the wonderful dancers with disabilities. They help them travel across the boards and the smiles reflected in the shining wax surface of the floor come from both dancers and their volunteer partners. Having done this for two years I can testify to that. It is a glorious experience, one that stretches not only the body but the heart strings.
Some people walks in their neighborhood and others have walking buddies. It may not seem like much but these are the things that improve our focus and bring our community into vision, giving us a clearer connection to all. We all need to exercise not only our bodies and minds but our spirits and that is best done by helping others. What will you stretch today?