According to their Facebook page, The Montevallo Junior City Council (MJCC) is a group of middle and high school students dedicated to strengthening Shelby County's youth by improving the arts, athletics, and the overall curriculum of Shelby County Schools through community outreach. From left to right, it is comrpised of Riley (16, sophomore, interesting in pursuing acting or teaching), Sam (16, junior, interested in pursuing political science), Tristan (16, sophomore, interested in pursuing biology), Grace (16, sophomore, interested in pursuing psychology, president of the MJCC), Leah (15, freshman), and Miriam (15, freshman).
On the MJCC
Grace: "The junior city council started when I was in 7th grade. We had a lot of free time on our hands and we decided there was a better use of our time than sitting around. We wanted to improve our community and make sure the youth voice was heard. As president, I have a seat in the city council chamber. I get to sit with the actual council and give a report about what we as the junior city council are up to. I get to be a youth representative, and it’s a really exciting position to be able to fill."
Sam: "I think the biggest thing [the MJCC] did was the club. It's the Boys and Girls Teen Club, which is run by the Boys and Girls Club now. We started it a little more than a year ago as MARC, the Montevallo Arts and Recreation Center. We worked towards that project for two years and eventually we were able to start it and ended up turning it over the Boys and Girls Club for monetary reasons. But it was a cool thing to be able to do. We were in charge of it and we ran programming. The coolest thing we’re doing right now is we just started this Snapchat feed because when we went to the middle school a few weeks ago to ask them what they wanted, they said they had no way of knowing information in Montevallo. At our last meeting we decided, 'let’s go ahead and start a Snapchat, because they’re all on Snapchat'."
Small town life
Riley: "It’s a nice town. It’s got a lot of community. My mom works at the library, so she knows a lot of people, which is cool. I think the whole aesthetic of the town is really great, and it’s good to see it’s been growing a lot recently. But I probably won’t live here when I’m older. I don’t like small towns as much."
Miriam: "I’m from Pelham, where there were 300 people to a grade, and that’s a lot. I like this close community better- everyone knows who you are, and I see nothing bad about that at all. I do want to stay in a small town."
Grace: "There’s such a literal sense of connectivity in Montevallo because everything is so close. It’s metaphorical and literal, and it makes everything so much easier."
A day in the life
Sam: "I think a typical day is like this… I get up, go to school, stay at school for an hour and a half to two hours after because of various things that are happening, and do AP homework. If I don't have homework, I’m usually here in the park walking the dog. Sometimes Leah comes and hangs out with me. I love to go to the Tavern- it’s my favorite place to go."
Leah: "I love the park, and I also like Ebeneezer Swamp. My favorite restaurant is El Agave on Main Street, because it is delicious. The Tavern is good, but I’ve only been once. Eclipse is amazing. I love going and getting milkshakes."
Tristan: "My favorite part [of Montevallo] is the restaurants are in walking distance. From Eclipse, I always get milkshakes. From Domino’s, I get a medium pizza because I work there and get 50% off. I’ve always wanted to go The Tavern because I’ve heard it’s really good."
Grace: "There’s such a strong sense of community, and it’s a little tiny bubble of acceptance in the middle of Alabama, which is kind of bizarre. If we’re not working together, I don’t think we function properly."
Leah: "Sometimes there can be some drama. Recently there was some stuff going on at City Council meetings with houses that were supposed to get torn down. People on different sides were at war and everything. Stuff like that happens sometimes, but it’s not that frequent. Usually we’re all together."
Sam: "We are such a close community. Like what Leah was talking about with housing, my dad was on the abatement board, so he was working closely with the city. Old friends were the owners of those houses. Since we are all so close, those problems erupt in a much more personal way than they would in a less tight-knit community."
Sam: "I don’t think I would have the understanding I do about community and about how communities work together to accomplish things. So much of MJCC and of my life since 8th grade when it started has been fully in this community, building connections between groups, learning all about how government works here, and I think that who I am has been shaped by that. I don’t think I could get that anywhere but here."
Leah: "I grew up for most of my childhood in a town called Hayden. Every single person there was a Christian. There were 3 African Americans in our grade, or actually probably in our entire school. It’s so much less diverse in certain places in Alabama. What would have happened [if I stayed] is that I would have been outed as a liberal, and that would have been not so fun! When we moved here, it’s like… there’s so many different groups and cultures. It’s amazing to be able to see that and to be put into an environment where there can be that diversity. I can have a group of friends who are intelligent and people I like to spend time with that have the same political beliefs."
Riley: "In a city or even a bigger town like Calera or Alabaster, a thing like MJCC couldn’t exist. We couldn’t make a teenage center in Calera. It’s all spread out. Even what we’re planning right now, Teen Time, that wouldn’t work at all. Teen Time is where high schoolers could have an hour and get a card and go to all the business. It’s kind of like happy hour for teens or flex points for the colleges. It would promote businesses. Sav-N-It and Lula B’s have closed down because Montevallo is hard on businesses."
Sam: "A big change that I’ve seen in the last 2 or 3 years was that when I started marching for the band in 8th grade, we didn’t win any games. We won one football game on a technicality after the fact, but last year we went to playoffs. Dr. Hester, who was principal my freshman and sophomore year, came in and the football team started winning. We created this saying called ‘We Are Montevallo’. That became such a war cry, almost, of our school and our community. Before that, there was this idea that we get things and people come in and take things away, or we don’t have the kind of support that Alabaster or Calera has and nobody cares about us. The 'We Are Montevallo' movement coupled with the football wins has caused so much pride in the town that’s felt like a huge shift for me. It’s a big change in culture, and we’re proud of who we are now maybe more-so than we were a few years ago."
What they want to change
Leah: "The schools could use some improving. We’re very free to voice our opinions and have the classes we choose, but there could be some improvements made with the quality of the education we’re getting. A lot of the people with better grades go to other schools in different places because they want something more 'prestigious'. But our marching band is very good! And we do have AP classes. But I feel like there could be some improvements."
Sam: "Something people are always pushing for is more involvement with the university [with the grade schools]. It never seems to follow through. When we have partnered with the university, like when Dr. Tidwell came over and did some cool stuff with our chemistry class, that’s really fun. And we go over for Future Falcon Day. But there’s so much more I think you could do, especially because we’re right across the street."
being a teen in Montevallo
Grace: "We all know each other. It’s been that way since kindergarten for most of us. We’re used to it, but it can get tedious. There are very few secrets."
Sam: "Speaking as a teenager, because we are a small school, the dating scene is pretty… well, limited."
Leah: "Being a teenager here… it is very hard to date. Most of the good guys are either your friends or gay. It’s also pretty fun because at football games and stuff, it’s pretty much all of us there. It’s nice to have all of us as a community going to these events. We’re very into our sports, especially football. Sunday night there was a concert called Jazz on the Green and it was the jazz ensemble for the college. There was a big turnout for that. We posted about it on Snapchat! It’s hard to get the word out because a lot of people don’t know about things that are happening. The Snapchat was kind of like, we’re trying to cater to the needs of the teenage community and what they like to see. But a lot of them are like, ‘oh, that’s kind of lame.’"
What they wish the older generations knew
Grace: "We’re not oblivious to what’s going on. [The older generation] tries to speak for us a lot of times, like with the entertainment district hubbub that was going on [last year’s proposal to establish an arts and entertainment district in the heart of the city to promote local businesses, and would also allow open containers of alcohol during specified times]. They were like, ‘what are the youth going to think! We don’t want the youth going around getting drunk!’ It’s like, you’re not giving us credit."
Riley: "We’re not going to see someone with a beer on Main Street and become alcoholics!"
Sam: "For a lot of, ummm, ‘townies’, or those of us who’ve been here a long time… sometimes there’s an idea from the university students that the locals here are backwards or are dumb and don’t know what’s going on. I’ve been here my whole life. My parents aren’t from here; they’re university people. I think sometimes the locals don’t get the credit they deserve."