By Sam Ostrow
Woodlawn found its gem in the Desert Island Supply Company, a initiative to encourage young people to write. Founded by University of Alabama professor Chip Brantley and his wife, it is a non-profit that is not service affiliated.
“By that I mean we don’t help people like the YWCA does. Our workshops and tutoring are for people all over. It’s not just for Woodlawn. We are trying to bring people into this community,” Brantley said.
Brantley and programming director Lillis Taylor are both from the Birmingham area and returned after college. The two shared a similar passion for creativity, writing, education and helping others.
“It is really gratifying to see kids being exposed to different things and working with professionals that are donating their time to help,” said Brantley.
“It’s great to hear this again and again from the professionals who help us that they are reminded for
why they fell in love with their careers in the first place. It’s really great to be sharing your passions with others.”
Also known as DISCo, the nonprofit works to bring light to the once booming community of Woodlawn. Around the ‘50s, Woodlawn was a prosperous and affluent community, but time has worn the neighborhood.
“[Woodlawn is] a diamond in the rough. There are aspects of this community that are not up to par. There aren’t any restaurants or grocery stores in Woodlawn. And the education definitely needs to be improved. But this building is definitely a big step forward. It is a foundation to build upon,” Taylor said.
Since its opening in December 2009, DISCo has served as a beacon of hope in education for the community. DISCo provides services such as creative writing programs, adult education, summer programs for kids and after-school tutoring. Its open design plan fosters a productive, fun learning environment for kids and adults alike. From mapmaking to sewing, DISCo provides unusual learning activities that keep young minds occupied.
As part of the initiative to reinvigorate the Woodlawn community, DISCo serves the creative writing aspect of the growing art community of the area. As a member of Woodlawn United and funded by the Woodlawn Foundation, DISCo leads the way in education initiatives, even across state borders. In Memphis, Tennessee, DISCo and a local contemporary organization called Cross-Town Arts are learning and growing together. Former Memphis University School English teacher, Nat Akin, works together with Brantley on coming up with new ideas and better fundraising programs in addition to better technology methods.
DISCo has grown exponentially since 2009. The non-profit has new permanent employees in addition to volunteers. DISCo acquired its own building in November 2012, located at 5500 First Avenue North, and is expanding the number of programs offered.
An example of diversity and the growing sense of community in Woodlawn, DISCo represents all that the area hopes to become as a whole: vibrant, creative and diverse. Taylor said that the community is moving in the right direction.
“There are many brand new foundations and community centers here at Woodlawn that weren’t here 10 years ago. Professors from UAB and UA are volunteering here with kids and adults that are lifting up and educating the whole area.”