Ole Miss students volunteered in three Mississippi communities on Saturday during the inaugural UM Community Day. UM Community Day is a part of M Partner, which stemmed from Flagship Forward, an initiative by Ole Miss Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter.
“M Partner is building momentum towards a campus-wide effort to build healthy and vibrant communities,” Vitter said.
The purpose of the event is to use students’ academic talents and partner them with a community to improve the overall quality of life in that community.
“This is our pilot year, and we are really seeking to cultivate a climate change for the UM campus,” M Partner’s Americorps volunteer Michaela Cooper said.
Student volunteers worked with community leaders in Charleston, Lexington and New Albany all day on Saturday. Some students assisted the Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort in setting up booths for its fall arts and music festival, and others volunteered by spreading mulch and picking up litter on nature trails in New Albany.
“Don’t think about the paper you have to write or the test you have on Monday,” said Katrina Caldwell, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement, to volunteers. “Because we are here to engage people in community.”
Senior international studies major, Jarvis Benson, recounted his summer in New Albany working with children who were affected by poverty.
“As I taught English at the local Boys & Girls Club, tied shoes and broke up fights, I was challenged to build sustainable systems to fight poverty. And though I was there, though I was a black boy like them, I felt different,” Benson said. “I recognized that my personal story of success is just that: personal. The multi-generational effect of poverty is incredibly difficult to overcome – we need to craft policies to break the impact of the multi-generational effects of poverty.”
Laura Martin, project director of M Partner, stressed that M Partner’s partnership with the communities of Lexington, Charleston and New Albany focuses on just that.
“This is a point of entry to something larger,” Martin said, “When we contribute to something greater to ourselves, we do more than we ever could on our own.”
Volunteers for UM Community Day rode busses to their community of service at 8:30 a.m., worked until they were provided lunch on site, and then worked until they were bused home at 4:00 p.m. Registration for UM Community Day was full at 160 participants, and M Partner had to add students to a waitlist to be contacted if additional space became available.
Jessica Clark, a sophomore integrated marketing and communications major said she didn’t have a “special reason” for getting involved.
“I just wanted to serve the community,” Clark said. “I just wanted to help.”