More than 100 students representing various organizations at The University of Southern Mississippi turned out Monday for a community service project in conjunction with the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.
With the support of funding from an MLK Day grant from the North Carolina Campus Compact and a Faculty Service Learning grant from Learn and Serve America, students converged on the Edwards Street Fellowship Center to establish venues. One is a teaching garden for youth and another garden for producing vegetables to include in the Center’s food pantry. The other is constructing a walking trail, exercise stations with ropes course and an outdoor classroom.
“This is a great way to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King by helping out members of our community that need us,’ said Dara Shaffer, a sophomore from Tylertown, Miss.
The project, coordinated through the university’s Office of Community Service Learning, also represents a joint effort among academic disciplines at the university, with students and faculty members from human performance and recreation, as well as geography and anthropology assisting with labor and expertise.
“Service learning makes direct links with the things we talk about in class, and projects like this show students the importance of connecting with the broader community in which they live,” said Dr. Joby Bass, assistant professor of geography.
“It changes their perceptions in a positive way that can’t be done in a classroom, and offers an opportunity to interact with people they might not otherwise come in contact with.”
Molly Vickers, director of the Edwards Street Fellowship Center, said the labor provided by the students is a big boost in support of the center’s mission, which began in 1979 as a tutoring center for children. Today, it also provides meals and other services for approximately 1,800 persons and 850 families in Hattiesburg and surrounding counties.
“We’re grateful for the generosity and hard work provided by these students,” she said. “We could never have afforded to have this many people come out and do this all at once, and what they have done in one day could otherwise take months.”