Diversity and Community Engagement
The University of Mississippi

Archive for June, 2020

Community Chat – Michael Gerberi

Posted on: June 26th, 2020 by elpayseu

“You don’t need to look outside the county, the state, or even the country to aid the poor; they’re our neighbors.” -Michael Gerberi

Michael Gerberi joins us for this episode of Community Chats to talk about how Habitat for Humanity is helping aid an ever-growing need for affordable housing. He discusses some of the challenges local chapters of Habitat are facing and the greatest rewards that come from the work they do. Tune in to learn more about what Habitat does and how you can get involved and support local projects.

After living all over the country while enlisted in the U.S. Navy and running a medical practice in Illinois, Michael Gerberi retired in Oxford in 2015 to be central to his family. He volunteers at Baptist Hospital where his colleagues suggested he get involved with Habitat, and after a year he took the position of president. Michael says he does the work because he sees the need in the community. “It’s astonishing to see these living conditions of people in our community,” Michael says. Michael ends the episode by putting out a call to the community – students especially – to give their time and talents to those in need in our community. “These people are our neighbors,” Michael says, urging community members to recognize the need in their own back yard.

Habitat is a national nonprofit that builds and restores homes for those in need. This includes families, elderly citizens, and areas affected by natural disasters. The Lafayette County Habitat for Humanity affiliate focuses on those with fixed and limited incomes such as the elderly and households with multiple or itinerant residents. One of the biggest challenges they currently face, besides sufficient funding, is the lack of available and affordable land. To offset this issue, Habitat has reverted to restoring existing homes in the county. Their workforce is heavily dependent on volunteers, most of whom are provided by the Knights of Columbus. However, Michael mentions the hard work of student volunteers and urges more students to provide Habitat with their talents.

You can visit the national website at habitat.org and contact the local affiliate at oxfordhabitat@gmail.com or (662)380-3343. Ask about applications if you are in need or learn how to become a volunteer.

Watch on YouTube.

Listen to the podcast episode.


Community Chat – Joshua Mannery

Posted on: June 19th, 2020 by elpayseu

“It’s important now, more than ever, that we’re united, accessible and that we have our fingers on the pulse of campus.” Joshua Mannery

We are joined by Joshua Mannery, Associate Student Body (ASB) President, for this episode as he discusses what it means to govern a student body and how he uses his platform and voice to affect change on campus and in the Oxford-Lafayette County community. Tune in to learn about ASB initiatives such as the Stronger Together Dialogue Series in which student and community leaders discuss ways to make the University of Mississippi campus a more welcoming and inclusive place for all.

Josh was born and raised in Jackson, MS and takes pride in being a “public school product.” It was in this environment that he began to see the disconnect between affluent and underserved communities. He knew that he wanted to bring more people to the table to figure out how to close that disconnect. Upon admission to the University of Mississippi, he had one big goal for his undergraduate career: to become ASB president. As he worked toward this goal, Josh came to notice the lack of accessibility the student body had to their governing body. “Student government is strongest when it goes out to different demographics on campus and listens to their unique experiences,” Josh says on the role of ASB. Josh discusses the importance of making sure everyone’s voices are heard in the process of bettering campus life.

Because of such uncertainty on future plans for the university, Josh says that ASB has had to be much more reactive lately as opposed to proactive. But he and his cabinet are taking it in stride. “There are going to be a lot of challenges that we haven’t faced before,” Josh says. “As ASB President, I want to be there to address as many concerns as I can.”

You can visit the ASB website at olemissasb.org to learn more about how ASB is working to improve campus life for all students.

Follow Ole Miss ASB on Facebook, Instagram (@olemissasb), and Twitter (@olemissasb) to keep up with new initiatives.

Watch Joshua’s Community Chat (YouTube)

Listen to Joshua’s Community Chat (Anchor)


Community Chat – Zach Scruggs

Posted on: June 18th, 2020 by elpayseu

“I love seeing success stories. It’s the reason I wake up every morning: to know we’re changing lives.” -Zach Scruggs

In this episode of Community Chats, Zach Scruggs, executive director of 2nd Chance MS, joins us to talk about the support they are giving to adult education. Zach discusses the mission of the organization as well as the challenges, needs, and rewards of working with undereducated and underprivileged adults. Tune in to find out more about what 2nd Chance MS does and how you can help support adult education in our community.

Zach, born and raised in Pascagoula, MS, moved to Oxford in 1992 to obtain a bachelor’s degree at the University of Mississippi. He was working with renewable energy in Florida when his father, Dick Scruggs, called him to be executive director of an organization that would financially support those in our community pursuing their GED. His father saw the need of lower-income students who had trouble getting to class, affording tuition, and other barriers. Thus, 2nd Chance MS was born.

After realizing one of Mississippi’s biggest barriers were the lack of education and workforce training, Dick Scruggs founded 2nd Chance MS to raise funds and awareness for adult education and work skills training. They work closely with community colleges and other organizations providing GED courses and training programs. Zach discusses challenges the organization faces such as lack of accessibility during the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing need for more funding as students compete for resources.

You can learn more about 2nd Chance MS by visiting their website: 2ndchancems.org.

Watch Zach’s Community Chat on YouTube

Listen to Zach’s Community Chat

Community Chat – Erin Smith

Posted on: June 10th, 2020 by elpayseu

“One child in state custody or foster care is too many.” -Erin Smith

Erin Smith with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Lafayette County joins us for this week’s Community Chat to discuss the mission, needs, challenges, and rewards of advocating for abused and neglected children in Lafayette County. This episode includes information about CASA’s upcoming events and ways you can get involved and help.

Erin, a native of Jackson and University of Mississippi alumna, is the founder and executive director of CASA of Lafayette County. In 2017, Erin decided to start a CASA program in Lafayette County after volunteering in Shelby County, TN and seeing a need for the same program back home. “What I enjoy most is giving back to my community,” Erin says on why she started the program 3 years ago.

CASA is a national nonprofit organization that advocates for the best interest of every child that has been abused or neglected and as a result have been taken into child protective custody. They are dedicated to breaking the cycle of abuse through volunteer advocacy within the court system. CASA is a national nonprofit organization with over 900 programs across the country but only 8 of which are in Mississippi. In this episode, Erin discusses her goals to raise that number and expand CASA of Lafayette County into a regional organization, reaching into 3 other counties in 10 years.

“If you have a passion for children or helping others, this is an organization you want to be a part of.”

You can visit CASA’s website here or contact them lafayettecountycasa@gmail.com or (662)832-4747.

Register for their upcoming Superhero 5K and Kids Fun Run here.


Watch Erin Smith’s Community Chat (YouTube)

Listen to Erin Smith’s Community Chat (Anchor)