Diversity and Community Engagement
The University of Mississippi

Archive for the ‘Community Chats’ Category

Community Chats – Denise Strub North Mississippi Family Center

Posted on: July 29th, 2020 by elpayseu

“If you can nurture a healthy family, then you can prevent child abuse and neglect.” -Denise Strub

For this episode of Community Chats, we are joined by Denise Strub, director of the North MS Exchange Family Center (NMEFC). The NMEFC is committed to ending the cycle of child abuse and neglect by offering prevention, intervention, and educational services. Tune in to hear to Denise discuss some of the greatest challenges and rewards of working with families in our community to fulfill this mission and ensure safety for the children of Oxford and Lafayette County.

Originally from Ohio, Denise moved to Mississippi in the ‘70’s with her family and has lived here since. She graduated from Mississippi State University and worked in journalism and communications in towns across the state. She now divides her time between Oxford and Cleveland, balancing her work for a newspaper and the NMEFC. Diane started as a local member of the Exchange Club when she was asked to join the board and soon moved to the position of director where she has been for the past year. The outpouring of support from the community has been one of the most encouraging things to come out of this position for Diane. She mentions campus partners and local donors who are always willing to lend a helping hand. She keeps going on the fact that the work they are doing is proven to stop the cycle of abuse. “It excites me to know we’re making strides,” Diane says. Those strides come by educating and preventing abuse at the beginning and by everyone doing their part to recognize the signs of abuse when they see them.

The NMEFC has experienced what Diane calls a “reawakening” this year as they refurbish their site and adjust to challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. They have reinstated their STAN (Stop the Abuse Now) program where their mascot Stan educated school-aged children on how to recognize abuse and help in their own way. On top of that, they are continuing their Raising Mothers to Rise program which helps teenage moms handle the stress and adjustments that come with new motherhood. “There are skill sand ways to prevent abuse,” Diane says. They present the new mothers with these skills so some stress can be alleviated and prevent the abuse and neglect before it even starts. These programs and others are all a part of NMEFC’s mission to stop the cycle of abuse and neglect.

If you want to get involved with NMEFC, you can contact them at nmsfamilycenter@gmail.com or you can visit their website at nmsfamilycenter.org.

Download the full transcript (PDF).

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Community Chat – Mary Leary & Camie Bianco

Posted on: July 16th, 2020 by elpayseu

“There’s definitely a need in our community, even though we may not see it.” -Camie Bianco

For this episode of Community Chats, we are joined by Camie Bianco and Mary Leary, co-founders and board members of Lovepacks. Lovepacks is a nonprofit organization that provides food on weekends and holidays during the school year for school-aged children in our community who experience hunger. Camie and Mary discuss the mission of the organization as well as some of the greatest challenges and rewards they experience through the work they do.

Camie and Mary founded Lovepacks in 2010 after seeing similar programs in other states and realizing the need for a supplemental program in Oxford. On weekends and holidays, dozens of packages are delivered to hungry students from both the Oxford and Lafayette County School Districts. This is all done with a team of volunteers comprised of special education students who pack the boxes and liaisons who deliver the packs to the children. Camie and Mary both agree that one of the biggest rewards of the organization is working with the student packers whom they regard as the “heart of Lovepacks.”

Since its inception, Lovepacks has experienced immense support from the community either through monetary donations or in-kind donations, and all donations go towards buying food and supplies. However, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization’s board has been faced with the challenge of providing food to students while still retaining anonymity, an important aspect of their service. As they work through this, Lovepacks is still committed to providing food to students and combating hunger in our community.

If you want to get involved with Lovepacks, either through donations or volunteering, you can contact them at lovepacks@gmail.com or through their Facebook page “Oxford Lovepacks.”

Download the full transcript (PDF).

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Community Chat – EJ Edney

Posted on: July 14th, 2020 by elpayseu


“We’re faced with a moment when we’re asked to demonstrate who we are.” -Dr. EJ Edney

Dr. EJ Edney, director of the Center for Inclusion Cross-Cultural Engagement (CICCE), joins us for this episode of Community Chats to discuss his position on campus and in the community as well as the work he and so many others are doing to ensure a more equitable and diverse campus experience. EJ talks about some initiatives that the CICCE has set in place, future plans to stay active in their mission, and some of the challenges he and others meet in doing this work. Tune in to learn more about EJ, his staff, and all the great work happening at the CICCE.

EJ was born in Vicksburg, MS, and moved to the Jackson area in junior high where he graduated from Clinton High School. He graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2011 with a bachelor of arts in biology and went on to obtain his doctorate in higher education in 2019 from the University of Mississippi as well. Throughout his time at the University of Mississippi, EJ has been well aware of the inequities he and other marginalized students have faced which drives his passion for his work. “I felt compelled to make opportunities,” EJ says regarding these inequities. He credits the start of this work to his predecessors like the “Ole Miss 8,” a group of black students who were arrested and expelled in 1970 for protesting for equal opportunity.

The CICCE was born out of this need for equity and opportunity for marginalized students, and so a committee was formed to assess the campus climate for underserved and marginalized students who felt unheard. Student leaders came together to make these assessments and benchmark them against other universities, and thus, the CICCE was established. “We’re ever-aware of the opportunities that lie before us to strengthen our relationships and gain even more perspective,” EJ says. He says that the CICCE is there to fill in the gaps in student experiences through programming and retention initiatives such as MOST, Stronger Together, and bias training services.

You can stay engaged with the CICCE by following them on social media: @uminclusion on Instagram and Twitter and “UM Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement” on Facebook.

You can also contact them at inclusion@olemiss.edu.

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Community Chat – Forrest Jenkins

Posted on: July 8th, 2020 by elpayseu

“Look around you: there are always helpers in your community who are trying to do good things.” -Forrest Jenkins

For this installment of Community Chats, we are joined by Forrest Jenkins, president of LOU-Home, Inc. She discusses her passion for affordable housing and community involvement as well as some of the greatest challenges LOU-Home, Inc. is currently facing. Tune in to learn about the needs of our community regarding housing and current projects and developments of LOU-Home, Inc.

Forrest was born and raised “right down the road” in Pontotoc, MS and graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Law. After practicing law at a housing clinic in Oxford, she joined the board of directors of LOU-Home, Inc. in 2014. She saw the issues plaguing the LOU community due to the lack of affordable housing. In regards to the work they do, Forrest credits the work of community members. “Things don’t happen overnight,” she says, “It takes a lot of eyes and a lot of hands to get things to move.” Looking to the future, LOU-Home, Inc. is always looking to develop more housing and provide housing services to the community.

LOU-Home, Inc. coordinates with the community and local government to increase the availability and affordability of homes for qualified buyers who otherwise could not acquire these resources. They also provide services to these buyers including credit workshops and individual counseling. Currently, there is a lack of available land in the LOU community, and the land that is available may not be attainable to LOU-Home, Inc. due to legal barriers. Forrest urges any community members who can help materially to do so. This can be anything from a monetary donation to property that can be leveraged to begin more development. Forrest expands on how you can get involved in the episode.

Watch on YouTube.

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Community Chat – Sarah McLellan

Posted on: July 7th, 2020 by elpayseu


“Read to your children. It doesn’t matter what they’re reading as long as they’re reading.” – Sarah McLellan

For this installment of Community Chats, we are joined by Sarah McLellan, executive director of the Lafayette County Literacy Council. She discusses the work she and others do for literacy in our community. From children’s book festivals to adult literacy courses, the Literacy Council is working tirelessly to ensure every person in our community is confident in their reading abilities so that they can succeed in every aspect of life. Tune in to learn more about the great work the Literacy Council is doing for people of all ages in our community.

Sarah McLellan, originally from Caruthersville, Missouri, moved to Oxford to attend the University of Mississippi. She grew up coming to Ole Miss football games and knew she wanted to be a part of the LOU community from an early age. Looking for ways to get involved in the community, Sarah knew her background in elementary education and marketing would be a great fit for the Literacy Council. She has been with the Literacy Council for five years now and has used her knowledge and skills to grow the organization’s reach and impact.

The Lafayette County Literacy Council is committed to improving the quality of life in Oxford and Lafayette County through literacy and reading. They do this through programs such as the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and the ABLE program for adult learners. These programs foster a love of learning in children and families and help underprivileged adults gain confidence in their abilities and futures. In order to do this, the Literacy Council relies on their staff, committees, and volunteers who work constantly to improve the lives of the 20-25% of Lafayette County adults who struggle with illiteracy. Sarah discusses more in-depth these programs and the staff in the episode.

You can learn more about the Lafayette County Literacy Council by visiting their website at lafayetteliteracy.org. There you will find volunteer opportunities, contact information, and other ways to get involved.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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