Building and sustaining well-held partnerships between the University and local organizations is central to the work of community engagement at the University of Mississippi.
Yesterday, we shared some of the partnerships held by colleges, school, departments, and programs on campus with groups across the state. Today, we want to share some of the work that the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) has done this year to deepen existing partnerships, and to build new ones in the LOU community.
In the Fall of this past year, Community Engagement Project Manager Erin Payseur Oeth collaborated with Graduate Assistant Carissa Pauley to interview staff at 20 organizations in the Lafayette-Oxford University (LOU) community. They produced a report entitled “Voices and Insights from Community Partners: Community Engagement at UM” that was based on interviews with partners in the following areas:
- The Arts
- Emergency Services
- Food + Clothing
- Health (physical and mental)
- Seniors Services
- Shelter + Utilities
- Tax + Legal Services
Partners shared a variety of needs and dreams, including developing a free education program for students in foster care who are also living below the poverty line. Some envisioned a credentialing program for nonprofit management, while others hoped to build a one stop shop for direct client needs ranging from GED to transportation. Some of our partners aspired to build a local food community center with kitchen space for entrepreneurs, while others wanted to see small grants for folks that work in the creative arts.
The report was part of a larger effort to listen closely to the needs and visions of organizations in the LOU community. This Fall 2019 report was also the first step in a longer process of building relationships grounded in reciprocity and co-created projects.
When the Covid 19 health emergency interrupted normal operations for groups and agencies across the LOU region, the OCE began hosting University-Collaborative Calls with community partners, including the Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, the Oxford-Lafayette United Way, Visit Oxford, the Volunteer Mississippi North East Regional Hub, representatives from the U.S. Census, and other colleagues from across the UM Campus. These University-Collaborative Calls have allowed us to stay connected to umbrella groups and their affiliates across the region, and have provided a much needed sense of community in a time of social distancing.
Amidst the Covid health emergency, the OCE also launched Community Chats in partnership with our colleagues at Lafayette Oxford Foundation for Tomorrow (LOFT), a twice weekly conversation series with nonprofit leaders in the LOU community intended to elevate the voices and needs of these essential organizations. To date, we have interviewed staff at the following agencies:
- The Pantry
- Interfaith Compassion Ministries
- Oxford Community Market
- The Oxford Film Festival
- Doors of Hope Transition Ministries
- The U.S. Census
- The Gordon Cultural and Community Center
- The North Mississippi Regional Center (NMRC)
Coming up, we will have interviews with the following agencies:
- Leap Frog
- Strawberry Plains Audubon Center
- Second Chance Mississippi
- United Way of Oxford Lafayette
- The Yoknapatwpha Arts Council
Finally, just this week the OCE received a grant from the Disaster Resilience Constellation at UM to support a project entitled “Assessing the Civic Capacity for Disaster Resilience and Recovery in Oxford-Lafayette County.”
The grant will allow the OCE to survey the needs of nonprofit organizations in the Lafayette Oxford University (LOU) as they seek to recover from the Covid-19 global health crisis. The data gathered will aid the OCE in co-creating a recovery and resilience building plan in partnership with our nonprofit partners and our local and statewide community collaborators, including Volunteer Mississippi and the Mississippi Alliance for Nonprofits and Philanthropy.
Today, we sent surveys to more than 60 nonprofit organizations in the LOU community with the goal of making it as easy as possible for groups to respond. Local groups can respond to the survey on-line, by phone, or on paper forms that include self addressed and stamped envelopes.
The data we gather will prove invaluable in informing the University’s contribution to the civic capacity of our region to recover from the current public health emergency and build resilience for future disasters. Our goal is align capacity and resources at UM with the needs of groups in the LOU community, ensuring that our community engagement plan for the 2020 – 2021 Academic Year is attenuated to these local needs.
Partnerships are at the heart of strong University-Community collaborations. The OCE is so grateful to our local partners, and we look forward to continuing to build and deepen these relationships with organizations across the LOU region.