Diversity and Community Engagement
The University of Mississippi

Posts Tagged ‘civic life’

Community Chat – Rebecca Nelson

Posted on: December 4th, 2020 by elpayseu

In this special episode of Community Chats, Rebecca Nelson joins Erin to chat about available funding for nonprofits through the CARES Act and the CREATE Foundation. With the COVID-19 pandemic putting an economic burden on nonprofits across the country, these grants are providing reimbursement funds for any expenses or changes brought on by the pandemic. With just two weeks left to start the application process, Nelson encourages every nonprofit to apply for the $1.6 million still left to disperse.

Through the CREATE Foundation, this funding is available to organization falling into two categories: nonprofits and food pantries, and each organization can be awarded up to $12,000 in reimbursement funding. These grants are intended to reimburse nonprofits for any expenses or lost revenue that may have occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic from March 1 through December 30 such as cancelled fundraisers, new technology, or even cleaning supplies.

The deadline to create an account for the application is December 15, and Nelson encourages everyone to get that done as soon as possible along with the Eligibility Quiz. After completing registration, the application will be open until January 15.

For many, as Nelson can testify, the application process can be daunting. She wants people to know that this application process is quite easy, and she and others at the CREATE Foundation are ready and willing to provide assistance along the way. “We are all behind you, and we want you to reach our for help,” Nelson says. There is also a helpful instructional video available on the CREATE Foundation’s website.

“We want you to have the money,” Nelson says, “We want you to be able to continue to provide the services Mississippians depend on.” The grants are awarded on a first come first served basis, so the sooner, the better.

The application can be found at www.mscaresgrant.com, and you can reach Rebecca Nelson at rebecca@unitedwaynems.org or at (662)432-0158 for further assistance. You can also reach out to the Office of Community Engagement at engaged@olemiss.edu.

All Community Chats episodes can be found on our Facebook page, YouTube channel, or on your favorite podcast provider.

Download the full PDF transcript.

Watch on YouTube

Listen on Anchor

Subscribe to the Engaged! Newsletter.

Community Chat with JR Riojas and John Hydrisko, Warren Debate Union

Posted on: November 13th, 2020 by elpayseu

“No matter who you are, you have a voice, you have a platform. Use that platform to be empathetic and to not be willfully ignorant.” -JR Riojas

In this episode of Community Chats, our team chats with JR Riojas and John Hydrisko from the Warren Debate Union. Recently, the duo won awards in the Intercollegiate Advocacy and Dialogue competition hosted by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Their project discussing Confederate memorialization in the southern United States won Best Letter, Best Creative Argument, and Honorable Mention in Best Use of History. Tune in to hear about that as well as how speech and debate can foster conversation and understanding within communities.

When writing their award-winning letter, Riojas and Hydrisko were given simple but vague instructions. Given it was the first year of this competition, they were initially at a loss for what to write.

“We knew that they had invited schools from different states across the American South, so we wanted to really focus on Mississippi in particular,” Hydrisko said. Their letter addressed the controversial past of Mississippi’s involvement in the Confederacy, the memorialization of that past, and the evolution of the Lost Cause narrative used to justify that past.

They wanted to highlight the parts of Mississippi’s history that painted the state in a lighter tone. “As we pull down the worst of our state, we also really want to elevate the best and elevate the things that ore often ignored in history that can unite us,” Riojas said. Mississippi, for example, boasts a history of native artists, musicians, and authors.

In writing this letter, the two had to undergo a lot of local history analysis. “You engage with not just the present community but also the past community and how we got there,” Riojas said. They want people to recognize that when you do not engage with your community, either past or present, that that is when the harms in society progress, so be engaged and do so with empathy and understanding.

The Warren Debate Union also hosts public debates in a normal year like their Sunflower Charity Invitational in which they invite debate teams from colleges across the country to compete to raise money for the Sunflower County Freedom Project. Open to and judged by the public, these events are great ways to learn how to have open and productive conversation and engage with different viewpoints. The invitational raised over $3,000 for the Sunflower County Freedom Project last August.

To learn more about the Warren Debate Union and upcoming events, you can visit their Facebook page or their page on the Trent Lott Leadership Institute’s website.

You can also watch or listen to this episode and many more on our Facebook page, YouTube channel, or your favorite podcast provider.

Download the full PDF transcript.

Watch on YouTube.

Listen on Anchor.

Subscribe to the Engaged! Newsletter.

Community Chat – Jon Winet

Posted on: November 9th, 2020 by elpayseu

“…to encourage thoughtful civic and civil conversation about the issues that are driving people’s interest in voting, the issues that keep them up at night, the issues that give them hope.”  – Jon Winet

As the country reflects on the election, Jon Winet sits down to discuss some of the efforts he and others in the LOU community have put forth to understand people’s “why.” Why do they vote? Why do they care about these issues? Tune in to learn about Oxford to the Ballot Box and all the people that helped bring this project together, including the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, Oxford Film Festival, Mississippi Votes, and the University of Mississippi.

A professor at the University of Iowa and native to California, Winet found himself far from home in Oxford, Mississippi but was instantly hooked by the welcoming sense of community he found here. “[Both Oxford and Mississippi] are powerful; they’re evocative. The history is rich and deep,” Winet said on his interest in southern culture.

The history to which he refers is not only cultural but political. “We have learned that voting has been hard earned by many Mississippians,” Winet said. The history of voter suppression and voting complexities in Mississippi, Winet said, are large drivers of civic engagement in the state.

For many young Mississippians, this election was their first time voting, and to Winet, this is indicative of future engagement. “When people vote early in their lives, they vote the rest of their lives,” Winet said. While this engagement is encouraging, Winet says that there is still work to do.

In a year full of contention, it is important to Jon and other partners of Oxford to the Ballot Box that this work continues. As an initiative, they are “projecting ahead” to gauge the reactions of Mississippians, whatever the outcome. “We hope that we’ll have a chance to continue our conversations with people after the 3rd,” Winet said.

As they look to the future for further conversation, Oxford to the Ballot Box has also worked with the UM Digital Library to archive these sentiments for what Winet refers to as a “postcard to the future.” The videos highlighting LOU community members’ thoughts on civic engagement will be available to future generations to reflect on the progress of the LOU community.

If you would like to watch the Voices of Mississippi videos, please go to their website or their YouTube channel. You can also watch or listen to this episode and many other Community Chats on OCE’s Facebook (@UMengaged), YouTube, or your favorite podcast provider.


Download the full PDF transcript.

Watch on YouTube

Listen on Anchor

Subscribe to the Engaged! Newsletter.

Community Chat – Kynnedi Taylor-Henry

Posted on: September 1st, 2020 by elpayseu

“Your vote is your voice.” -Kynnedi Taylor-Henry

On this episode of Community Chats, we are talking with Kynnedi Taylor-Henri with the Voting Ambassadors Program at the University of Mississippi. Kynnedi discusses her passion and excitement for voter engagement and the importance of voting to our democracy. Tune in to hear her talk about how she is working with Community Engagement to spark the same passion and excitement on our campus and in the larger community.

Kynnedi, originally from Madison, Miss., came to the University of Mississippi to pursue a degree in public policy. Realizing her enthusiasm for voter engagement, she joined the League of Women Voters, at which time the president got her involved in the Voter Engagement Roundtable series. Through that series, she collaborated with our own Dr. Anthony Siracusa and Erin Payseur-Oeth in the Division of Community Engagement to start building the Voting Ambassadors Program. “We started talking about ideas on how to get students engaged in civics and involved and passionate about voting,” Kynnedi says. Like all good things, it started as an idea and has since developed into real action.

The Voting Ambassadors Program is designed to engage young adults on campus and in the community to be informed about and active in the voting process. It helps them understand their rights and how to register to vote. They will even walk you through the process of registering or completing an absentee ballot. A text messaging system has been put in place that students can use to ask questions and receive a response in a quick and simple way. The program will also be hosting virtual debate watch parties where people with different political ideologies can come and weigh in on the upcoming presidential debates. Even with all of the helpful programs going into this, the process does not come without its challenges.

In a heavily divided political environment, it is quite common for many people, especially young adults, to be indifferent about the voting process. Kynnedi says that it is difficult to get excitement riled up about voting because so many people have been told that their vote does not matter. “The challenge comes in reminding them that their vote does matter, that their vote is their voice,” Kynnedi says, “And the best way to express their voice is through voting.” In the same way that it is a challenge to remind people of that, Kynnedi says that it is rewarding seeing the ones that do get excited go out and tell others about their excitement. Like a domino effect, that person goes out and tells their community, friends, and family about the importance of voting.

As a final message, Kynnedi says, “Voting is the best way to make your voice heard.” She points out that, while it is helpful to connect with others, social media will not make a big difference in any election. “[Voting] is what makes our democracy work, and it will further the success of our democracy,” Kynnedi says.

To get more involved, connect with UMVotes for educational material or hands-on assistance with the voting process. You can also reach out to organizations like the League of Women Voters or the Andrew Goodman Foundation for assistance. If you want to take it a step further, Kynnedi suggests contacting your local clerk’s office to become a poll worker. As many places are experiencing a shortage of poll workers, it is important for people to step up and volunteer as the election looms nearer.

As always, you can find this episode on Community Engagement’s Facebook page, YouTube channel, or on your favorite podcast player.

Download the full PDF transcript.


Community Chat – LOU Space and Place

Posted on: August 28th, 2020 by elpayseu

“Get to know people that are different from you.” -Lydia Koltai

In this episode of Community Chats, we are joined by Lydia Koltai and Graham Bodie with the Space and Place dialogue series. They talk about the purpose of the series and how it is creating a welcoming space for anyone to discuss issues in our community. Tune in to hear about the rewards and challenges of this series and how they are working to foster conversation and understanding in the LOU community.

Growing up in the Mississippi delta, Lydia Koltai is no stranger to the kind of community that forms in a small Mississippi town. After moving back to the state from California to be closer to family, she found herself in Oxford where she fell in love with the community. She started her own business and homeschools her children, but as the news cycles began running stories about police brutality across the country, she also wanted to get plugged into the type of work that would combat these issues in her own community. This is when she got connected through the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. Through her work there, she met Dr. Graham Bodie.

Graham is an IMC professor in the School of Journalism and New Media. After his research on effective listening was published in the Wall Street Journal, he began consulting agencies on creating a “listen-first” culture in the workplace. From here, he found himself running the Listen First Project, a coalition of 325 organizations nationwide that conduct dialogue deliberation conversation work. It was through his work with the coalition that he met Lydia. Together, they collaborated with other organizations, including the William Winter Institute and Conversations for Change, to create the LOU conversation series.

The Space and Place series is dedicated to creating and fostering welcoming spaces for anyone to share their personal experiences in the LOU community, good or bad. In this space, trust, understanding, and active listening are top priority. Despite our differences, Graham says that we have one thing in common: the love for our community. “Regardless of where someone comes from politically or ideologically, we can agree that we want our community to be welcoming,” Graham says. The first session was spent establishing the foundation of trust to have these sometimes difficult conversations. After that, according to Lydia, is when the real conversations start. “I think, because we’ve built that trust and connected with each other on a human level, we’re going to be able to have some good conversations,” Lydia says. Graham and Lydia hope that these conversations will lead to real, tangible action in the community, creating a more welcoming and accepting place for all.

If you want to get involved in these conversations, you can contact Graham at graham@listenfirstproject.org to get more information. You can also watch or listen to this episode of Community Engagement’s Facebook, Youtube, or your favorite podcast player.

Download full PDF Transcript.

Watch on YouTube.

Listen to podcast via Anchor.

Community Chats – Night for Nonprofits

Posted on: August 21st, 2020 by elpayseu

In this extra special installment of Community Chats, we are joined by Jody Holland of the Lafayette-Oxford Foundation for Tomorrow (LOFT) and 14 other nonprofit leaders from around the community. Each guest is able to share what some of their most pressing needs are at the moment and how they have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is all in partnership with LOFT’s Night for Nonprofits, an event hosted each year to raise funds for the great work being done by all the nonprofits in the LOU community.

Each year, LOFT provides thousands of dollars in grants to local nonprofits in our community, and the Night for Nonprofits is an annual event intended not only to raise money but to foster relationships and networks between the nonprofit organizations and the community. Typically held in the Powerhouse, the event this year has become a virtual, week-long series of promoting the good work of LOU nonprofits. Each nonprofit has published a short video which you can view on LOFT’s website. Each view on a video is counted as a “vote,” and by the end of the series, the video with the most views will receive a $1,000 grant from LOFT. Jody encourages viewers to share this information, encourage your networks to view these videos, and support the organizations you want to see win.

Among the discussion, many leaders talk about the financial hardships that have come in this time. Even though many nonprofits are always looking for more funding, the COVID-19 pandemic has especially taken a toll. Other areas of need include supplies. For example, Denise Strub from the North Mississippi Exchange Family Center talks about the need for diapers and activities for the children of young mothers who may not be able to be home all day because of school or work. Yolanda Wooten of the LINK program through Canopy Children’s Solutions stresses the need for exposure. As a new program, they were in development right as the pandemic hit and were unable to market the program the way they intended to. The needs of these organizations go on, so Jody encourages everyone who is watching or listening to help alleviate these needs if they are able.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly exacerbated needs and hardships, it has also created a lot of new opportunities for many organizations. For example, Matt Wymer with the Oxford Film Festival talks about how they are now able to offer programming throughout the year instead of just one week in March. They were able to open a drive-in theater for people to come and be entertained from the safety of their cars and not have to worry about being exposed. The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council has been able to invest in technology that they used to produce their Stay at Home Fest, an initiative picked up by other arts councils across north Mississippi. Tune in to hear more about these special opportunities and how you can get involved and support all of the nonprofit organizations here in the LOU community.

Our guests include:

Community Chat: Jody Holland (LOFT)

Posted on: August 5th, 2020 by elpayseu

“There’s this nonprofit sector out there that’s really caring and giving, and they’re making a difference.” -Jody Holland

On this episode of Community Chats, Erin talks with Jody Holland, executive director of the Lafayette Oxford Foundation for Tomorrow (LOFT). With their annual Night for Nonprofits fundraiser coming up this month, Jody discusses the great work being done by LOFT partners across the community. Tune in for more information about LOFT’s Night for Nonprofits and how you can get involved and help local nonprofits improve the quality of life in the LOU community.

Born and raised in Mississippi, Jody attended Delta State University for his undergraduate degree and then went to Mississippi State University to obtain his PhD. He ended up in Oxford as a visiting professor in the Department of Public Policy Leadership and was won over by the LOU community’s welcoming atmosphere. He ended up going through Leadership Lafayette and discovered a job opening within LOFT thanks to his connections made there. As executive director, Jody works hand in hand with LOFT’s board of directors to plan programming and write grants for local nonprofit partners. “I facilitate this organization because my board’s so awesome,” Jody says. He credits the board of directors and local partners for the success of the foundation.

LOFT is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in the LOU community by partnering with local nonprofit organizations to provide funding and networking opportunities. Through their work, LOFT gives out upwards of $50,000 to local organizations and raises awareness for the work of these organizations through events like their Night for Nonprofits. The Night for Nonprofits is an annual fundraiser that highlights the good work of local nonprofits and allows the community to donate to them. “We raise money to try to give them, but they do the work in this community,” says Jody. While it is usually held at the Powerhouse, the fundraiser this year will be held virtually on August 13 at 6 p.m., and each nonprofit will record a 90-second video to highlight their work and their needs. Tune in to learn more about what those specific needs are and how you can help.

You can learn more about LOFT on their website loftms.org or by watching the first installment of Community Chats. You can also watch or listen to this episode on Facebook, Youtube, or your favorite podcast platform.

Download the Full Transcript (PDF).

Watch on YouTube.

Listen to the podcast on Anchor.

Census Stories: Meet Madeline & Elise

Posted on: May 12th, 2020 by elpayseu


You’re never too young to get involved and support the Census! Meet Madeline and Elise Holland, daughters of Jody Holland, Executive Director of Lafayette Oxford Foundation for Tomorrow (LOFT). To help get the word out about the Census in their neighborhood, they passed out fliers, over 500 fliers this week! Wow! Thank you so much, girls, for spreading the word. Your efforts make a difference!

Did you know…

  • As of 4/27/20, less than half (41.0%) of households in Lafayette County have completed their Census forms. Have you completed yours? (Complete it here.)
  • In response to individual efforts like Madeline & Elise’s and Janice Carr‘s, that number has since jumped 4.5%, to 45.5%! Way to go, team!
  • For every child not counted in the Census, Mississippi stands to lose an average of $2780! That adds up to a lot of money for our community.


Census Facts. MS stands to lose an average of $2780 per year for every child not counted in the 2020 Census.

Census Stories: Meet Janice Carr

Posted on: May 11th, 2020 by elpayseu

This week, through our blog, we are highlighting local Census efforts. Have you completed your US Census yet?

Today, we are featuring Janice Carr, Executive Director of the Gordon Community and Cultural Center, GCCC, in Abbeville, MS. After hearing that response rates in Lafayette County were lagging behind other counties and the state average, Janice jumped into action. She recruited help from three of her students and did a drive-by campaign through local neighborhoods, passing out Census water bottles in front yards with reminders and info on the Census. Her team canvassed over 200 households.

As many of us find ourselves spending more time in our neighborhoods, it is a great opportunity to talk with our neighbors about the Census and remind them to take time to complete it. Spread the word within your community, and help us support our Lafayette-Oxford-University community with accurate counts and representation.

Learn more about Janice and her ongoing work with GCCC through our Community Chat interview with her here.

Did you know…

  • U.S. Census data affects federal funding for our community for 10 years – funding for roads, hospitals, day cares, and more!
  • U.S. Census data affects congressional representation in the US House of Representatives.
  • It takes less than five minutes to complete.
  • You can complete the form online, by phone, or by mail.
  • There are currently over 700 open Census jobs in the LOU community!