Diversity and Community Engagement
The University of Mississippi

Posts Tagged ‘Health & Wellbeing’

Community Chats – David Stone

Posted on: November 20th, 2020 by elpayseu

“We’re providing not just help, but hope.” -David Stone

In this episode of Community Chats, Anthony sits down with David Stone, volunteer recruitment specialist with the North Mississippi chapter of the American Red Cross, to talk about the mission and work of the Red Cross as well as the power of volunteerism. Tune in to hear about how you can get involved with the Red Cross and help those in our community affected by disaster.

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region, David Stone found himself in the midst of a wave of evacuees escaping the ravaged coastline. He got involved with the Red Cross connecting displaced people to local resources to help them get back on their feet. This work exemplified the mission of the Red Cross: to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

The North Mississippi chapter of the American Red Cross, like others, offers an array of services to victims of disasters and relies heavily on volunteer service. “Our volunteers are critical to the mission of the Red Cross,” Stone says. In fact, Stone says the Red Cross is aiming to be 100% volunteer-led in the near future, and you can visit their website to sign up to volunteer today.

One of the most rewarding experiences through the Red Cross for Stone occurred shortly after he began working with them after Hurricane Katrina. A father of a family receiving assistance approached him and said that it was not just the material assistance the Red Cross provided but the personal connection and secure presence of the Red Cross they received. “They didn’t have to walk alone through that situation,” Stone recalled, “Red Cross volunteers touch lives every day.”

To find opportunities with the American Red Cross, you can visit the website above or get in touch with David Stone at david.stone@redcross.org or give him a call at (662) 701-7133. You can watch this episode and more on our Facebook (@UMengaged), YouTube, or your favorite podcast provider.

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Community Chat – Lawrence Muruako

Posted on: October 23rd, 2020 by elpayseu

“We’re trying to make great health the standard.” -Lawrence Muruako

Lawrence Muruako, founder and director of Operation FitNation, joins Dr. Siracusa for this week’s episode of Community Chats to talk about his passion for making great health the standard. He discussed the inspiration, motivation, and determination behind Operation FitNation, his nonprofit promoting accessible health and wellness in the LOU community and surrounding areas.

Growing up in Holly Springs to Nigerian parents, Muruako has witnessed the effects poverty can have on physical fitness, and upon the passing of his father, a tennis coach and lifelong fitness advocate, he realized he had a passion for serving communities through physical fitness. After obtaining a degree in exercise science at the University of Mississippi and operating a fitness center, he and his wife noticed the need for an accessible wellness program, thus Operation FitNation was underway with the simple mission to “make great health standard.”

In 2015, Operation FitNation kicked off their premiere event, Healthy Halloween, with obstacle courses and games for kids. At the end, they received a treat bag of healthier snacks like granola bars and fruit as opposed to typical Halloween candy, a sight that Lawrence loves to see.

“When you see a kid eating an apple instead of a Reese’s on Halloween, and you see them with the biggest smile…that is so rewarding to me,” Lawrence said.

Since then, Operation FitNation has continued providing fun, physical activities for all kids in as many communities as they can. They have expanded their programming to include Fit Camps with after-school programs, Fit Carnivals in the spring, and their newest initiative, Operation One Miler, aimed at promoting a love for exercise while following safety guidelines around COVID-19.

As a final message, Muruako said, “We want people to lead by example by being the example because you never know who you can impact.” He says that when adults lead by example, those kids who look up to them will follow that example. He encourages everyone to lead the most healthy life they can.

You can watch or listen to this episode on our Facebook page and YouTube channel as well as your favorite podcast provider. For more information on Operation FitNation, you can visit their website operationfitnation.org or email them at operationfitnation@gmail.com.


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OCE Agency Profile – Operation Fit Nation

Posted on: October 19th, 2020 by elpayseu

By Jilkiah Bryant, OCE Area Coordinator for Health & Wellness

Mississippi is among the top states in the nation when it comes to health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, but local nonprofit Operation FitNation is fighting to change that by advocating for optimal community health throughout Mississippi. 

Founded and operated by Lawrence Muruako in 2008, Operation FitNation stems from a passion for impact through the celebration of life in those communities that need it most. “At some point, I had to ask myself, what about the people who cannot afford to pay for a gym membership or pay for a personal trainer?” says Lawrence on starting the organization. “I wanted to affect those people and impact their lives, I wanted to empower them.” 

Their mission is to help create a standard of great health in poverty-stricken and poor health communities by harnessing the power of healthier behavior. Operation FitNation sets out to improve people’s health by inspiring them to become the best version of themselves.

Operation FitNation provides wellness resources, opportunities, and wellness education programs to individuals of at-risk populations while creating a fun-loving experience. “There’s a huge need for healthy living,” Lawrence says. “This opportunity hasn’t changed my perspective, it has enhanced my perspective and approach to what it means to serve others and these communities.” 

Programs like their FIT Camps, Healthy Halloween, Fit Carnival, and the Right Track program engage and educate kids through a fitness-based social experience. They deliver community wellness events, media campaigns, and a multitude of online resources and also partner with local organizations, businesses, and individuals that support and are passionate about community wellness. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Operation FitNation has started a new program, Operation One Miler, to continue motivating communities to engage in healthy behavior. Having already held events in Lafayette, Panola, and Tallahatchie counties, Operation FitNation plans to continue extending their impact to Marshall, Desoto, Quitman, Coahoma, and Yalobusha counties in the future.

Jilkiah Bryant

Jilkiah Bryant

For more information about Operation FitNation, or if you are interested in getting involved, you can email them at operationfitnation@gmail.com or visit their website https://www.operationfitnation.org/

Meet Jilkiah Bryant – OCE Area Coordinator for Health & Wellbeing

Posted on: September 10th, 2020 by elpayseu
Jilkiah Bryant Headshot

Jilkiah Bryant

“My name is Jilkiah Bryant and I am a native of Macon, Mississippi. Currently, I am a second year student at the University of Mississippi majoring in Public Health and Health Sciences with minors in math, disaster science, and chemistry, and something new I have just learned is functional groups for my organic chemistry class. If I could have any super power, it would definitely be regeneration or teleportation!

The best part of the LOU community to me is that this community possesses momentous areas of support and service initiatives. The LOU community is unified in every effort to help encourage the growth and development of this area. As a student whose passion lies within service and has suffered at the hands of racial and economic disadvantages, my passion for community engagement is a direct testament of my personal experiences as a low-income student of color. I am always looking to serve and provide opportunities for others to serve because I know the struggles of having a lack of participation and presence within my own community.

My issue area is vulnerable populations and health and wellbeing which are issues not uncommon to Mississippi.  Mississippi is among the top states in the nation with the highest rates of poverty and income inequality with little to no improvement seen within the last few years. As I grew older, I began to notice the intensity of poverty in my state: little access to adequate jobs, poor infrastructure, and an inferior quality of education, and I struggled to imagine a solution that could combat the difficulties Mississippi faced in my own way. One of my greatest achievements was the start of my own nonprofit organization, Project Powerful, where I have been able to create a sense of urgency among community leaders and other organizations to make meaningful impacts in the areas that matter most. Community engagement is something that is so important to me personally, especially after this past year.

I was fortunate enough to have worked and will continue to work as a CEED Innovation Scholar for the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. Here, I began to think deeper about what community engagement and service was. I gained multiple opportunities to learn about the importance of communities, how to work to support their efforts in place, and not to rewrite who they are and what that community stands for. I’ve gained experience that changed my perspective on what community engagement is and how to effectively practice engagement, and I hope to bring this experience to my position in the Office of Community Engagement.”

This semester, Jilkiah will be working with local organizations such as CASA of Lafayette County, Communicare, Family Crisis Services, and many others to help advance their missions and protect the vulnerable populations of our community. You can get in touch with Jilkiah by emailing engaged@olemiss.edu.

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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