During this season of giving, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College students are working hard to give back to their communities. Most of these students do service work through campus organizations throughout the year, but they each say that volunteerism takes on a special meaning during the holiday season.
“Our group does a lot for our students that are in need throughout the year,” said Tabitha Bridges, Phi Beta Lambda chapter president at the Perkinston Campus. “It seems like things get harder for people around the holidays, though, so we really focus on service and volunteering during the fall semester because of that.”
She said they collected items for food baskets before Thanksgiving and are participating in the campus Angel Tree initiative.
“I know that I’m very lucky,” said Ma’Rissa Crump, a sophomore at MGCCC’s Jefferson Davis Campus. “I have food to eat, the school supplies I need and a place to sleep at night. Not all of our students or people in our community have that.”
Crump said she has always focused on making others happy. “It’s something I’ve felt since I was a child. I’ve always wanted to help other people achieve whatever they want to achieve.”
Working with both the Wesley Foundation and the Baptist Student Union on campus, Crump helps to provide meals and other resources for individuals who need it. She hopes to set up a resource closet on campus this year to provide school supplies, snacks and a variety of other items to needy students.
“People assume that if you can afford to go to college that you have resources for anything you need,” she said. “That’s just not true. People often give up other things so they can go back to school. I’d love for us to be able to help with that.”
One instructor at the Perkinston Campus, Beau Foutz, required students in his public speaking classes to perform a service project and then speak about it. One group decided to collect food items and volunteer at a local rescue mission. Another group worked with a wildlife rescue organization.
“We collected donations of blankets, shoes, canned goods and clothing and donated them to the Gulf Coast Rescue Mission in Biloxi,” said Sarah Swallow, a student in Foutz’s class. “When we visited the mission, it was a real eye-opener for us. We could not believe the need. There are so many people who are in destitute situations. It was awesome to be able to help, but I think we were all sad that we couldn’t do more.”
Ivy Jackson, also a student in Foutz’s class, said that her group volunteered to build cages with the Wildlife Care and Rescue Center (WCRC) that operates in the coastal counties in Mississippi. Their purpose is provide care for injured, sick and orphaned wildlife.
“I believe that for us to have compassion for each other, we must first have it for animals,” Jackson said. “We are all connected. We have to show care and concern for each other and for all creatures.” Jackson is actually a board member for WCRC and volunteers with the group all of the time.
“I love working with the animals and seeing them get better so they can return to their habitat,” she said. “It’s a special feeling.
Two projects at the Jackson County Campus are aimed at helping college students. The #Do More Food Pantry and the #Do More Clothes Closet at the Jackson County Campus are intended to provide resources that students might need when feeding themselves and their families and preparing for job interviews. The food pantry has been in place since last year, but the Clothes Closet is new.
“Both of these entities are student-driven,” said Carin Platt, who oversees the pantry. “The students carry out fundraisers and food drives to help other students.”
Jake Franks and Thomas Bradley both volunteer their time with the food pantry. Franks said working there has made a huge impact on him.
“At first, I was shocked by how many people need assistance with food,” he said. “Walking around campus, you would just never know that.” He said they help five or six students each week and give out three to four bags of food items at a time. The pantry provides everything necessary for a meal.
“If you get pasta and spaghetti sauce, we also provide the meat needed to complete the meal,” Bradley said. “We have a freezer that we try to keep well-stocked because we want our students to have access to everything they might need to feed themselves and their families.”
Platt said they also provide hygiene items that students might not be able to purchase on their own.
The #Do More Clothes Closet is sponsored by the Human Services Club on campus and includes two fully stocked closets with a variety of dress and work clothes and accessories. Jesse Tillman, the club’s president, said they have everything from suits and shoes to jewelry and purses to evening gowns.
“We know that job interviews are not the only time students might need professional or dressy apparel,” he said. “We are trying to provide for a variety of different needs that MGCCC students might have. Sometimes, for instance, students are in clubs or organizations that require they dress up for conferences or competition. We don’t want any student to not participate because they lack the clothing.”
Yolanda Mayberry, the club’s sponsor, said they also provide clothing such as jeans or jackets that students might need for work. “Just like Jesse said, we try to consider all of the circumstances in which our students might need specialty clothing. We have items such as long-sleeve shirts for welders and a variety of other kinds of work clothes. We have some evening attire for times when students might have to dress up for an event.” She said they even have some jewelry.
Challis Atkins, who is treasurer for the Human Services Club, said that they have received many donations from MGCCC employees and even students. “Employees have made donations, and our students are also so wonderful in donating clothing to us.”
The resident assistants in Hayden Hall on the Perkinston Campus also do volunteer work as a group. One opportunity they had to serve the community came in early November when they helped with a fundraising event for the Women’s Resource Center in Gulfport. The group helped set up for the event and worked as servers during the dinner.
“It was actually fun for all of us,” said Ben St. Cyr, resident hall supervisor for Hayden and George halls. “With service being something that I personally hold dear, I want to pass this approach on to student leaders. I have the awesome opportunity to work very closely with our students on a daily basis, and I want them to strive to ‘do more’ every day.”
Brady Shoemaker, a resident assistant that volunteered with St. Cyr said the group always enjoys participating in volunteer work. “We just get more out of it than we put in,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to know that you make a difference.”
St. Cyr said that is just the kind of attitude he hopes to foster in students. “Part of the reason that I chose to work at Gulf Coast is due to the values that our institution holds,” he said. “I feel that emphasizing these values will truly set our students up for success as the next generation of professionals.”