Hundreds of students, faculty and staff of The University of Southern Mississippi fanned out across the city of Hattiesburg on Saturday, April 10 for “The Big Event,” providing an array volunteer services in what organizers expect be an annual event.
Organized as part of the university’s Centennial Celebration by the university’s Student Government Association (SGA), “The Big Event” represents the university’s largest single community service initiative, with more than 10 non-profit agencies and the university benefitting from volunteerism that included painting, litter removal, landscaping and home construction, among others.
“It’s a great opportunity for the university to help out our community, and it shows we can come together in support of a great cause,” said Lauren Bordes, a junior elementary education major from New Orleans and president of Phi Mu sorority.
Bordes and her sorority sisters spent Saturday morning with other university organizations refurbishing the Boys and Girls Club playground, located at the Salvation Army Center on U.S. 49, by placing landscape timbers, setting out fresh mulch and repairing some of the playground equipment. “We hope what we’ve done today will make this playground even more enjoyable for the kids who use it,” she said.
“I came out because these kids need our help,” said freshman Ben Knaus of Paducha, Ky., a member of Freshman Associates who also helped out with other members of his organization at the playground. “It’s great to work with your friends on a project like this and see the impact of what we can do together.”
For Andy Gilliam, commander of the Salvation Army Center, The Big Event was a big deal to him and The Boys and Girls Club. “This is a huge help to us,” Gilliam said. “This would have cost us a lot of money to do on our own, and what these students do in a few hours would have taken about three months to finish otherwise.”
Other agencies receiving assistance from Southern Miss volunteers Saturday included Hattiesburg Area Habitat for Humanity; Thames Elementary School; the Oseola McCarty Youth Development Center; Presbyterian Christian School; Longleaf Trace; and the Hattiesburg Zoo.
Southern Miss Provost Bob Lyman and university controller Allyson Easterwood volunteered alongside students at the Small Miracles Child Development Center, repainting walls in its instruction and recreation rooms and cleaning up its playground.
The center, located inside Court Street United Methodist Church, provides quality day care for more than 30 area children, including after school and summer programs. It also provides scholarship support for children whose parents need economic assistance to afford its services.
“This community has done so much to support us, right from the beginning, so we’re proud to be able give back to it in this way,” Dr. Lyman said. “We look forward to next year’s Big Event.”
Easterwood said it was not only gratifying to help the center, but to also bond with co-workers in the effort. Several Southern Miss employees in the university controller’s office joined her in the effort. “We really make a difference when we come together, and it’s a great team-building exercise,” she said.
Allison Robertson, payroll specialist in the controller’s office, helped re-paint the walls in one of the center’s instruction rooms a blend of yellow and blue. “It’s a way for faculty and staff to participate in the university’s Centennial, and it’s gratifying to know we’re having a positive impact on the lives of these children,” she said.
Steven McRae, a junior from Hattiesburg and a Luckyday Scholar volunteered with fellow Luckyday Scholars at Small Miracles. “We’re doing this for the kids, and it feels good to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s all about doing the little things that add up to make a big difference.”
Becky Stewart, director of the center, praised the volunteers for giving the center a fresh new look. “We could never have gotten this done on our own without their help,” she said.
Southern Miss SGA President Kasey Mitchell said volunteers “felt like they’ve done some really meaningful work today and we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback.”
“It was a beautiful day, a great day to serve our community, and a great year to kick off The Big Event,” she said.
At the conclusion of the service projects, volunteers returned to campus for a reflection lunch at Pride Field, where Southern Miss President Martha Saunders, Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Joe Paul and head football coach Larry Fedora commended them for their efforts.
Dr. Saunders reminded the group that they were staying true to a century-long tradition of service at the university with The Big Event. Throughout its history, in good times and bad, the university and area communities have worked together to help each other in what has proven to be a mutually beneficial relationship, she said.
“You illustrate and represent a lot of people who came before you,” Saunders said. “Today marks a new season of service that will carry us through the next 100 years.”
Volunteers line up to be bused to volunteer work sites in Hattiesburg as part of The Big Event, a community-wide day of service sponsored by The University of Southern Mississippi Student Government Association in conjunction with the university’s Centennial Celebration. (University Communications photo by Steve Rouse)
Southern Miss senior Brittany Hodge of Byram, Miss., works on a Habitat for Humanity House Saturday during The Big Event, a community-wide day of service held Saturday throughout the Hattiesburg area in conjunction with the university’s Centennial Celebration. (University Communications photo by Van Arnold)
Members of Southern Miss Freshman Associates haul a landscape timber Saturday at the Boys and Girls Club playground as part of an effort to refurbish the facility in conjunction with The Big Event, a community-wide day of service in Hattiesburg. (University Communications photo by Steve Rouse)
Members of Phi Mu sorority at The University of Southern Mississippi spread out mulch on the playground of the Hattiesburg Boys and Girls Club Saturday as part of The Big Event, a community-wide day of service held in conjunction with the university’s Centennial Celebration. (University Communications photo by Steve Rouse)
Volunteers paint walls at Hattiesburg’s Small Miracles Child Development Center Saturday as part of The Big Event, a community-wide day of service in Hattiesburg held in conjunction with the university’s Centennial Celebration. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff at the university participated in the effort, considered the largest single community service initiative in the university’s history. (University Communications photo by Steve Rouse)
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.