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Released October 13, 2004

By Angela Cutrer

HATTIESBURG - The United Way 2005 United Way campaign kicks off its annual campaign this month at Southern Miss with the theme "65 Years...right here at home."

"United Way of Southeast Mississippi touches all our lives in some fashion," said Desmond Fletcher, faculty chair for the 2005 Southern Miss campaign and associate professor and interim director of the School of Construction. "There are 23 health and human service partners that benefit from our support of United Way.

These agencies include Red Cross, the Children's Center for Communication and Development, Habitat for Humanity and the DuBard School for Language Disorders. Each provides invaluable support for our counties and region. This is an excellent and effective way to help support our community."

The Children's Center for Communication and Development, a clinical division of the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences since 1973, has been a United Way agency for nearly 30 years. A leader in early intervention, it was among the first in the state to serve children with special needs from infancy through the preschool years. Its mission is to provide interdisciplinary services to infants, toddlers and preschoolers with communicative and developmental disabilities while training university students in speech and hearing, audiology, deaf education, and school psychology. Nursing, art and special education students also receive training with the children and families through the center. "The United Way is critical to the day-to-day operations of the Children's Center," said Margaret Buttross-Brinegar, co-director.

united way pic 65 years of caring

"When (donors) from our community make a contribution to United Way, they can be assured that their dollars are being spent on direct services to children that also benefit our university students.

"In addition to the employment of Southern Miss students to assist in direct therapy services, our United Way allocation also provides physical and occupational therapy and specialized toys and adaptive furniture for our loan library. The Children's Center for Communication and Development is a great example of a university-community partnership through United Way. Many of our faculty and staff family have benefited from our services for many years."

One such family is that of Denise Jones, a loan coordinator in Southern Miss' Financial Aid Office, and her 26-month-old son, Zack, who is about seven months behind in his speech skills. Jones and her son are taking the beginning steps of getting assistance, but already this mother's happy with the opportunity afforded them by way of the United Way.

"It's wonderful that I work here at the university and can get this evaluation, testing and help," said Jones, an 11-year employee. "They have been so wonderful, and they work around my schedule, showing me things I can do for Zack at home. They are very positive and uplifting, and they've made us feel at home."

Jones likes that she will be allowed to stay for observation during Zack's instruction because it can help her know what to do to help him once they are home. "I can work here (at Southern Miss) and I can take him (to the CCCD) and still be this close to him and not have to drive everywhere to get him help," she said. "I'm thankful the United Way and Southern Miss have made that possible."

United Way funding was instrumental in the 1962 founding of the Southern Miss DuBard School for Language Disorders, said Director Maureen Martin. "Because of United Way support, children with significant language-speech and hearing disabilities have become productive, independent adults, and university students have had rich learning experiences that have enhanced their degree programs....all right here on the Southern Miss campus."

Years ago, Kathy Johnson drove an hour and a half a day to get from McComb to Hattiesburg to help her son, a boy who wasn't able to be helped by anyone else. Now living in the area, Johnson is nothing but awed at what DuBard was able to do for her child, Tanner, now 8.

"They have taken Tanner from being nonverbal to a child who's reading and writing and never shuts up!" said Johnson with a laugh. "He plays flag football, and he's a very social, polite little boy - DuBard doesn't just work on the academic aspects, they work on social skills, too - and they have just worked a miracle. A miracle. You'd never know Tanner was autistic when you meet him. He'll come right up and shake your hand."

Johnson's son is in his third year at DuBard, but he started out at the Children's Center - a move Johnson and her husband, Dr. Andrew Johnson, thank God for. "When Tanner was first evaluated, they said he could never be admitted into DuBard because (of the severity of his disability)," she said. "His father and I planned a move to Columbus, where my husband was setting up a practice. But then we got the call from DuBard."

The call came about because of the work the Children's Center did for Tanner. "Without the United Way, the Children's Center and DuBard, (Tanner) would still be the little boy in the corner banging his head against the wall," Johnson said. "He improved four years (growth) in a 12-month period while working with Ladell Kraft at the Children's Center. His story is nothing shy of miraculous." The Johnsons meet up for family time during holidays and on weekends. It's tough, but they do it because it's the best thing for Tanner, and they've all adjusted to it.

"I see United Way contributions at work every minute of my work days," said Cindy Bivins, an educator at the CCCD, "as I use therapeutic equipment and adaptive educational materials with my infants and toddlers with special needs, or as I work alongside our dedicated physical, occupational and speech-language therapists, who provide a rare caliber of expertise in the realm of pediatric developmental care.

"I see the return on these investments as I watch a 3-year-old child who was born three months prematurely walk down the hall, smiling and waving, telling people "hi" and asking about "Mama," or as I see a 10-month-old with a tracheotomy and feeding tube realize that despite his physical challenges, he can make toys work! I see the return when our university students realize that there's a whole different way of looking at ability....

"And I see the return on the faces of our many students' parents as they watch their children grow into their full potential, sometimes overcoming tremendous odds."

The Red Cross is another entity helped by United Way funding. A co-worker signed up Meri L. Drago to work on a task force for the military support group since her husband, Jimmy, was one of those called up. "This entails meeting occasionally and planning events that will show support for those families with loved ones deployed overseas," said Drago, payroll manager in Financial Aid. "The first event I went to was the Christmas dinner, where my 5-year old son got to sit in Santa's lap, and both he and my 1-year-old daughter both received a teddy bear, toys they still play with today. We also met families of men who had very recently been deployed, so I was able to get some tips on what to expect, how to handle some situations, and other things."

Drago further noted that most recently the Red Cross held a picnic in July at Kamper Park, where free passes for all military families ensured a train or carousel ride. Afterward, they had a hot-dog cook out that included games for the kids. "Again, my children had a great time, and I was able to ask advice of other wives in my situation," Drago said. "I know that if I were to have a need, I can call on them. I, so far, haven't had to as I have a wonderful loving father who moved from Indiana to be with me and my children while Jimmy is gone, along with a great support group made up of church members and friends (not to mention a very active support group of wives from Jimmy's unit).

"I know that only by the support of people giving to United Way and the Red Cross is this available to me and I am very grateful. I have been privy to only small discussions of Red Cross finances and know that they work on a very small budget to do everything they do - not only for military support groups but for fire relief and hurricane relief. They are in need of all the support they can receive, whether monetary or otherwise."

The organization that came to be known as United Way of Southeast Mississippi was formed in Hattiesburg in 1940, so 2005 is its 65th year. The overall community goal this year is $1,350,000, said Brooke Bryan, campaign and communications coordinator for the United Way of Southeast Mississippi. In the past five years, Southern Miss raised $77,934 (2004); $61,236 (2003); $65,953 (2002); $94,335 (2001); and $104,302 (2000).

Southern Miss' goal this year is $80,000, and the team leader luncheon will be held Friday at 11:30 a.m. in the university's Commons, rooms A and B. The Southern Miss Student Constructors group from the College of Science and Technology in the School of Construction will be helping with the United Way campaign by supervising Boy Scout volunteers collecting donations. "Our group is happy to help out any way we can, especially things other than in a classroom environment," said President Brian Reddock. The Boy Scouts will be among several student groups helping with donations, including collecting during football games.

"We are all a part of the great Hattiesburg community where we would like for all of the agencies to prosper," said Kameron Dale, staff chair for the 2005 Southern Miss campaign and benefits manager in the Department of Human Resources. "Our staff at Southern Miss has been so responsive to United Way campaigns of the past. My desire is to reignite that flame for our university's support of United Way. Faculty and staff donations will enhance the quality of life for so many individuals. We are very fortunate to have three United Way agencies right here on the campus of Southern Miss that benefit greatly from donations."

Contact Kameron Dale at 266-4056 or Desmond Fletcher at 266-4896 for more information about donating to or about volunteering for the United Way.


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October 13, 2004 4:16 PM