"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
"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
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
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.