When her school needed her, University of Southern Mississippi student Denise Bryant of Oak Grove answered the call.
Bryant joined nearly 1,000 fellow students, faculty, staff, alumni and community volunteers in a student-led cleanup effort Wednesday morning as part of the university’s recovery from an F-4 tornado that hit the Hattiesburg campus Sunday, Feb. 10.
She even bought a new rake to help with clearing debris. “It means a lot to me to be able to help, because I felt so helpless after the storm,” said Bryant, a senior nursing major. “It’s the least I could do.”
Bryant found out about the initiative from a Facebook group created by Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity president Ned Nelson, who wanted to do something to help with recovery efforts. Soon after the storm ended, he received hundreds of responses from students and others who wanted to help, and then asked university officials for assistance in facilitating the initiative.
“As soon as the storm came through, I contacted a couple of presidents within the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC) about organizing a campus cleanup effort,” said Nelson, a junior marketing major from Hattiesburg. “But this was never meant to be a Greek thing, or a Student Government thing. This is a Southern Miss thing. We wanted all of our students to participate, and I’m just thrilled with the response.”
And all of this took place while the majority of students were still away from a previously-scheduled Mardi Gras holiday break. Classes are scheduled to resume on Thursday, Feb. 14.
Volunteers gathered at the entrance of the Theater and Dance Building to register for the project, where they were greeted by incoming Southern Miss President Rodney Bennett.
“What great pride you’re showing in supporting your school by coming to help get us back where we need to be for classes,” Bennett said. “This is our institution. It is going to succeed or fail based on what we do, and each of our personal commitment to its success.
“I just want you to think about that for a second. You can’t depend on someone else to do it. You cannot depend on someone else to pick up the debris. You can’t depend on someone else to have the passion to make Southern Miss what we want Southern Miss to be and continue to be.”
Josh Schutts, director of Greek Life at Southern Miss, praised Nelson for organizing the project. “That’s the kind of student he is,” Schutts said. “What is taking place today is due in part to his leadership and in part to people who love Southern Miss.”
History professor Andrew Wiest, donning work clothes, volunteered with the students. “I think it’s great,” Wiest said. “This kind of response makes you understand what this community is about.”
Volunteers were assigned to collect debris in seven assigned zones across campus. By the afternoon, approximately 1,450 large bags of trash were collected. Charles Childress, assistant director of conference and fraternity housing at the university, served as the lead staff advisor for the project.