Jarrod C. Colley
The sun was just slightly above the horizon as I laced up my shoes and walked out my apartment door on Saturday, March 24. Reed Green Coliseum was not very full when I arrived at 7:30 a.m., but that would soon change. More than 600 students from all parts of campus joined SGA to help better the Hattiesburg community, going to more than 40 different locations within the area.
When I arrived at the Oseola McCarty Youth Center with other members of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, we thought we were in the wrong place. We saw a few vehicles outside of the building and heard music, but were unable to find anyone in the complex. The main building was in a state of disrepair from the 2017 tornado that went across Petal and William Carey University. The center devoted to helping troubled youth had seen some trouble of its own. After the tornado did extreme damage to the center, it was vandalized by unknown individuals. The kitchen in particular took the worst of the vandalization, with the classrooms coming in a close second. Food was stolen, condiments were thrown all across the area and fire extinguishers were emptied all over the floor. While they were able to clean that shortly after the disaster, other parts of the Center needed attention,and that’s where we were able to help.
We arrived with the intention of simply doing yard work in their garden. This garden usually grows all types of fruits and vegetables, but it was currently growing crabgrass and chickweed. We did end up helping them pull weeds and till the area, but we actually started in the classrooms. These classrooms had just been finished from the tornado repairs, and we began by taking the desks from a storage room and cleaning them. While some of my brothers were pulling the desks from storage and others were cleaning them, others began to take the finished desks to their respective classrooms. After finishing the desks, we hung up shades in the rooms and made sure all the correct rooms had their correct filing cabinets, educator desks, and student materials. Finally we spread mulch, pulled weeds, and broke ground for the fruits and veggies.
While the labor was an important part of the Big Event, I found myself wondering more about the children that were soon to populate that Center. I had always been aware of the importance of these places for children that are deemed at-risk, but it was another thing to see it in its bare and untouched state. The people working the site with us that volunteer at the center full time were some of the most kind-hearted people I had ever met. These people that give their time and their money to help out children in our community. These are the people on the metaphorical front lines of child advocacy, and I was honored to be in their presence.
A lasting impression from the Big Event was the increased need of our at-risk youth. Only one wing of the Oseola McCarty Youth Center is repaired, but through the collaboration of the University, the city of Hattiesburg and the Youth Center, the future of Hattiesburg’s youth may become a little brighter.
On Saturday March 24, more than 600 Southern Miss students volunteered in the Hattiesburg community. The eighth annual Big Event sponsored by the Student Government Association included the largest number of volunteer sites yet at over 40 different locations. Various student organizations participated and went to sites in the Hattiesburg community including the Domestic Abuse Family Shelter, local public schools, the Salvation Army Thrift Store and the Southern Miss Animal Shelter.
“The Big Event opened my eyes to the needs that are right here in front of us in our community, and the urgency of helping those who can’t help themselves,” freshman Hadley Fortenberry said.
Colleges across the nation organize the Big Event each year. The University of Southern Mississippi has put on the Big Event since 2010 with assistance from the Student Government Association and the Center for Community and Civic Engagement. SGA volunteers led the teams that were sent out into the community. Last year, Southern Miss students volunteered at 25 sites in the Hattiesburg area with more than 400 volunteers.
“We were excited by the increased number of participants from last year who had the opportunity to experience meaningful service opportunities in the Pine Belt through The Big Event,” Associate Dean of Students Wynde Fitts said.
Gulf Park students also participated in the Big Event in Long Beach, helping to clean up the beachfront.