Passion of the Pinebelt helping out the Homeless community in the Hattiesburg area. – Courtesy Photo
With over 2,000 people experiencing homelessness in Mississippi, one young man is doing his part to help those in the Hattiesburg area.
“In November of 2013, I created Passion of the Pinebelt as a way of providing food and clothes to the homeless I would meet occasionally throughout town,” said Scott Lees, president and founder of Passion of the Pinebelt, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of the homeless citizens of South Mississippi.
Passion of the Pinebelt does not operate as just another shelter or soup kitchen, but instead works toward getting people out of homelessness. The organization offers computer literacy courses, interview etiquette and resumé building classes to educate the homeless for entering the workforce.
“We also provide basic needs such as food, clothing and hygiene products,” Lees said. “Without the struggle to find basic essentials, they can focus their time and energy on improving themselves and identifying the issues that led them to their current situation.”
Having personally experienced homelessness, this is a cause near and dear to Lees.
“I lived out of my truck, too proud to ask for help, for about four months,” Lees said.
“My father found himself homeless following his release from prison. An aging, unhealthy man with a criminal record doesn’t have many employment opportunities. I can remember being hungry, thirsty and cold. I recall many mornings waking up covered in frost. I used a candle in my floorboard as warmth.”
Everyone who works with Passion of the Pinebelt does so as a volunteer, but Lees has still had no trouble finding people to help him with his cause.
Magen Nowell, secretary of Passion of the Pinebelt, has always wanted to help the homeless, and she was happy for the chance to do so in this organization.
“Growing up, I was always taught ‘whatever you do for the least of these, you also do for me,’” Nowell said. “That’s always been my mentality.”
One of Passion of the Pinebelt’s first events was a Ladies’ Night held March 9. The goal was to provide haircuts and makeup to homeless women. The women also received gift bags that included toiletries, clothes, canned food and beauty supplies. This event was when Nowell realized the impact Passion of the Pinebelt had on the community.
“Those women were so appreciative for those of us that took time out of our busy schedule to give them something that they haven’t really had in a long time,” Nowell said. “Seeing the smiles on their faces was worth it.”
Even students at The University of Southern Mississippi enjoy volunteering with Passion of the Pinebelt. Sarah Rubelowsky, a sophomore marketing major, acts as current president of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. As an organization, they enjoy working with Passion of the Pinebelt as a way to give back to the Hattiesburg community.
“I had Scott come talk at one of our meetings and give a quick presentation on Passion of the Pinebelt,” Rubelowsky said. “After his presentation, my members began to bring in so many items that could be donated. We had one girl bring five trash bags filled with all sorts of items.”
“I interviewed a couple different homeless women (as part of Ladies’ Night), and tears were shed from both me and them because they were so grateful and appreciative that we were doing this for them,” Rubelowsky added. “One woman started to cry and said, ‘When I get back on my feet, I want to volunteer and do what you guys have done for me for someone else.’”
Passion of the Pinebelt is planning a bowling night for homeless men in the area. Members of the organization are also planning to participate in the Out of Darkness walk on April 18 at USM.