Mississippi College

MC Students Make a Difference Year-Round

October 22, 2007

Mississippi College students are tutoring children at a Clinton apartment complex, volunteering at a retirement home and building Habitat homes.

Those are some of the many ways hundreds of MC students are serving their community daily. Volunteerism is being spotlighted as millions of other Americans participate in the 17th annual Make a Difference Day activities Saturday Oct. 27. It is the nation's largest single day of volunteering.

"I believe we can't do life without each other," said Charlie Floyd, 24, a 2006 MC graduate who's helping with the Think Together Tutoring Center at the Hunter Oaks Apartments in Clinton. At least 40 MC students are signed up to help dozens of youngsters at the complex with their math, science and English homework and serve as mentors.

Floyd, a Gulfport native, works for Americorps-VISTA, the national agency that operates as a domestic Peace Corps. With an MC degree in Christian Studies and French, he recruits MC students to serve as Think Together tutors and gets them involved in a number of other good causes.

Think Together Tutoring Center sprouted at MC last year thanks to a boost from California businessman Sam Anderson, a Magee native and MC graduate. He got his alma mater involved after being among the leaders creating a similar program in Costa Mesa, Calif. more than a dozen years ago. It was in a California community overrun by drugs, gangs and too many students skipping school. "We assisted in tutoring in one apartment, and we've been in the same place for 13 years - it's now at three apartments and 150 kids are going through it," Anderson said during a recent trip back to Mississippi.

Today, the Think Together Tutoring Centers are blossoming at 190 locations nationwide, said Anderson, who serves on the group's national board. Today, about 20,000 children across the nation are getting help.

At the location in Clinton, Floyd said the tutoring center is successful after a year in operation, but can always use more volunteers. It's not just a case of show up and start tutoring. Students are required to undergo background checks and receive a little training to bone up on tutoring skills. The center serves students at the complex near Wal-Mart from 3 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Supporters hope to get more Clinton apartment complexes involved.

Mississippi College is the only institution of higher learning in the Magnolia State affiliated with the Think Together Tutoring Center, but that may not be the case much longer. "My dream is that it will spread to other colleges and universities in Mississippi," Anderson said.

It's one of many doors open to MC students where they can make a difference. Shari Barnes, director of the MC Community Service Center, said the Christian university this fall is working with more than 100 agencies to provide service opportunities to students. They are getting involved in such groups as Community Animal Rescue and Adoption or CARA, a no-kill animal shelter in Jackson. CARA provides pets to families ready to provide them with a healthy, safe and loving home. Students also work with the Center for Pregnancy Choices, the Trace Pointe Retirement Community, the Clinton 4 C's, and the Jackson Zoo. At least 1,000 students were involved in volunteer projects last year at MC. At least 4,000 volunteer hours were racked up, Barnes said. It's been everything from giving blood to book donations.

At 4,600-student MC, it's hard to avoid pitches to get involved. In between notices about upcoming Choctaws football games and an Oct. 30 prayer night on the Clinton campus, the TV message screen at the college cafeteria invites students to volunteer. "It's an opportunity to serve God by serving others," is the message from the Community Service Center as students devour breakfast and trek to classes on a drizzling Monday morning.

Whether it's taking part in a Make a Difference Day event or volunteering year-round, the MC Community Service Center is getting students connected with those needing a helping hand. Volunteer service isn't required, but is strongly encouraged at MC, Barnes said. The MC nursing school, the Baptist Student Union, and MC social tribes, among others, are big on community service.

On Saturday's Make a Difference Day, MC students will get involved in a Habitat project in an inner-city Jackson neighborhood. Barnes is encouraging students to "make a difference" year-round. In Las Vegas, 200 volunteers will provide 1,500 disadvantaged kids from area Boys & Girls Clubs with new shoes as part of National Make a Difference Day. The National Football League, including stars like Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Denver's Champ Bailey, is among the groups helping with national events to make a difference for needy Americans in 2007.

To find out more about MC volunteerism, contact Shari Barnes at the Community Service center at sbarnes@mc.edu or call 601-925-3855. For more information on Make a Difference Day led by chief sponsor "USA Weekend" call 800-416-3824 or visit makeadifferenceday.com

PHOTO (taken last year): Susie Jordan, an MC alum and Tutoring Center volunteer, with pupil Denise Campbell, 9.

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