Submitted by Tylicia Grove
This past spring break, I took a service trip to Shaw, Mississippi, with USM’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE). Shaw is a small town in a particularly poor section of the Mississippi Delta, made up of primarily minorities. The area is known as a food desert, which means that residents in rural areas have less access to healthy food. There are few available jobs, no public library, a high rate of teen pregnancies, and no place to buy groceries. The only hospital is about 25 minutes away.
Where the town lacked in megastores, large schools, and resources, it made up for in heart—good people and a rich music history. On this trip, I got to meet people from different backgrounds, learn more about Mississippi Delta’s history, and tour some great museums (Dockery Farms, B.B. King Museum, and GRAMMY Museum Mississippi). More importantly, I got to serve alongside peers of the Southern Miss community and others from across the country to help make a difference in my home state.
Amid negative factors, there are people in Shaw who are striving to show the kids and people of the town a new, positive outlook on life. Mr. Jason Coker (Director) and Ms. Lane Riley (Executive Director) are the catalysts of a program called Delta Hands for Hope (DHH). Through this program, kids in the area have a place to hang out and stay out of trouble after school and during school breaks. The program participants range anywhere from 5 to 18 years of age.
Although our group was only in Shaw March 11-14, we were fortunate to be able to help in many ways. We held a Spring Break bash for the kids in the area to start off a week of spring break camp. I also helped to organize a mini library for the children, assisted with self-esteem and team building activities, assisted with reading comprehension programming, and talked about college to some of the high schoolers. Ms. Lane takes the high schoolers to visit many colleges, including Southern Miss and Harvard. They also meet college students who come to the town just to volunteer with the program. There was a group from Yale that came down to volunteer right after our group was leaving. Bringing in these groups helps to expose the students to opportunities that can help them better themselves in the long-term, and in return, better their town.
One instance where the students have applied what they are learning is in their efforts to regain a public library. I learned that the area is impoverished and suffers from a lack of resources. DHH provides children in the community with various resources that would not be available otherwise. The only library in Shaw had closed, leaving the community without access to books and computers. Before the library closed, they donated numerous books to DHH. However, the students at DHH are working to get the library reopened, taking on tasks such as cleaning out the library building and researching options to reopen its doors.
There was one thing that stuck out to me. There was one small clinic right around the corner from the after-school center named Shaw Family Medical Clinic. The clinic has broken down barriers, as it was once segregated, but is now run by three female African-American nurse practitioners and is the only readily available source of healthcare nearby. This spoke volumes as to why you become a healthcare provider or why you do anything. You do not work or help others for money or notoriety—you serve with the purpose to make a difference in any way you can, wherever you can, no matter what the odds may be. For Shaw Family Medical Clinic, they are doing so one patient at a time. This inspired me and I ultimately hope to help close the gaps of disparities in rural areas of Mississippi just as these practitioners and great people like Lane Riley and Jason Coker are doing with Delta Hands for Hope. As I move forward in USM’s nursing program, I will carry this experience with me and this goal in mind.
Tylicia Grove is a senior Luckyday Scholar majoring in nursing.
The Center for Community Engagement has an alternative fall break trip planned for Birmingham, Alabama, Thursday, October 19, through Sunday, October 22. The trip is a partnership with the Christian Service Mission, and housing will be provided by True Vine Church in Birmingham.
The cost of the trip is only $50 which includes housing, transportation, and food. Visit usm.edu/cce for more info or check out the event on Facebook: Alternative Fall Break Trip. Be sure to sign up by Friday, September 29. For questions, stop by the CCE office in the Union or email Nneka.firstname.lastname@example.org.