Instructors make a difference at J.L. King Center

By: Jessica Bays

For people who may not know about the J.L. King Center, it is considered a valuable resource and one of the brightest gems that Starkville has to offer to the community.

Though it is not the traditional classroom, inside the walls of the small red brick building are two women who help make the center shine as a place where people can change their lives for the better.


Adult basic education instructor Gloria Conley, assists Domonique Green with an assignment at the J.L. King Center.

Rose Coffey Graham and Gloria Conley are both adult basic education instructors at the J.L. King Center. The sole employees of the center, Graham and Conley teach adult classes that provide adult basic education, general educational development preparation, job readiness training and English as a Second Language preparation to anyone over the age of 17.

“Basically we implement the GED program and we assist students in obtaining their high school equivalency,” Graham said. “Not only do we assist with the GED program but there may be someone that wants to come in and maybe brush up on their reading, their math, social studies, science or writing skills.”

The program is under the umbrella of Family Centered Programs in the Starkville School District and is funded by the Mississippi Community College Board.

Graham, who received her associate degree in journalism from Wood College and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Mississippi State University, worked as a case manager for the Department of Human Services before she came to the center in 1997.

Conley, who received her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a minor in special education from Jackson State University, received her master’s from MSU in Elementary Education. She retired from being a school teacher after 34 years before coming to the center part-time four years ago.

Graham and Conley said they both enjoy working at the center, though there have been some challenges with attendance and retention over the years. They said that this is mainly due to the challenges that the students face themselves, such as illness, death, children, their job, and transportation.

“Although some people are required to come the majority are not, so when they have to come on their own they tend to get slack,” Graham said, “and there’s really nothing we can do about it. We just try to continue to encourage them to come.”

Working at the center does have an upside though. Conley said the center is important mainly because of the opportunities they afford the community and the county as a whole.

“People are given opportunities to get their education that they didn’t get for whatever reason,” Conley said. “It changes their lives. They just want to do better. They see this as their vehicle to get them to where they want to go.”

Domonique Green, a native of Shelby, Miss. has been coming to the center for about a month. He said coming to the center has turned his life around.

“It keeps me out of trouble and I’m actually learning something,” Green said.

Graham and Conley said that the center could not be possible without Joan Butler, director of Family Centered Programs, as well as their students. It is because of them that they keep working in hopes to continue to make a difference.

“Our philosophy is that if you start here you can go anywhere, and we really believe that,” Conley said. “Don’t just look at the world, be a part of the view. That’s what we tell our students.”

“We know there is a need,” Graham said, “and we want people to feel welcome to come here—anything we can do to help them along the way.”

Graham and Conley said that they welcome tutors to help teach at the center. The J.L. King Center’s hours are Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. For more information on how to sign up for classes, call 662-324-6913.


Starkville Community Market brings people together


Eight ball zucchini at the Starkville Community Market.

By: Jessica Bays

The eight ball zucchini is a hybrid variety of zucchini squash that has become popular over the last several years. It’s round, softball size and shape, make it ideal for stuffing, but like any other zucchini it can be steamed, baked, grilled, or roasted, and perhaps even fried.

The owner of the unique looking zucchini, Don Autry of D&G Farm in Wren, Miss. said he was approached by a man who wanted to know if the zucchini could be deep fried, and two women who wanted to use the zucchini to make a base for pizza crust.

Though he had never heard of using the zucchini in either way, it opened up a different path of looking at how the Starkville Community Market helps to bring the local community together, whether through sharing recipes, or learning about different produce and baked goods.

The Starkville Community Market, which is in its fourth year running, has been run by volunteers up until this year. It has now found a new home with Starkville Main Street, which is a division of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.

Autry, who is one of the original farmers that have been with the market since the beginning, is happy about the new partnership.

“One advantage of the Main Street Association taking over is promoting when the market is being held, which is helping us to have more contacts,” said Autry. “They’re really turning it into a family oriented market to where people want to come and spend their Saturday mornings eating healthy food and participating in kids’ activities.”

The market is not just any regular farmer’s market. They not only accept vendors for produce, but artisans and baked goods as well. In addition, it has planned cooking and gardening demonstrations, how-to sessions and kids’ activities to make each Saturday at the Market a fun family affair.

Jennifer Prather, special events and projects coordinator for the market, said that before the GSDP came along, there were some challenges with managing the market.

“One thing that affected us in the past is that we did not have the huge resource of having advertising and marketing and the ability to have a sole person focus on the market,” Prather said. “But by the GSDP taking it on, we’re able to focus our full summer market budget on the market as well as having a full time employee.”

In addition to the market’s new partnership with the GSDP and Starkville Main Street, vendors said that community support has also helped the market to thrive.

Sandra Miller with the Tomato House in Macon, Miss. said that due to the community’s support of the market they have gotten more traffic and sales, which is one thing they like a lot about the market.

“We’ve been to community markets where the community didn’t support it well,” said Miller. “Starkville does a very good job of supporting the market. It’s just a nice place. We appreciate the outpouring of local support. It’s encouraging to a vendor.”

Prather said that the market is not just a way to support local business in the community and to offer an opportunity for the city of Starkville to buy local, but it is a way for people to come together and have a good time.

“Every week the community comes out to support the market and it’s a great way for us to add to the quality of life in Starkville,” said Prather. “It’s not only about buying and selling goods, but also about the interaction of the community with one another and the spirit to gather and socialize and build relationships with one another.”

The Starkville Community Market meets Saturdays from May through August from 7:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. To volunteer visit  For more volunteer opportunities with the Maroon Volunteer Center visit


Volunteers Gain New Experiences with Fresh Start


Fresh Start volunteers Sharon Washington and Giusy Pappalardo participate in an activity with preschool children at Emerson Family School.

By: Jessica Bays

Bright and colorful were the fruits and vegetables in Sharon Washington’s basket as she and other volunteers made their rounds to the classrooms at Emerson Family School.

One by one, Washington took each fruit and vegetable out of her basket and gave it to the small children.

Their little hands and noses touched and smelled the array of fruits and vegetables before them. Taking in the sight of the different shapes and colors, their eyes lit up in excitement when they realized another one of their five senses – taste.

“Don’t eat it!” Washington quickly told one of the children with a laugh, after he had raised the Granny Smith apple up to his lips. “We have to save these for the other classrooms.”

Activities like this are just some of the ways that volunteers with the Fresh Start program at Emerson are helping to increase nutritional awareness in children and teach them where their food comes from through experiential activities in the school garden.

Fresh Start was started in 2011 by concerned parents at Emerson Family School, who wanted their children to be served fresh, unprocessed foods, while at the same time, learning healthy eating habits. The program meets on Fridays from 9-11 a.m. It is mainly run by parent volunteers and volunteers recruited through the Maroon Volunteer Center and Volunteer Starkville.

Washington, who only just started volunteering with Fresh Start, said she had already learned so much from the program.

 “I think it’s an excellent program,” Washington said. “It’s teaching them (the children) about how to stay healthy and how to garden and compost. It also shows them how to work together in a team. I just think the kids are really smart. They know some things I don’t know.”

During “compost day” children in the four and five-year-old class at Emerson sat and listened to one of the volunteers read “Compost Stew” by Mary McKenna Siddals. After the children listened to the story, they identified some of the ingredients from the book that can and cannot be used to make compost needed to provide nutrients to the school gardens. After their lesson, they went outside to water their gardens.

Giusy Pappalardo, who started volunteering with Fresh Start in November of last year, said that the program was very much about letting the children grow with nature and learning practical experiences that they can use to build their own gardens such as watering a garden, making compost, or picking up weeds.

“We basically all share the same willingness to promote eating good food, healthy lifestyles, and experiences,” Pappalardo said. “And it’s just fun because you see the children having fun.”

Fresh Start Coordinator Amanda Dahl said that Fresh Start is the first farm-to-preschool program in the state of Mississippi. It uses fresh foods from local farms to serve to the children. While the aim has always been to teach the children and introduce them to healthier foods at earlier ages, Dahl said she is glad that the volunteers have become so invested in the program.

“This is a program that’s run strictly by volunteers and of course our school has administrators that help along with the parents, but without volunteers our program wouldn’t be sustained,” Dahl said. “I think our program is a good example that if people have a passion about anything and put their heads together to recruit people to help them any program can be successful.”

Washington said she had so much fun volunteering with Fresh Start that next time she’ll bring along her son. She added that it would be great if other schools caught on and had a program like Fresh Start.

“I think it would be a good idea if they tried to put it in the other schools in the area, because it’ll help lower our obesity rate and encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle,” Washington said.

Anyone interested in volunteering with Fresh Start can email Dahl at or visit to register as a volunteer. For more volunteer opportunities with the Maroon Volunteer Center go to

Teach for America Alumnus to speak on Social Entrepreneurship on April 8

Dr. Chris Myers Asch – Teach for America alumnus, historian, and social entrepreneur

Social Entrepreneurship: Think BIG, Be BOLD, Drive CHANGE

April 8, 2013 at 6:00 P.M. in Foster Ballroom Sec. S in the Colvard Student Union, Mississippi State University

Join the History Department, the Stennis Institute of Government, Volunteer Starkville, and the Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement in learning how you could become one of those exceptional individuals who dream up and take responsibility for an innovative and untested idea for positive social change, and usher that idea from dream to reality.[i]

On April 8th, Dr. Chris Myers Asch will explain how you can use the principles of social entrepreneurship to unleash your talents to solve the world’s biggest problems. A former Teach for America corps member in Sunflower County Mississippi, Chris Myers Asch is an educator, historian, and social entrepreneur who has taught in, studied, and positively impacted the Mississippi delta region. A native of Washington, D.C., Asch graduated from Duke University and subsequently earned a Ph.D. in American History from the University of North Carolina. He taught elementary and middle school for three years in Sunflower, Mississippi, as part of Teach for America and one year in Taejon, South Korea, with the William J. Fulbright program.

Chris co-founded the Sunflower County Freedom Project in 1998 and served as Executive Director until launching the U.S. Public Service Academy in 2006. He won the 2007 Eli Segal Award from AmeriCorps Alums and became a 2007 Echoing Green Fellow. His first book, The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer (2nd edition, University of North Carolina Press, 2011) earned the Liberty Legacy Foundation Prize from the Organization of American Historians, the McLemore Prize from the Mississippi Historical Society, and the Mississippi Library Association’s Non-Fiction Award.

For more information, contact:

Courtney Allen
Alternative Spring Break Trip Coordinator

Dr. Jason Ward
Assistant Professor of History

Jamey Matte

Director of Volunteer Starkville


Cade Smith

M. Cade Smith, Ph.D

Assistant Dean of Students /

Student Leadership and Community Engagement


Echoing Green: Think BIG, Be BOLD, Drive CHANGE

Echoing Green video –

Echoing Green believes “that social entrepreneurs are those exceptional individuals who dream up and take responsibility for an innovative and untested idea for positive social change, and usher that idea from dream to reality.”i

The Hobbit!


Lately it has been a little slow here at Volunteer Starkville/Maroon Volunteer Center. However, we have been doing a lot of preparation for the winter break when the school will shut down and we work off location. I am beyond excited about this, because this means that even though I still have to work I will at least be able to work from my Mama’s house in Tennessee. (It actually snows there!)

To prepare for the break Stedmond, a fellow VISTA with the MVC, and I have been contacting schools and after-school programs to better understand volunteer mentor roles and responsibilities from the organizations’ views. It has been very eye-opening and interesting. We had a special education teacher, who has been in the field for 37 years, tell us that being a mentor is “mission work” in her eyes, because she has seen children’s lives change for the better because of a mentor, even if that change isn’t immediately seen. Some of the things I’ve heard almost sound too cliché to be real, but they have seen it happen, and it is making me even more excited about this training we are putting together.

With all this good news, we did get some sad news yesterday when we met a staff member at the middle school. Ms. Shumaker oversees the volunteer mentor program at Armstrong Middle School. She said that she and several other people, including some at Emerson Family School and the Youth with a Purpose program, are employed because of a grant that will run out in February. What this means for the children in the Starkville School District is that after February there will be no more funding to allow for a mentoring program within the school. Stedmond and I are invited to talk about our training at one of their meetings in the next two weeks, so we will present our training idea to them and hopefully brainstorm ways to keep this program going after the funding is gone.

Speaking of funding, if you’re interested in donating to Volunteer Starkville, consider installing the Give Back America toolbar on your browser. This allows you to donate directly to Volunteer Starkville while doing your online shopping all at no additional cost. Check out this link for a way to give back this holiday season.

Okay, now for the most important thing happening this week.


I hope you enjoy this soundtrack preview from Howard Shore. It should suffice until you go and watch this movie.

Much love,


Mississippi Delta Alternative Spring Break – Blog Update!


So I’ve been M.I.A. in the blog world for a while now.  Sorry about that folks!  Sometimes as a VISTA things get put on the back burner from time to time.  Hopefully I’m back for a while now though!  A lot has obviously gone on since my last post.  I probably won’t be able to fill you in on EVERYTHING, but I’ll break it down for you!

{Extension Visits}

I traveled to the Delta a good bit in October to meet with Mississippi State Extension Agents.  They were a great resource for lodging, food, community service, and experiential learning opportunities.  I was able to practice my pitch in these meetings and get useable information.  This whole process has definitely been a huge learning experience for me.  I enjoyed meeting with extension directors because I feel they had an open mind to what I am trying to do in the Delta.  At times, I lose sight… this project seems huge in retrospect and it’s hard for me to see the small pieces without feeling like the whole picture is just too much to handle.  All the extension directors I met with were open minded, excited about what we are trying to do in the Delta, and gave me help with contacts for the different aspects I need for the trips.

{Mississippi MLK Day VISTA Project}

MSU and Ole Miss have been working together to create a unified MLK project.  We have had them visit us and we have visited them a few times to prepare.  We are doing a school supply drive to raise supplies for local schools and programs in our areas.  We are hoping to create a unified front (not a rivalry) about the importance of going to college.  We don’t care which school you choose to attend, as long as you strive to attend college in general.  We are creating a promotional video for MLK Day that will have students at both schools saying what their “dream” is in life.  We will also have VIP’s in the video such as President Keenum at MSU (hopefully) and the Chancellor at Ole Miss.  We will present this video to middle and high school students encouraging them to make dreams for themselves and to go to college and continue their education.  We will then partner with our local volunteer offices (Volunteer Starkville and Volunteer Oxford) to work on the projects they have set aside for actual MLK Day.  The VISTA’s as a whole are super excited about the opportunity to work together and work united.  We have really enjoyed getting to know each other and building relationships!  Stay tuned for an update later on how our activities turn out.


I think I’ve voiced how difficult lodging will be for the Alternative Break trips in the Delta.  We have to find the opportunity and sometimes that can be difficult.  I used extension, and they were a help, but I still didn’t find information I was looking for.  I then went through Red Cross and MEMA and they still haven’t been the biggest help yet, I’m working through those right now though.  One avenue that has at least given me a lead is the Chamber.  I’ve decided my next step is to try contacting all the local Chambers in the MS Delta asking if they know of anyone who has the facilities we need.  So that has been a long strenuous process making these contacts.  If you know of any lodging opportunities in the MS Delta, please give me a call at 662-325-0267 and leave a message if I’m not there.  Any information will help!

{Schools Involved}

We are trying to branch the trip out to other schools.  I spoke to students at Heritage Academy in Columbus almost 2 weeks ago and we are excited to possibly partner with them for the trip.  This will actually be high school students, so it will be interesting having the college and high school students working together!  I have a meeting set up with Ole Miss to discuss them possibly sending students as well and I’m waiting to hear back from other schools right now.  Our goal was to have 5 new schools participate this year, so I guess we are 2/5 of the way there!

Overall, the past few months have been good.  I, personally, as a VISTA, have had my up and down days, my motivated and unmotivated days, but overall, the experience has continued to be good.  I’m excited to see how the project turns out overall.   I consider my part of the job one of the most difficult and to be honest, I didn’t realize this is what I was signing up for.  At times, it’s hard to press on because some aspects of the job are difficult for my personality to handle, but I look at that as a learning opportunity and in the end I know I’ll be a better person, a stronger, more motivated worker, and I will be able to say that there is at least a small framework for the MS Delta Alternative Break program to continue and that’s something I’ll be proud of!

The Line – A Movie About Poverty in America


The post submitted by Lacy Jaudon, AmeriCorps VISTA. Read Lacy’s AmeriCorps VISTA Blog at:

I know it’s been a while since I last posted, but it’s because we have been super busy here at work! I’m enjoying it again! My fellow VISTA wrote a post recently about how sometimes this job can get kind of… well, boring or wear you down. It did that for a while. But, now I am more energized than ever, and I think it’s because I got a great reminder a few weeks ago about why I am serving as a VISTA.

I watched The Line a few weeks ago. It was actually October 2, the day before the first presidential debate.

Okay, so you have to know this before I go any further – VISTAs are not allowed to be political in any sense. We can’t even help with nonpartisan voter registration drives as VISTAs. This is a tough year for all of us to do that. We don’t live under rocks, despite what you may think about how we survive on our small stipends. Cable TV and Internet are included in my rent, so I’m still aware of what’s happening in the political sphere. I am also a public policy major, so this is to be expected, right?

So, let me be clear about one thing before I get into the focus of this post: I am not here to proselytize, politicize, or ostracize. I only want to share my thoughts with you about this great film I watched about poverty.

The Line premiere was hosted by Sojourners Magazine, a progressive Christian magazine and organization, Oxfam America, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, World Vision, and many other nonprofits that strive to end hunger, poverty, and social injustice. Some are faith-based, and some are not. They asked many faith-based groups, social justice and civic groups to come together to host screenings of the film at the same time as the premiere so that many people could join in a conversation about poverty at the same time. Sojourners is still selling the DVD, and may still offer it for free if you choose to host a screening of the film. There is also a free discussion guide that is to happen after each showing of the film. After the premier October 2, Jim Wallis, the CEO of Sojourners, and others came together for a live-streamed discussion panel of the film and poverty in general.

I was not able to host a screening of the film October 2, because I did not find out about it until the Friday before, but I was able to order a DVD so I can host a screening sometime soon here in Starkville, MS.  While I knew that Sojourners was the main party to put this screening on, I did not feel that the film took a faith-based or political stance. The filmmaker Linda Midgett did a great job delivering the facts about poverty and following four individuals who have either entered into poverty after earning six figures or those who have struggled with poverty their entire lives. She did not push a political or religious position on the audience. However, the premiere showing was intentionally planned for October 2, the day before the first presidential debate. This was to encourage the entire nation to begin talking about poverty, because all the talk lately has only been about the middle class. Poverty affects everyone, whether you realize it or not, and this film depicts that so well!

This is the description of the film from the Sojourners website:

Poverty in America — It’s not what you think.

The Line documents the stories of people across the country living at or below the poverty line. They have goals. They have children. They work hard. They are people like you and me. Across America, millions are struggling every day to make it above The Line.

These are some of the individuals interviewed for The Line.

I highly encourage everyone to watch this film. Again, I am not promoting any type of political or religious agenda. We all need to be aware of the realities of poverty in America and around the world. Poverty affects everyone, and this film served as a great reminder of why I chose to become a VISTA.

While this is a more serious post (minus the Austin Powers clip, which I hope you all enjoyed), I want to leave you with something light and funny. I still ask that you allow your heart to become broken by these stories and then filled with thanksgiving that either you are not in these situations or that you can do something to help others who are.