United Way seeks teens to work as volunteers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 15, 2001

[05/15/01] The United Way of West Central Mississippi is looking for a few good teen-agers.

To that end, members of the local and Jackson chapters met Monday night with 25 students from Vicksburg, Warren Central and St. Aloysius high schools to discuss forming a youth initiative committee that will organize events to perform community service.

“We’re trying to communicate with the youth to bring a youth program to Vicksburg,” said Johnny Reynolds, chairman of the Vicksburg Youth Initiative. “We plan to organize something to deal with volunteer work and meet community needs.”

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This program will be a first for the local United Way, but Jackson’s United Way has had a youth program since 1986, and brought three student leaders to Vicksburg High School Monday to answer students’ questions.

“It’s a very meaningful program, not just to the community but to ourselves,” said Thomas Morris, chairman of the Donor Investment Committee. Morris is a freshman at Hinds Community College and has been involved with the United Way since his sophomore year in high school. The Donor Investment Committee oversees the funds raised by United Way and decides how to allocate money to community service organizations. The committee is made of 30 to 35 students.

“You have to have the heart to help the community,” he said. “It’s a meaningful process, and it teaches leadership skills, public speaking and how to budget money.”

The Vicksburg area students will create an advisory board and attempt to recruit other students to join the cause. The Jackson United Way is contributing $5,000 to help local teens get started. The board, once determined, will decide on community service projects and organize fund-raisers to help out with service organizations.

“I feel like this is an opportunity to have an organized way for the youth to give back to the community,” said Rosanna Gage, a VHS junior .

An added benefit will be for the students to meet new people and form a cohesion between schools, said Jose Oakley, who will co-direct the Vicksburg group.

“We are pleased with the schools coming together and for the students from the different schools to develop friendships and have some camaraderie,” he said.

Aja Gobar, a junior at Tougaloo College, has also been with the Jackson United Way for three years and said her involvement has opened other doors for her in volunteer services.

“It’s fulfilling to me and the others I serve,” Gobar said. “Knowing I can help someone else really gets me going.”

The next step for the Vicksburg group is to select the board and to determine community concerns and come up with ideas of importance to them. Their first project will come July 14 when United Way holds its annual Day of Caring.

On that day, many Vicksburg employers allow their employees to volunteer services, and students can sign up for projects to assist the 24 charitable agencies which are included in the local United Way’s umbrella.

Students said they are looking forward to being involved in the project, and all 25 signed up to be on the advisory board.

“I’m interested in getting more involved in the community and giving back,” said VHS junior Rebecca Harden.

United Way director Barbara Tolliver said she was pleased with the number of students who turned out and the number seems to be increasing.