Spring Break: Not Just for Fun

Spring break for college teens is usually one filled with vacations and down time from a semester of projects and homework.  But for the college students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), an “alternative” spring break was planned.  They decided to travel 493 miles to spend the week in Jackson, Mississippi giving up their spring break to volunteer their services around the city.  One of their stops was the Hinds County Human Resource Agency (HCHRA).

Amanda Kuipers, a UTK Child and Family Studies, Pre K-3 student, was the team leader for the group of 14 community volunteers that came to Jackson the week of March 12, 2018 to donate their time to Hinds County Human Resource Agency’s Meals on Wheels Program and the Little Bethel Neighborhood Service Center Congregate Site in Terry, Mississippi.  Kuipers states, “Each year, our Center for Leadership and Service Program chooses a theme in which we are to participate during the week of spring break, but the location is not revealed to the students until they are on the bus so that students don’t choose a trip based solely on location.  Though some students focus on one organization during the entire spring break week, we chose to service different locations each day.  All the trips in this program are student led, but we do get advice from our directors.”  This year’s theme was “Food Insecurity in Public Health.”

The UTK students were instructed to complete an online search for areas within an 8-hour distance pertaining to the theme and saw that Jackson, Mississippi was one of the locations.  From there, they queried local agencies in the Jackson area that focused on the theme.  HCHRA was one of the agencies they chose to volunteer with during their alternative spring break.

For the period of their visit, the volunteers split into two groups. One group of seven volunteers went to Meals on Wheels with HCHRA Planning & Development Officer and Volunteer Coordinator Jessica Davis, while the other group of seven went to Little Bethel’s congregate site with HCHRA Communications Specialist Carlene J. Parker.  Both groups of volunteers spent time visiting and talking with the elderly at their respective homes or site while servicing their needs.  Meals on Wheels volunteers greeted the seniors with a hearty smile and open heart as they delivered the meals to their homes.  Volunteers who visited Little Bethel, read to the seniors, listened to their daily devotional and then served them their meals.  The seniors also engaged the volunteers as they shared some of their life experiences and healthy wisdom.

As students rode from the Little Bethel site, volunteer Madelyn Weas, a UTK Chemical Engineering student commented, “It was good to be able to sit and talk with them and get to know them a little instead of just handing them a meal.” Other volunteers from the UTK included Mustafa Salameh, Katie Shannon, Thomas Hyde, Jared Smith and Emily Joyner.

Designed to promote the general health and well-being of older individuals, HCHRA’s Congregate Meals program provides seniors with a hot “sit-down” style meal at gathering sites throughout Hinds County. This service is intended to reduce hunger and food insecurity, promote socialization, and delay the onset of adverse health conditions.  In addition to serving healthy meals and providing opportunities for social engagement, the program gives seniors information on healthy aging and meaningful volunteer roles.  HCHRA’s Home Delivered Meal program delivers five nutritious, well-balanced and easy-to-prepare meals each week to elderly citizens and to people with disabilities who reside in rural Hinds County that are unable to leave home without assistance.  To learn more about HCHRA and its programs and services, visit www.hchra.org.