For nearly the past two years New Albany has been working in partnership with the University of Mississippi. Their goal was to improve the quality of life in our community. The program, known as M Project, made use of students, interns and faculty, who participated in a wide range of activities. This past Monday they reported on that effort.
M Project was also partnered with Charleston in Tallahatchie County and Lexington in Holmes County. Community meetings were held in each town to identify themes and specific needs.
“The initial meeting was in 2018 with Bo Collins and the bank and mayor,” M Partner Laura Martin said. “I am so grateful for what we have done together. This is not a final report but so much has been done that we needed this.”
M Project was done in conjunction with the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement and its director, Dr. Albert Nylander. It was noted that the institute sees community engagement as a strategy rather than an output or an outcome.
The ways to address these needs came in three forms: Ole Miss classes or intern programs, special programs and events, and with the North Mississippi VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) Project.
Martin and several of the staff and interns involved described their particular projects and results for a group of citizens and county officials interested in community development.
The Ole Miss programs included:
- Recommendations for growth and development of the park and recreation system. They included recommendations for added adult activities and requested facilities such as an indoor pool and walking track.
- Marketing for and expansion of the Biscuits and Jam Farmers’ Market with added activities
- Assessment of programs and services at the Union County Library. Suggestions were made for meeting changing needs of the community
- Framework for a Leadership New Albany program based on work by Dr. Vaughn Grisham. Grisham originated the McLean Institute.
- A youth financial literacy and college preparation program with the New Albany Boys and Girls Club
- A clean up beautification initiative with New Albany Main Street and the Boys and Girls Club. Businesses were targeted.
- Community and economic development with Three Rivers Planning and Development District. Material was produced to help recruit businesses.
The special programs and events included:
- A startup camp for young entrepreneurs to teach middle school students marketing and product development
- A week-long McLean entrepreneurial leadership program on the Ole Miss campus
- A beautification program at the Park Along the River by Student Services in Higher Education
- A business development forum and live webinar with the participation of Brain Freeze, Cook’s Healthcare and High Point Roasters
- A service project at the Union County Heritage Museum with the Black Student Union performing deep cleaning of museum exhibits and areas
- Two general beautification community days downtown and at landmark areas
The VISTA programs included:
- A full-time year-long intern commitment to the Union County Heritage Museum
- Work with the Minority PUL Alliance to improve economic opportunities for minority groups
- Work with the Tallahatchie Arts Council
- Summer associates focusing on education
- A Martin Luther King Day beautification program on Bankhead Street, at the Park Along the River and at the Union County Heritage Museum.
Martin noted that this is only the pilot phase of the program and more projects will be coming up next spring. “We’re not done yet,” she said, adding that future projects may be health-related and some may focus on oral Black History.
“Our work does not end here,” Dr. Nylander said. “We always learn more from you than you probably learn from us.”
“You known your challenges better than anyone. Sometimes you just need a little encouragement,” he added.
“We had a phenomenal relationship with the University and the people of New Albany, Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud said. “I love the idea of growing together as a community and we will use this.”
She particularly praised the students’ efforts, saying, “I am at peace to know we are in good hands for the future.”