East Mississippi Volunteer Hub celebrates a year of giving back

Bianca Moorman/The Meridian Star

Nurse practitioner Mary Ann Howell uses to the East Mississippi HUB for Volunteers and Non-Profits to help senior citzens sign-up for COVID-19 vaccines. The organization is celebrating its first year of service. 

Mary Ann Howell has found the perfect way to spend her free time - helping others in need.  

“I'm honored to be able to do this, because I've been on the receiving end before," said Howell, a nurse practitioner and volunteer. "I know how much it's meant to me, so I'm honored to be able to do that for somebody else."  

Howell is one of many local residents using a new online resource: The East Mississippi HUB for Volunteers and Nonprofits. The HUB, which was established in March 2020, celebrated its first anniversary on Thursday.  

Director Casey Culpepper said the HUB was created by Volunteer Mississippi, the United Way of East Mississippi and the Community Foundation of East Mississippi to get people more involved in the community. She said starting a non-profit during a pandemic was not an easy task.

“I started the HUB when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic," she said. “I really didn't  see the year looking like it did, but it also gave me a chance to connect with non-profits in a way that was more urgent. We were able to develop great relationships through that.” 

East Mississippi Volunteer Hub celebrates a year of giving back

Bill Graham/The Meridian Star

Lamar senior Sarah Paige Shirley likes how the HUB's website provides flexibility for those with busy schedules.

Over the last year, the HUB has provided training for non-profits, helped with food donations and delivery of personal protective equipment and assisted with disaster response. Recently, it helped coordinate the donation of 44,000 pounds of sweet potatoes to local agencies. 

“It’s been the perfect source for connecting the dots between volunteers and non-profits in the needs within the community,” Culpepper said. 

'The reason I volunteer is because I love God and I love our community'

Howell became involved with the HUB after helping deliver meals to local students last  year. She's currently helping senior citizens sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The reason I volunteer is because I love God and I love our community,” she said. “I like to show people that they are loved. When I volunteer, it's just the perfect opportunity."

Howell said she likes how the HUB allows her to connect with different community agencies.  

East Mississippi Volunteer Hub celebrates a year of giving back

Bianca Moorman/The Meridian Star 

Salvation Army's Lt. Tamara Robb and Wesley's House executive director David Schultz and volunteer coordinator Liz Moore talk during a ribbon-cutting celebrating the HUB's one-year anniversary on Thursday. . 

“Before I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how to get plugged in," she said. “The HUB has made it so easy to see what the needs are in the community and to be able to fulfill them  without having to make a bunch of phone calls." 

The organization is also valuable Sarah Paige Shirley, who has been volunteering since she was a child. 

“I'm super-involved in community service," said the Lamar senior. "I started at a young age."

Shirley said she likes how the HUB's website provides flexibility for those with busy schedules, and offers a way for those not part of a group to find opportunities.

“I'm a part of a club, so I can look for different opportunities,” said Shirley, who plans to major in public policy at the University of Mississippi. “But if you're searching around, it can be difficult.”

East Mississippi Volunteer Hub celebrates a year of giving back

Submitted photo 

Molly Cosby

Molly Cosby, who moved to Meridian about two years ago, has used the HUB to connect  with The Meridian Freedom Project as well as The Salvation Army.

She said the HUB is helpful for people new to the area.

“I find the best way to develop a love for a community is to jump in and get involved where you are needed,” she said.

Wesley House executive director David Schultz said the HUB has made it easier to find volunteers, especially for meal distribution.

“It's helped us connect with a different base of volunteers,” he said, noting that younger volunteers find the website easy to use. 

Looking ahead 

Over the next year, Culpepper hopes to expand the agency's reach in Kemper, Jasper, Newton, Neshoba and Clarke counties.

"This is just the start of what's to come," she said. 

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