NHS students give back for holiday

Published 12:02 am Thursday, December 22, 2011

ROD GUAJARDO/The Natchez Democrat — Myron Anderson, junior at Natchez High School, helps pack a turkey into a food basket as part of the Jobs for Mississippi Graduates fourth annual Christmas food basket program last Friday.

NATCHEZ — Natchez High School students got to see months of hard work pay off Friday through the reactions of pastors and citizens picking up 40 boxes containing a Christmas meal and other assorted food.

The students were participating in the fourth annual Christmas food basket program through the elective course Jobs for Mississippi Graduates, which is also a private, nonprofit group.

JMG students began the project in August and have done everything from decorating the boxes to selling raffle tickets to raise money.

Linda Bowers, program job specialist and elective teacher, said the project allows students to give back to the community, while also helping the less fortunate.

“What we try to do is give the students a sense of self worth by helping to build their self esteem with different projects like these, as well as prepare their employability skills,” Bowers said. “Our goal is to prevent dropouts, keep kids in schools, graduate them and put them into the workforce.”

The boxes, which contained a turkey and other essential items, were assigned to local churches, who then distribute them to less fortunate families.

Elizabeth Turnage, NHS senior and president of JMG, said it was a rewarding feeling seeing the church members picking up their boxes.

“It makes me feel really good because we’re all in a position where one moment we don’t need it, but the next we do,” Turnage said. “You just never know when you’re going to need something.”

JMG is the state’s version of the national program, Jobs for America’s Graduates, which aims to provide resources to mostly high school students that might be at risk of dropping out of school because of financial or family situations.

James Sardin, JMG program manager, said he is always impressed by the dedication of the students.

“It really tells me that the program is working and what we’re doing is actually getting through,” Sardin said. “We hope it’s a long term effect.”

Bowers said students are nominated to be in the program, but those not chosen can also sign up for the elective course.

Brittany Mearday, NHS senior, is in her second year of JMG and said the program gave her a chance to fit in after her family moved to Natchez from North Carolina when she was 14.

“This environment really got me comfortable with being here because everyone’s friendly and you can just be yourself,” Mearday said. “I used to give back in North Carolina, but when I got here I really hadn’t done a whole lot, so this helps me get back in the flow of things.”

Sandra Peoples, NHS librarian and Partners in Education chairperson, said she contacted all the churches and got an excellent response from each one.

“Every pastor I called just said, ‘I know exactly who I can give boxes to,’” Peoples said. “We’re thrilled to be able to provide this for our community.”

Apart from the community service aspect, JMG also helps students prepare for life after graduation, offering resume building courses and public speaking. Peoples said the program has been beneficial in cultivating students to become responsible and dependable citizens.

“One of my main goals as a librarian is to help to educate these students in more ways than just academics,” Peoples said. “I try to encourage them to get a good education and talk to them about how important it is for them to represent NHS in the community and workforce.”