Giving Spirits

We take pride in those members of the Lion family who believe in lending a helping hand – on campus and off. In the following pages, you’ll meet a cross section of faculty, students and alumni who have found purpose in service to others.

Can-Do Attitude

Faculty members join forces to launch Lion Co-op

If you need proof of how fast a simple idea can become reality, look no further than the Lion Co-op.

Housed in the FEMA shelter, the campus food pantry opened in November – just a few short months after three faculty members began noticing a growing trend of hunger and its side effects.

Dr. Renee White, chair of the Social Work Department, said she partnered with Dr. Andrea Cullers, associate professor of kinesiology, and Dr. Megan Bever, assistant professor of history to answer an important question: “What can the MOSO family do to alleviate hunger?”

“From that question, the Lion Co-op was born,” she said.

The empty space set aside in the FEMA shelter was quickly transformed into to an area with shelves fully stocked with food and personal items. It was a testament to a need that resonated with many people.

“We had a crowdfunding campaign that reached its goal of raising $5,000 during the fall semester,” said Cullers. “MSSU faculty and staff also volunteered over winter break to keep the co-op open and we were able to serve more than 70 clients during that time.”

Since opening, the Lion Co-op has continued to receive donations from campus employees and organizations, as well as from off campus. Along with food, money and toiletry items, the facility also now has two freezers thanks to a Facebook campaign back in December by Missouri Southern alum Jon Tupper, ’92.

“The outpouring of donations and volunteers is what has allowed the co-op to move from a vision to a reality,” said White. “I am always humbled by the goodness of people and I stand in awe of the compassion that is present in and around the MSSU community.”

Students have also played a vital role in the effort. In the Social Work Department, students researched the issue by looking at the hard decisions other college students were making when spending their limited resources. Others volunteered their time and money to get the food pantry off the ground.

Cullers said in addition to playing a role in combatting food insecurity on campus, the Lion Co-op will also serve an educational role.

“We have a group of art students who are looking at non-profit design, and the Communication Department has a practicum that will look at PR and marketing materials,” she said. “We want to grow to where we have students doing internships for discipline-specific projects through the co-op.

“It’s a place that serves our community, but also a place to educate our students and for faculty research.”

The Lion Co-op is open from 2 to 4 p.m. Mondays, and from 10 a.m. to noon Thursdays. Volunteers are being recruited so that hours can be expanded.

By mid-January, more than 100 members of the campus community had received assistance. It’s a number that is expected to grow as more people become aware that help is available.

“We want to continue to raise awareness,” said Bever. “We know that residence hall students are aware of it. We’re now working to make sure Lion Cub Academy parents and non-traditional students are aware of it, too.”

Something to Aspire to

Scholarship created by alumni Bryan and Leticia Vowels helps single parents continue their education

Raising a child alone comes with its share of obstacles – and single parents deciding to pursue a college degree may find it creates a new set of financial challenges.

Lending a hand to those in such a situation was the idea behind a scholarship program launched nearly 10 years ago by Missouri Southern alums Bryan (’92) and Leticia (‘93) Vowels. Aspire – which stands for Assisting Single Parents in Realizing Education – is a program that provides scholarships to qualified, low-income single parents who are pursuing a college degree.

Based on a similar program they had learned of while living in Arkansas, the Vowels initially launched the scholarship through the local United Way before going independent in 2010.

“We did the research and found there is a higher number of single parents in poverty in Southwest Missouri compared to the state and national average,” says Bryan. “It seemed like a natural fit to bring it here.”

The scholarship is awarded based on an application and one-on-one interviews. The couple says they are looking for students who have the “fire in their belly” to improve their lives and the lives of their children by getting a college education.

Those receiving the scholarship must already have received a federal Pell Grant.

“We want their books and tuition to be covered,” says Bryan. “The Aspire scholarship is to help bridge the gap for expenses. They can use is for child care, utility bills, car repair … anything that eases the burden for them to go back to school.”

For Vanessa Garcia, a Missouri Southern senior majoring in social work, the Aspire Scholarship has meant being prepared for the unexpected.

“When you live paycheck to paycheck, there’s no extra money,” says Garcia, who is raising three children while working and trying to get her degree. “The scholarship has helped me save money so if my car breaks down, I can take a taxi, or if I need extra money to pay the bills.”

Recipients receive $1,000 and can re-apply every semester. A merit bonus is available to reward academic success, and funds have recently been made available for those attending summer classes or seeking a master’s degree.

“After the scholarships we award this spring, Aspire will have awarded close to $250,000 since 2010,” says Leticia.

The board members overseeing the program include several individuals with ties to Missouri Southern, including Dr. Beverly Block and Dr. Brian Nichols from the Plaster School of Business, former admissions transfer counselor Belinda Cotton and ’91 graduate Will Roderique.

“They’re all good people with a passion for helping others and who realize the importance of education,” says Leticia.

Garcia, who has received the scholarship for the last three semesters, says she has been impressed with the scholarships’ founders, from her initial interview to the follow-ups to renew it.

“They are so encouraging,” she says. “They’re not people who just write a check. They remember my face and remember my story. I feel very comfortable talking with them.”

The program offers a fundraising dinner each year, allowing business partners and recipients to gather to hear success stories from the program. And academic success is definitely something the Aspire program recognizes and celebrates.

“Some of these students have had severe issues to deal with in their lives,” Bryan says. “But they learn that the community is in their corner. We believe in them and want them to do amazing things. To watch them blossom in confidence is one of the things we’re proudest of. They’re working hard. We’re just giving them a little help along the journey.”

‘It’s Humbling’

Sophomore Melanie Crider undertakes service project at Watered Gardens Melanie Crider saw them almost every day as she drove along Range Line Road on her way to work. People standing near busy intersections, clutching cardboard signs in hopes of catching the attention of drivers as they passed by.

Messages varied: Need money for food, perhaps. Or: Need money for gas. Anything will help.

Something else stuck with her, said Crider. The sight, sad as it may be, was becoming a bit too familiar.

“It’s something people have become so used to overlooking, they don’t really pay attention anymore,” she said.

A sophomore music performance major, Crider said it was an issue on her mind when she learned she would need to undertake a project benefiting the community as part of the Missouri Southern Honors Program.

She looked into local organizations that work with the homeless population and found Watered Gardens – a rescue mission in downtown Joplin.

“They’re trying to make a difference by stopping the cycle (of homelessness), not just giving handouts,” said Crider.

“When I first toured the shelter, I met a woman who had worked in their workshop to earn a new coat. She was so excited to get one in her favorite color, and said she hadn’t had a winter coat like it in years. It’s humbling to see things we take for granted that are big milestones for them.”

The idea of providing necessities for those in need became the focal point of Crider’s project. She began raising funds to assemble kits that could be distributed to people in need – drawstring bags containing items such as socks, water, a flashlight and food.

A member of MSSU’s marching band, Crider said she was able to draw a lot of support from her classmates.

“Dr. Rick Espinosa, our band director, helped me to get the word out about it, and I raised donations through Facebook.”

In all, she raised enough funds to put together around 50 kits. On Monday nights, groups from Watered Gardens would distribute the kits to people living in homeless camps, and meet with others to remind them of services the shelter offers to help them get back on their feet.

“It really made me step outside of my comfort zone,” Crider said of the experience. “It taught me a lot more empathy.”

While her service-learning project is complete, she said she plans to keep supporting Watered Gardens’ mission.

“Whenever you get really involved somewhere, you want to see what else you can do,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of great people through the organization and I’d like to help with other projects they’re doing.”

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