Oktibbeha County now has a new non-profit organization aimed at preparing and coordinating volunteers to support the local Emergency Management Agency in major emergency and disaster response.
In recent weeks, OSERVS — an acronym for Oktibbeha-Starkville Emergency Response Volunteer Services — has formally incorporated as an organization with the Secretary of State’s Office, elected an executive committee and board of directors and approved bylaws and a four-pronged mission statement.
The new organization has an application pending for 501(c)3 (non-profit) status with the Mississippi Tax Commission and will soon begin raising funds to support its mission of providing volunteer support for the Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Agency.
“The goal of OSERVS is to collaborate with and enhance the services of other organizations and agencies in Oktibbeha County,” said Carol Moss Read, chair of the OSERVS Board of Directors.
The mission of OSERVS will be four-pronged:
• To provide training opportunities for the public in disaster preparedness and response, including training for participation in Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), CPR and First Aid, neighborhood/subdivision/school/university preparedness and response and for various volunteer programs.
• To work directly with the Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Agency in disaster response through coordination of volunteer efforts, including CERT activation and deployment, damage assessment handling shelter and feeding operations if called upon and coordinating mass care operations, including fund-raising to support response efforts.
• To provide opportunities for community members to volunteer in emergency and disaster response through programs such as Neighborhood Watch, Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS), Medical Reserve Corps and CERTs.
• To serve as local coordinating agent with Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), helping to ensure effective response when emergency and disaster situations arise.
“We are an excited, motivated group ready to move ahead working with the Emergency Management Agency to prepare our citizens for any disaster or emergency that might come to our community,” Read said.
OSERVS was formed amid the changes that occurred with the American Red Cross organization in Mississippi this summer.
All of the OSERVS board members formerly served as board members for what was once the Oktibbeha County chapter of the Red Cross, which ceased to exist when Red Cross officials organized the state into five regional chapters with satellite offices. The local Red Cross office remains open as a satellite office to the Northeast Mississippi chapter in Tupelo.
Read and other OSERVS leaders are quick to point out that the new organization is not out to compete with the Red Cross.
“While it is true that all of the charter board .embers of OSERVS were former Board members of the Oktibbeha County chapter of the Red Cross, we are not in competition with the Red Cross,” Read said. “We as former Board members were disillusioned with the proposed organizational changes and were disappointment in no longer being classified a chapter, but rather a location.”
The mission that the OSERVS leaders have identified will actually provide more opportunities to serve the community effectively and quickly in times of emergency, said Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Director Jim Britt, who has been working with the group in getting established and in identifying its mission of supporting the work of his office.
Several areas of the OSERVS mission will provide greater opportunities for community involvement in emergency and disaster response, particularly through the coordination of volunteers in large-scale emergency situations, Britt said.
“We are always glad to have volunteers who are willing to give their time, and the people involved with OSERVS are so talented and have a solid history and valuable experience in emergency preparedness,” said Britt. “They are working hard to do a great job for us and for the people of this community.”
Much of the program of work for OSERVS has been derived from the programs of the Citizens Corps, a national service program under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security that seeks to mobilize the population of the nation against national security threats and to assist in recovery in times of disaster.
OSERVS planned coordination of CERTs — Community Emergency Response Teams — with volunteers trained in First Aid, damage assessment and other areas of immediate response will be a boon to Starkville and Oktibbeha County, Britt said.
Plans are also being made to work with local law enforcement agencies in strengthening existing and starting new Neighborhood Watch programs and to develop a Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program locally.
“The Citizen Corps components of OSERVS will be of great benefit to us, particularly the CERT training and coordination, as will all the services they will provide to the county,” said Britt. “This group is dedicated, and we are glad to have them give their time in service. It’s a great way for us to use their talents to benefit the community.”
The OSERVS board has hired former Red Cross director Becky Wilkes as director of the new organization, and former Red Cross program coordinator Connie Malone will serve in an identical capacity with OSERVS.
Wilkes and Malone have already organized an OSERVS-sponsored CPR class in conjunction with the American Heart Association and sought a proclamation from Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman in designating September as National Emergency Preparedness Month in the city.
OSERVS volunteers will also be participating in the upcoming Citywide Tailgate Party on Oct. 1 to raise awareness about the organization and have scheduled a pancake breakfast fundraiser from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. Oct. 16 at Applebee’s.
The pancake breakfast is the first of several planned fundraising events to generate funds to pay for CERT training and other preparedness training programs, as well as to have funds available to provide aid in the event of large-scale disaster.
Read urged the community to help support the new agency.
“We need the community’s support, both with financial contributions and volunteer services. We will be soliciting the help of our friends and neighbors,” Read said. “This organization is about mobilizing the people of our community to take care of our own.”
For more information about OSERVS, contact Wilkes by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org  or by telephone at (662) 418-8911.
Mail inquiries or financial contributions may be sent to OSERVS, P.O. Box 443, Starkville, MS 39760. All financial contributions are tax-deductible.
The purpose of OSERVS shall be to work in conjunction with city officials, county officials, the Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Agency, and the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security to educate and provide the citizens of Oktibbeha County with the information to prepare and the opportunity to volunteer in the case of a disaster or emergency in their community and to provide assistance to citizens affected by disasters.
Services provided by OSERVS are offered without regard to race/ethnicity, color, national origin, sex, disability, veteran status or age.
• Carol Moss Read, Chair
• Amanda Edwards, Vice Chair
• Pam Cosby, Secretary
• Mary Lynn Hardy, Treasurer
• Brian Hawkins, Communication
and Education Chair
Board of Directors
• Martha Brodnax
• Candy Crecink
• Rosemary Cuicchi
• Jeff Donald
• Lisa Harris
• Jim Henson
• George Hopper
• Jackie Finch Hudson
• Kathryn Laughlin
• Anne Snell McDonald
• Jesse McDonald
• Beatrice Tatem
• Jim Tisdale
• Amy Tuck
• Vance Watson
• Becky Wilkes, Director
• Connie Malone, Program
• Donna Barmore, Volunteer
• Phone — (662) 418-8911
• E-Mail — email@example.com 
• Mail — OSERVS, P.O. Box 443, Starkville, MS 39760