By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
In the Oktibbeha County community, there are people who dedicate their time and efforts to making this county a better place to live. Some devote their time to the sick and dying, others to our four-legged friends, or spend their time keeping Starkville beautiful. Their causes are different, but the sentiment is the same.
“I feel like volunteering is a good way to give back to my community,” Nisma Mujahid said. “I’ve lived here in Starkville basically my whole life. I came here when I was in the second grade from Pakistan. I just feel like I should do something to give back.”
Mujahid, 22, volunteers at Oktibbeha County Hospital and with Gentiva Hospice. She dedicates a few hours every weekend to help out at the OCH front desk, helping to register visitors and providing directions. When she volunteers with the hospice, she knows she’s helping patients when they need it the most.
“With Gentiva, I visit with the patients that are terminally ill. Usually my patients’ family members live out of town and can’t visit them that often,” she said. “So I go and talk to them about their day, or read to them. It’s somebody who really needs someone to be there, and it’s nice that you can be that person for them. Sometimes they just need someone to talk to.”
Bert Montgomery is also drawn to volunteering with those who need support, too.
“For me, it’s just a natural outlet of doing things that I feel are important. It’s not so much that I go looking for ways to volunteer, but I find things that I care about,” Montgomery said. “It’s always important to do things that help each other out, because we’re all in an interdependent relationship with each other.”
Montgomery is a part-time pastor and a full-time teacher at MSU. He spends a lot of his time working on issues of equality, justice and poverty.
In the community, he works with an organization called Bridges Out of Poverty that is dedicated to providing resources, education and skills to help people make a better life. On campus, he provides advocacy, support and friendship to both the gay and lesbian student group and the Muslim community. He is passionate about making connections with people that don’t always have the support of society.
“I’m being a visible ally on campus, both as a minister and a teacher on campus,” Montgomery said. “I give my support to them and speak up for them whenever I can. I am trying to help people in the larger community put real faces and real names to the idea about who these people are. It makes a difference when you make a personal connection.”
Though he is not from Starkville originally, Piyush Porwal has always felt it was his duty to get involved and give back to the community.
“This is our community and we are only responsible for its betterment or downfall,” Porwal said. “It is not always about taking but also giving to make this society a better place to live for the running generation as well as the coming generations.”
Porwal, a mechanical engineering student at MSU, began volunteering in India as a teenager.
“I considered it to be part of my duty towards people and society,” Porwal said. He got involved with an organization called Help Age India, which worked with the elderly, as well as his local Rotary Club. “I came to the U.S. in the year 2009. It was my first semester when Dr. Lokesh helped me get attached with the Multi-Culture Lions Club. My desire to work for the community made me get involved with the club.”
The Multi-Culture Lions Club has 40 members, many of whom are from other countries. Many of their members joined as a way to meet other people and feel more connected to the Starkville community. They volunteer all over the community, from ringing the bell for the Salvation Army during the holiday season to a regular clean up of the two-mile stretch of Highway 12 they adopted two years ago.
“Our main thing is that we want to make Starkville a better place to live,” Karin Lee, who helps run the club, said. “Our main goal is to just be in the community and get involved. It’s a nice way to meet people. It’s not about the number of members, or how much money we raise. It’s about what we do. For us, that’s the thing, action is the key word.”
The club has also been active in international causes. They collected over 200 safety scissors for an elementary school in Afghanistan and helped raise money for a school in India.
“The wide cultural diversity of the club always gives you something to learn more about other cultures and traditions of the world. Along with the cultural diversity, the club also has different age group members ranging from professors to students,” Porwal said. “Not only do we organize community projects but also picnics and fun times so that members get to know each other properly. This has been so far the best group I have volunteered with.”
“Volunteering has always been a source of happiness for me,” Porwal said. “It has always given me the internal peace.”
Blakely Bailey, a senior at Mississippi State University, volunteers at the Oktibbeha County Humane Society. Her love of animals inspired her to help out at the organization 2 to 3 times a week.
“I used to want to be a vet, and although I’ve changed majors, I still love animals,” Bailey said. “I got one of my dogs from the Humane Society, and so I’ve always wanted to help out there.”
Bailey helps out around the animal shelter by bathing puppies, playing with the cats and walking the dogs that are in isolation. The OCHS provides services for animals from all over the county.
“We receive animals, principally dogs and cats, that are either picked up by animal control or surrendered by owners or people who have received animals that have been left at their or house or in their yard, and to get them adopted out whenever we can,” David VanLandingham, president of the Humane Society Board of Directors. The shelter also provides spay and neutering services for abandoned animals and family pets.
The Humane Society depends on their volunteers to keep their shelter running smoothly.
“Volunteers are a vital part of our organization because they are able to do things we don’t have time to do,” Anita Howard, manager for the OCHS said. “They’re here to help us with things that would otherwise be a luxury. They’re there to walk, bathe, and socialize the dogs, and help us clean up. They’re just great people who give their time freely.”
While she loves interacting with the animals, the hardest part is keeping herself from taking one home.
“I already have two dogs, I can’t take any more. But it’s hard,” Bailey said.
These are just a few of the countless, dedicated volunteers that commit their time and energy to making Oktibbeha County a better place. Organizations are always looking for volunteers to help out. For information on organizations that are looking for volunteers, visit www.volunteerstarkville.org .