Social Work Students Continue Mound Bayou-UM Collaboration

Academic excellence, service combine in restoration efforts

University of Mississippi social work students (from left) Angela Lackey, Casey Williams, Tawnya Langley, Landon Fisher, Crystal Walton, Brandi Robbins, Komiya Guillory and Samantha Houston outside of historic Taborian Hospital in Mound Bayou. (Submitted photo)

OXFORD, Miss. – A team of social work faculty and students from the University of Mississippi is helping the city of Mound Bayou make progress in its efforts to preserve historic buildings and history. The Mound Bayou Service Learning Historic Preservation Project is an ongoing work with the community from several levels. Social work faculty members Susan Allen, Debra Moore and Chris Simmons are providing support for these activities through both direct community service and service-learning opportunities with UM students.

“Community development is about more than economic development and creating jobs,” said Allen, associate professor and master’s program director. “In addition to creating programs, services and buildings, you need to build the capacity of people to meet their own needs. A community that meets its own needs is central to who Mound Bayou has been since it was founded in 1887 by freed slaves.” Seven students in the master’s degree program and one 2012 bachelor’s graduate joined Allen and Chris Simmons, assistant professor and interim field education director, recently to assist with the Taborian Urgent Care Center project. As renovation continues on the historic Taborian Hospital, which will reopen next summer as the Taborian Urgent Care Center, Mound Bayou has begun the second phase of the project: working with local community members to develop knowledge and skill for potential employment. Graduate students, all of whom have bachelor’s degrees in social work, conducted individual vocational and educational assessments with community members. Together, they developed strategies for obtaining training, education and skill development in order to compete for the jobs expected to arise from the opening of the center. “Getting to help empower the residents will forever be one of my happiest memories as a student of Ole Miss’ MSW program,” said Brandi Robbins of Tupelo. Angela Lackey of Aberdeen agreed. “It was an honor and privilege to help the citizens of Mound Bayou in preparing for possible work at the Taborian Urgent Care Center.” Other graduate students assisting with the project were Komiya Guillory of Senatobia, Samantha Houston of Amory, Tawnya Langley of Fulton, Crystal Walton of Hernando and Casey Williams of Nettleton. Landon Fisher of Friar’s Point, a recent bachelor’s degree graduate and an inaugural student in the service learning classes in Mound Bayou, has remained active with the collaboration in the past year. Often, development opportunities in rural areas do not directly benefit people living in those communities, Allen said. “Mound Bayou has begun preparing the local labor force to make sure that people who live in the community have the best opportunity to participate in the economic benefits that the Taborian Urgent Care Center will bring,” she added. More than 45 individual assessments and plans were completed during the day of service. “As I observed students engaging with community members to assess their needs, set goals and create plans to achieve vocational, educational and developmental goals, I was reminded that social work students develop effective practice behaviors when they are placed in real situations with real people, and they are given the opportunity to engage in reflective learning,” Simmons said. “I applaud Dr. Allen for her service to the community of Mound Bayou, her mentoring of junior colleagues and her commitment to student development.” Allen was asked last year by the Preservation in Mississippi blog to do a week of guest posts. She contacted Mayor Kennedy Johnson about writing the assignment and asked if she could meet with him to discuss the UM social work department becoming involved in supporting community development in the town. “I explained to Mayor Johnson that we are not there as experts or to tell communities what they should do,” Allen said. “Our role is to find out what the community wants and what is important to them. We then work with them to help find the resources to accomplish that. “Mayor Johnson said what they wanted and needed was to preserve the historic buildings that are still remaining and economic development. So that is where we started.” For more information, visit the Department of Social Work or call 662-915-7336.