$100,000 donation to help center continue work with Pine Belt children


“This donation was truly God sent!” said Janet Baldwin, executive director of Oseola McCarty Youth Development Center, about the $100,000 contribution to the center by BancorpSouth Bank.

The check presentation was made last week by executives with the financial institution, of which Baldwin is a member of the Community Advisory Council.

The contribution to the center will help the organization with its programs that provide vital services to children in Hattiesburg and the surrounding areas.

“We hope our donation will impact the children and families that the Oseola McCarty Center helps on a daily basis,” said Grant Walker, president of Hattiesburg Market for BancorpSouth. “The organization does a great job helping our youth succeed in life, and we greatly appreciate the work it does in our communities.”

Research shows that youth development programs offer several positive benefits, including safe environments for the children of working parents, improved academic performance, prevention of a variety of risky behaviors, reduced health disparities and more. 

“We consider it our privilege and responsibility to act as the stewards for meaningful resources for parents and caretakers of children,” Baldwin said. “We wish to serve as humanitarians just as Miss Oseola McCarty, who gave so unselfishly to help others. This contribution from BancorpSouth will help us continue our efforts to help families make special memories with the people they love.”

Baldwin said the funds will be used to assist with the implementation of the center’s new programs focusing on literacy and a new online tutoring evaluation program.

“Our healthy futures program focuses on healthy foods and eating behaviors using our community garden as a teaching tool,” she said. “It will also assist with a program which provides high school students economic opportunities.

“We are truly grateful and excited to continue to work with our community youth and their families.”  

The center offers a range of high-quality educational and recreational services for the area’s local youth. It provides services for approximately 175 families and 250 children through its after-school, summer and monthly-activities programs.

LaToyia McKenzie, who serves as president of the center’s board of directors, said she couldn’t express how thankful, blessed, and excited they were for this donation.

“I have been a mentor and president of the board for the past 15 years and it has been my pleasure to serve many children and their families in the Pine Belt area,” McKenzie said. “We have several programs that we offer every year that the donation will support including ur annual volunteer appreciation day, spring day, summer program, Night Out Against Crime, afterschool program, community garden, Christmas sleeve operation and much more.”­

She also noted programs with the center’s new Americorp Vista workers and Lucky Day Scholar volunteers.

Founded in 2003, the center, located at 607 McSwain Street in the East Jerusalem neighborhood, is named after Oseola McCarty, an African American woman who washed and ironed clothes for a living. She sparked national attention and at the University of Southern Mississippi when she gifted the university $150,000 in 1995 in the form of an endowed scholarship. For her selflessness, a residence hall was named in her honor and she was invited to The White House to receive the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Bill Clinton — the nation's second-highest civilian honor. In 1996 Harvard University awarded her with an honorary doctorate, and in 1998 USM awarded her the first-ever honorary doctorate given by the university.At the time, then-University President Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas called her gift "just extraordinary. I don't know that I have ever been as touched by a gift to the University as I am by this one," he said.

The mission of the center is "to empower youth to win in every area of their lives," said Janet Baldwin, center director. “We want to devote the necessary resources to ensuring that all young people are able to build new skills, make contributions, and become a productive part of a community and feel "in control" over their future.”

The center also provides an atmosphere of support and guidance to ensure a sense of competence, a sense of usefulness, a sense of belonging and a sense of empowerment.

The center has three general objectives:

• Our center will offer a range of high-quality educational and recreational services during the youth's out of school time.

• Students who participate in these services regularly will demonstrate educational and social benefits and exhibit positive behavioral changes.

• Our center will work with families to help to provide that sustained support and strengthen family ties.

The ongoing program of the center continues to instill positive characters in the area’s youth such as respect, responsibility, honesty, integrity, teamwork, etc. These characters will help youth have self-esteem and confidence, which is very important to successful behaviors. We focus on developing and encouraging frequent reading habits and reading skills as well as one on one tutoring services.

Currently, the center provides services for approximately 175 families and 250 children overall; with approximately 25 to 30 attending the after-school program, 60-80 attending the summer program and approximately 30 to 50 participating in monthly activities programs. The center is located in the former Grace Love Head-Start Building.