Carson-Newman Students Discover “Poverty Looks Different for Every Person”

Every city has its problems, and Denver—for all its scenic beauty and wealth—is no exception. In fact, three students from Sullivan Foundation partner school Carson-Newman University, located in Jefferson, Tenn., spent a summer of service in the Mile High City this year and found a lot of people feeling low.

They were part of the North American Mission Board’s Gensend program, which nudges college students out of their comfort zones and into large cities to bring comfort to people in need—whether financial or spiritual.

According to the Baptist Press, Kirby Logan, a rising senior at Carson-Newman, was one of the participants. Walking through a park this summer, he soon found himself offering solace to a man who was experiencing his first night of homelessness.

Related: Rita Castañon and Jesse West honored with Sullivan Award at Carson-Newman University

“We had this conversation about how he didn’t have any friends in Denver and how he just wanted to get out,” Logan said in the Baptist Press story. “Denver had really broken him. I gave him my big Bible that I had had all summer and told him that he can read it and hear from God. I started to walk away, and I remembered that [the other GenSenders] had a cookout going a block down the street. I walked back to the bench where I had left him [to invite him to the cookout], and he had already opened the Bible and started reading.”

During his GenSend experience, Logan said he learned that “poverty looks different for every person.”

“Poverty is not just not having a house or food,” he said. “It can be having no friends or struggling with deep depression or needing a job and not knowing anyone that can help you. We intentionally went and talked to people who looked like they needed a conversation. Whether it was a gospel conversation or not, it was nice for them to know that they had someone that cared enough to talk to them.”

Not everyone will accept an invitation to church, he noticed, which made the GenSenders’ conversations with the people they met even more crucial.

“If a person knows you and knows that you have a relationship with Jesus, asking them into a relationship with Jesus is much more powerful than inviting them to church,” he told the Baptist Press. “People want to be able to trust you before they trust God.”

Keaton Hubbs, also a senior at Carson Newman, said the team set out to plant seeds of hope and truth, but they don’t necessarily bear fruit right away. “Restoration isn’t just making a bad thing better,” she said. “We don’t just desire to clean up a person and let him look nice. We desire the full restoration of a person, which can take time.”

Related: Carson-Newman University family sends messages of hope, love to inspire high school students

Another GenSender from Carson Newman, Lauren Potter, noted a spiritual hunger among the people she met this summer. “Most people in Denver are not from Colorado because they come there from other places in search of something,” Potter said. “Pretty much everyone there wants to have something to die for that they’re huge on. There’s a lot of spiritual people but not religious people.”

“One of our biggest takeaways as a whole group was that a lot of times, we [tend to] romanticize the more attractive styles of ministry,” Potter added. “One thing that we spent a lot of time thinking about was being a faithful presence. We have learned to be content in the mundane.”

According to GenSend’s website, the program is “designed to teach students how to engage a fallen world with the transformative hope of the good news.” It provides “immersive hands-on training” to “give students the ministry mindset needed to become lifelong missionaries…equipped to confidently make disciples and serve communities in need.”

In addition to Denver, the program dispatches college students to serve in more than 20 cities in the U.S. and Canada, including New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Miami, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Boston, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, and to Puerto Rico as well.

Here We Grow Healthy: Ky’lexius Gwynn of Guilford College Uses Gardening for the Good of All

For Ky’lexius Gwynn, a senior education major at Guilford College, April 2022 started out on a high note. Then things went tragically downhill fast. And like so many college students living through this troubled era, the young changemaker from Reidsville, N.C., had to learn to cope—and to prevail.

The high note was the Sullivan Foundation’s Spring Ignite Retreat, held April 1-3 in Staunton, Va. There, Gwynn won second place and $200 in a pitch competition for her project called Here We Grow Healthy, an on-campus community garden to serve underprivileged communities in the Greensboro, N.C. region. As she made her pitch to her fellow retreat attendees, Gwynn felt truly seen and heard—and motivated to move forward with her plans. She met new friends and potential collaborators. And she returned home with renewed faith in her own changemaking gifts.

Then, just a few weeks later, on April 25, she lost a dear friend and fellow nature lover, Ahmad Brewington. His death made her question everything and plunged her into depression.

Months later, thanks to support from her mother, her family and friends, as well as a campus mental health counselor, the painful loss has ultimately bolstered her resolve to make a difference—and to honor her late friend—with the Here We Grow Healthy project. Now, she said, she’s committed to approaching farming as “my form of activism because it’s a tool for liberation.”

A Passion for Food
Gwynn has always had a passion for food. When she was a child, she loved her kitchen play sets. “My mom used to play ‘restaurant’ with me all of the time, and I even went to career day dressed as a tiny chef, proclaiming to be the ‘First Youngest Professional Chef in the World.’ Then they came out with ‘MasterChef Junior’ [on Fox]. Mom is also a baker and has taught me how to make a meal out of almost anything around me.”

As a student at Reidsville High School, Gwynn took part in another pitch competition and wrote a grant proposal to buy a greenhouse for the campus. Her team won, but once the greenhouse was purchased, the project stalled. “Because no one else was actually interested in gardening and taking on the responsibility, I wasn’t able to get it built and going before I graduated,” she recalled.

But her love of food and cooking never waned. “Not only do I cook to eat, I cook with passion as a way of bringing the community together,” she said. “Some of my favorite childhood memories were at family cookouts or baking in the kitchen with my grandmother.”

Related: Ignite Retreat attendee Hebron Mekuria develops business plan to bring children’s books to her native Ethiopia

Gwynn grew up shopping at “the average grocery stores” like Food Lion and Lowes Foods. Then she discovered Whole Foods, Sprouts and The Fresh Market. Their meats and produce were fresher and higher in quality—albeit more expensive. “It took me being in college, having to buy my own groceries for me, to realize that there could be a higher quality of food than I had been eating. Not only had I been buying higher-quality produce, I learned about the farm on my college’s campus and how they provided the majority of the vegetables we eat in our cafeteria.”

Instead of buying veggies from the big-box retailers and distributors, Guilford College, Gwynn realized, “could just have our farmer drive it over to the cafeteria in his golf cart.”

“I fell in love with this idea of ‘farm-to-table’ and decided to commit to working with the farm on my campus,” she said. “Through working with them, I learned that they not only provide food to our campus, but they also have a CSA [community sustained agriculture] program and donate to local immigrant and refugee communities for free!”

After wrapping up her minor in community studies, Gwynn was inspired by Guilford’s farm to add a second minor: sustainable food systems. “The majority of the community service that I do now is food-related,” she said.

Ky’lexius Gwynn spent this summer working as an intern at the PDY&F Community Garden in Greensboro, N.C.

Gardening for Mental Health
As an advocate for food security, Gwynn saw that Guilford College’s farm fulfills a need for both the campus and the community. But what if she could help her fellow students—and local people in need—work together, dig their hands into the dirt and grow their own food? “I had been thinking about starting a community garden for years, but it wasn’t until I was at the Ignite Retreat, surrounded by other innovative minds and being encouraged to speak about my idea, that I actually considered turning it into a real thing,” she recalled.

That’s when the seed for Here We Grow Healthy began to take root. Gwynn knew about an “overgrown area” on the Guilford campus that could be transformed into a functioning community garden. But, when Gwynn is finished, it will be more than that. It will also serve as both a sanctuary and a therapeutic workspace for her fellow students coping with mental health issues, an increasingly common problem on college campuses nationwide.

After Ahmad died, Gwynn sought help from Guilford’s counseling center. The counselor, she said, “gave me the space to vent and cope as we planted flowers during a mental health event dedicated to my friend.” When Gwynn mentioned that she wanted to create a memorial piece for Ahmad in the garden, the counselor told her about horticultural therapy—using gardening and plant-based activities to improve mental and physical health. “This is exactly how I would be able to get students involved with this [garden],” Gwynn said. “What better way?”

The spring semester was nearly over by that point, so Gwynn plans to launch her project in the fall. Meanwhile, she has been interning for the summer at the PDY&F Community Garden in Greensboro, “growing my knowledge of plant types, growing seasons, composting, food distribution and more. I’m more confident in my ability to take care of a garden, and I’ve seen firsthand how a green space can bring people of all walks of life together. The biggest steps that I will have to take next are getting the idea out there for people to be a part of and also finding a way to fund my idea.”

Along with well-known staples like snap peas, Gwynn wants to grow more exotic produce from around the globe.

Growing Culturally Appropriate Foods
Meanwhile, Gwynn continues working to clean up the area that will serve as her community garden. “We’re still in the very early stages, and it seems the more we uncover in the area, the more ideas we have about the space!” she said.

For one thing, she wants to focus on growing “culturally appropriate” foods. “So what I mean by [that] is simply a wider range of fruits and vegetables that come from around the globe instead of your typical red tomato, orange carrot, yellow corn, etc.” she said. “Since attending Guilford, I’ve discovered vegetables like Swiss chard, bok choy, African eggplant, purple potatoes and even purple carrots with yellow insides!”

Related: Shayla Roberts-Long: Using your power to create accountability for climate change

After all, students from around the world attend Guilford College, while Greensboro has become home to numerous refugees and immigrants. “Having food that is familiar to them may help them feel more at home or at least more settled in, knowing that someone cares about their culture,” Gwynn said. “Just because the food is free for them does not mean they shouldn’t have a say in what they eat.”

In her summer internship at PDY&F, Gwynn has learned how to grow produce that most Americans have never heard of, like gita yardlong beans and bitter melons. “On campus, I hope to grow things like callaloo, Chinese leeks, kabocha, ginger and different berry trees, but I also want to leave space for students’ ideas,” she said.

Ky’lexius Gwynn presents her idea for Here We Grow Healthy at the Spring 2022 Ignite Retreat.

Looking Toward the Future
Gwynn isn’t quite sure about her career plans right now, but she’s already closing in on one major goal: She will be the first in her family to earn a college degree. She’s thinking about applying for the FoodCorps program and the Peace Corps after graduating. “I’m very interested in how the body reacts to one’s diet and would love to find a program that teaches me how to help myself and others nourish and heal our bodies,” she said.

She said she might even launch her own nonprofit “that teaches underprivileged communities the importance of small-scale farming, food security and food health. But who knows? My degree is in education, so I would also love to work at a Montessori school at some point in my life.”

Gwynn has time to figure all that out. Meanwhile, Here We Grow Healthy will keep her busy when she’s not buried in the books. And she has the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat to thank for it.

“The Ignite Retreat really helped me to get serious about the idea,” she said. “I had to really think on the fly and push the idea of a community garden during the pitch contest to people I never met. It surprised me when people actually stood there listening to me, and it made me want to dive deeper into my passion for food security. I don’t usually have many people my age take my ideas seriously or try to support me, so, when I won second place in the pitching contest, I was totally surprised. People actually cared.”

“Being in a space with people who supported me and were equally passionate about their own ideas encouraged me to believe in myself,” Gwynn added. “The Ignite Retreat introduced me to new friends and potential collaborators in the future. Sometimes I lose faith in myself and get really overwhelmed because I have so many ideas, and it seems like I’m the only one around me thinking the way that I do. But being at the retreat, I met other people like me who are driven to reach their goals, no matter how big or how small. The experience gave me motivation, friends, smart ideas and the confidence to make Here We Grow Healthy a real thing.”

Teacher Education Majors at Huntingdon College Experience Poverty Simulation

What’s it like to be poor? If you haven’t lived it personally, you can’t really know. But a group of 80 Huntingdon College students were given a brief glimpse in an exercise delivered by the Alabama Association of School Boards last April—and it opened their eyes to the problems faced by millions of Americans.

The participants, who are teacher education majors and students in Huntingdon’s Presidential Fellows Program and Hobbs Honors Program, took part in a Poverty Simulation program on April 8. “The goal of the simulation is to impress upon emerging leaders and teachers—who will serve a wide variety of socioeconomic populations—some of the challenges faced by those coping with lower socioeconomic circumstances,” said Dr. Kristin Zimbelman, an assistant professor of teacher education at Huntingdon College, a Sullivan Foundation partner school.

For the exercise, faculty and volunteers simulated utilities, businesses, law enforcement, education, and employment and social services. Participants were given task cards to be completed within the budgets they were provided.

Zimbelman had undergone the simulation previously. “Having taught [public school] in four districts—two in Alabama and two in the Chicago area—I felt I had an awareness of socioeconomic challenges, but this demonstration reinforced that there are so many factors that impact a family’s circumstances that are outside one’s control,” she said. “The simulation made me hyper-aware—so much so that I thought it would be an invaluable exercise for our upcoming educators and student and community leaders.”

The simulation model was created by the Missouri Community Action Agency (MCAA) as a way of raising awareness of the challenges faced by the working poor. Susan Roundtree Salter, director of leadership development for the Alabama Association of School Boards, and Ava Cranmore, assistant director, are approved trainers and administered the simulation.

“There are a number of agencies, churches and school systems in Alabama and all over the United States that use this simulation,” Salter said. “It’s a great way to give educators and workers a very different perspective of things they thought they knew.”

According to the MCAA, participants in the program take on the identity of a person with a family who lives in poverty. A large room serves as a simulated community, and each participant’s chair is a neighbor’s home. Lining the perimeter of the room are tables that act as services that everyone needs, such as banks, schools and grocery stores.

As in real life, participants have to find transportation to work or school. They need to put food on the table. Some might suffer from a chronic illness. Everyone is faced with the stresses and challenges a person in poverty deals with every day.

The simulation is not a game—it’s an intensive exercise, based on real-life experiences of MCAA clients, that’s aimed at helping the participants see poverty through the eyes of a person who’s actually living it and perhaps unable to escape on their own.

Following the simulation, participants discussed the experience.

“I think this was such an important exercise—to remember that everybody is going through different things and that the child can’t do anything about it,” said Natalie Harris, a member of the Class of 2024 who is majoring in elementary teacher education with collaborative special education. “The parents may want to do more and try to do more, but they’re stuck. We have to have a way to not call these students out if they don’t have the resources to do certain things.”

“[The simulation] teaches us how fortunate we are and not to take anything for granted,” said Dr. Michele Martin, an assistant professor of teacher education at Huntingdon. “It makes us open our eyes to what others are going through, especially in understanding why some students don’t bring their own snacks or don’t participate in some activities.”

Prospective teacher education graduates remarked that they wanted to be prepared with lists of social services available to help in certain circumstances and planned to have snacks, school supplies and other resources available when they are put in charge of their own classrooms.

Huntingdon’s Department of Teacher Education and Presidential Fellows Program plan to offer the simulation again in the future.

This article has been edited and expanded from the original version appearing on the Huntingdon College website.

Producing Climate-Friendly Food Is Key to Rockefeller Foundation’s New Good Food Strategy

Between Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has choked global access to wheat by 30 percent, and the ravages of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, food prices are soaring and food insecurity is a greater threat than ever. Now the Rockefeller Foundation has announced a plan to increase access to healthy and sustainable foods for 40 million underserved people around the world.

The foundation’s new Good Food Strategy, launched in late March, will invest $105 million over three years to “support a shift in public and private spending toward foods that are nutritious, regenerate the environment, and create equitable economic opportunity for people at every step of the food supply chain.”

As part of the plan, the Rockefeller Foundation is working with health insurance companies to encourage doctors to prescribe fruits and vegetables instead of pharmaceuticals whenever appropriate and helping schools and hospitals buy healthier foods.

Related: Berea College receives grant to expand efforts to combat food insecurity

The strategy builds on the foundation’s investment in powering the food system with renewable energy, part of its $1 billion commitment to an inclusive, green recovery from the pandemic and as an anchor partner of the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet.

Despite the food system’s $9 trillion global market value, two-thirds of people living in extreme poverty are agricultural workers and their families, according to the foundation. Unhealthy diets account for one in five deaths worldwide, and the food system generates more than 1/4 of all greenhouse gas emissions.

In other words, the way the world produces and consumes food is failing both people and the planet, according to the foundation.

“Because of climate change, food prices were already the highest in a decade, even before Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine further decimated global food supplies. Now, the world is on the precipice of a global humanitarian crisis,” said Dr. Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. “The world must act—and act now. With this new commitment, the largest for nutrition in our history, the Rockefeller Foundation will help increase the supply of good, nourishing food and reimagine our food systems to make them more resilient for the future.”

The foundation’s Good Food Strategy will focus on three levers to increase access to affordable, healthy food; reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the food system; and expand economic opportunity for small- and mid-size food producers:

Good Food Data and Science Innovations: Investments will support metrics and data systems that better inform decision-makers on the real costs and benefits of our food. This will include:

  1. Expanding existing investments in True Cost Accounting, which evaluates all the costs of the food system beyond what consumers pay in stores
  2. Standardizing and democratizing principles, outcomes and metrics for regenerative/agroecological agriculture, including connecting a fleet of demonstration projects that show the impact potential of regenerative agriculture
  3. Harmonizing definitions of dietary quality
  4. Launching the Periodic Table of Food Initiative, a global effort to create a public database containing the comprehensive biochemical composition and function of the most important foods from around the globe.

Good Food Policy: The foundation will advance effective, data-driven policies that improve access to good food for millions of people. A major focus will be bolstering Food is Medicine programs to combat diet-related diseases, which include produce prescription programs and the integration of food as a covered health care benefit to help patients gain access to foods that promote their health.

Good Food Purchasing: The Good Food Strategy will support large institutions, including schools and hospitals, to use their existing food procurement budgets to buy and provide foods that benefit people and the planet. This includes piloting a program in Rwanda to test the transition from processed to whole grains in school feeding programs. It also includes supporting the development of Good Food Purchasing Program Standards to guide institutions around the world to make food choices that contribute to a healthier and more sustainable food future.

Related: Berry College partners with homeless shelter to train urban farmers

From a practical standpoint, according to the Associated Press, the Rockefeller Foundation will take some innovative approaches to achieving its goals, including:

  • Encouraging doctors to prescribe fruits and vegetables instead of drugs when appropriate since they can be both healthier and cheaper. The foundation is working with 10 health insurance companies to test the strategy.
  • Paying for healthy foods at schools, hospitals, prisons and other state-operated facilities.
  • Helping farmers switch to production practices that reduce the amount of carbon released into the air after they plow the ground.
  • Funding more small and medium-size food businesses to diversify the distributors and prevent supply-chain issues.

“The world is spending far too much on foods that are bad for people and bad for the planet,” said Roy Steiner, Senior Vice President, Food Initiative, for the Rockefeller Foundation. “The costs multiply in long-term damage to public health, the environment, and the livelihoods of people working in food supply chains. Our Good Food Strategy aims to reverse these trends, incentivizing progress toward a food system that respects the earth and all people.”

This article has been adapted and edited from a press release appearing on the Rockefeller Foundation website.

University of the Cumberlands Donates 29,000 Pounds of Food for the Hungry

Students, faculty and staff at the University of the Cumberlands, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, set out to make sure no family in Whitley County, Ky., has to celebrate the holidays on an empty stomach.

For the university’s annual food drive, called Plates for a Purpose, the Cumberlands community donated 28,982 pounds of food and hygiene items to food pantries housed at the Williamsburg Independent School District; the Criminal Justice Program at the Corbin Area Technology Center; First Baptist Church (Williamsburg); Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church; and Shriners Church of Christ (Williamsburg).

“Watching food come in during Plates for a Purpose is always exciting to me. I can’t help but think of all the families who will be putting that food on their tables,” said Dr. Emily Coleman, provost at Cumberlands. “As a mom, I know how big the question, ‘What’s for dinner?’ is for families, especially kids. I’m thankful to everyone who donated to the food drive this year, helping ensure that every family in the community can answer that question with peace and confidence, knowing their pantry is full.”

Related: University of the Cumberlands ministry helps build beds for underprivileged children

This year’s total is the second highest amount the university has ever collected during Plates for a Purpose. The university broke its previous record (28,874 in 2017) back in 2020, bringing in 30,557 pounds of food for local food banks. The food drive has collected a total of 81,303 pounds of food for local food pantries since 2019 alone.

This year, Cumberlands expanded its approach from bringing in solely food items. It also collected hygiene items, such as shampoo, soap and toothpaste. The revision was based on feedback from local family resource officers about the greatest needs for some of their students. Approximately 2,500 pounds of hygiene items were collected as part of the 28,982-pound total.

The university has hosted a food drive every fall since 2011. A few years ago, the school refined its approach. Instead of asking for food in general, they asked for specific types of food each week to help ensure that whole, balanced meals would be collected. Instead of food banks receiving thousands of pounds of food from only one food group, they saw a variety of foods roll in, including proteins, carbs, fruits, veggies, and dairy.

The new title for the food drive, Plates for a Purpose, was born from the recent rebranding. According to Dr. Coleman, the shift in focus has benefited the campus community.

Related: This “DoGoodr” uses technology to feed the hungry and reduce food waste

“Any act of service we do is meant to glorify God and to help others. Those are our goals,” she said. “We had noticed that too much of our focus had become simply donating as much food as possible instead of thinking about the families who would be putting that food on their plates. Rebranding the food drive has helped the Cumberlands community keep our focus on nourishing the people in our community. Ultimately, that is what matters.”

Some Cumberlands students got involved from afar, like one online student from Pineville, Ky. She wanted to contribute to Plates for a Purpose, but she knew she couldn’t get the food to Williamsburg, Ky. (where the university is located0, so she reached out to Dr. Coleman. When Coleman told her she could still be part of the food drive as long as she kept up with the total amount raised and provided photos, the student went right to work. She and others collected 121 cans of food and fruit cups for First Baptist Church in Pineville.

“It was heartwarming that a student who isn’t even on campus still wanted to be part of the food drive, and it’s great knowing the impact of Plates for a Purpose has gone beyond Whitley County into other areas,” said Coleman.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of the Cumberlands website.

These Mercer University Students Serve the Homeless of Macon, Georgia

By Jennifer Falk

Lara Edgeman, a junior at Sullivan Foundation partner school Mercer University, has watched the Brookdale Resource Center in Macon, Ga., transform from an elementary school to a resource center for the homeless.

Edgeman taught third grade at Brookdale Elementary School as part of her major in education. Now she volunteers at the center as part of MerServe, the University’s student-led service programming board.

Classrooms now serve as bedrooms and clothing and hygiene closets, and the cafeteria provides a place to serve and eat meals.

“I think it’s a genius way to use the space,” Edgeman said.

Related: Mercer University partners with Real Impact Center to get girls excited about STEM

Lara Edgeman, a junior majoring in education at Mercer University, moves clothes at the Brookdale Resource Center.

Brookdale Elementary closed in June 2020 and moved to a new location as part of a school merger. The center opened in January as the Brookdale Warming Center to provide meals and shelter from the cold. Now the center also provides health evaluations, educational support, job search assistance and help finding permanent housing.

Edgeman was among nine Mercer students who volunteered at the Brookdale Resource Center on Friday, Dec. 3. They set to work clearing out a room and hallway filled with clothing, linens and hygiene products and placing them in their designated locations. Once empty, the room will be used as an office for a new case manager.

Most of the students have volunteered at Brookdale before.

“I absolutely love serving the community. As someone who comes from an underprivileged family, I want to help,” Lakeeya Brockington, a sophomore majoring in marketing, said as she moved books in the library. Previously, she helped serve lunch at the center.

Related: New Mercer University center could provide millions with access to clean water

Lakeeya Brockington and McKenna Kaufman move books at the Brookdale Resource Center.

Gabe Thomas, a senior double-majoring in psychology and criminal justice, said he keeps returning to Brookdale because he can see the impact it has on the people.

“It truly helps individuals of Macon,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of community service, but I feel like (the Brookdale Resource Center) helps the most individuals.”

The building is owned by Macon-Bibb County, with management of the program done by the United Way of Central Georgia Homeless Initiative. As of October, the center had served about 900 individuals. It averages about 100 guests at a time, and about 50 of those are children.

The students’ help has been invaluable, said Charity Lucas, the center’s client service specialist who instructed the Mercer volunteers.

“It makes a huge difference being able to free up time for us to do other things and make space for our case manager and clients,” she said.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Mercer University website.

UC’s Mountain Outreach Builds New Home for Young, Local Family

When simply walking downstairs to do your family’s laundry presents a safety hazard, it’s time for a change.

But for one family in Kentucky, it’s more than a change—it’s a whole new home.

Mountain Outreach (MO), a service-based ministry hosted by Sullivan Foundation partner school University of the Cumberlands, has provided a brand-new home for Tyler and Amber Hall and their three young children. The family moved in on September 15th and is overjoyed about living in the new space.

“I could probably cry about it. God is so good,” Amber said. “I wish I could personally thank everyone who made this possible. The Lord sees you. We are really, really thankful.”

“Stuff like this is important,” Amber added. “All good things come from the Lord. I truly believe that God sees Mountain Outreach, the donors who funded this home build, my family, everything. God sees this.”

Renting a house was the only financially feasible option for the Halls before. But along with renting came a few difficult factors. For one thing, Amber knew in the back of her mind that a landlord can decide to ask their tenants to leave at any point, and the tenants can’t control that. Additionally, when there is a lack of ownership, there is a lack of control; a renter can’t make a house feel like their own as fully as they might like to, since the property isn’t theirs.

Mountain Outreach volunteers have built homes for more than 150 families and renovated hundreds more.

Having a neighbor’s belongings in their basement, and the neighbor stopping by every now and then to remove an item or two, didn’t help Amber feel at home either. Besides, the staircase leading down to the laundry machines in the basement was extremely steep, making Amber worry for her safety, especially while she was pregnant.

Now, the Halls don’t have to worry about those problems anymore. They have their very own home that was built with high standards and good materials to keep the family safe and reduce costs over the years. During construction, MO asked the family to decide several elements of the home as well, such as the flooring, siding and roofing. Amber appreciated that. Before the house was even complete, it already felt like their own.

Tyler’s mother had heard about Mountain Outreach’s annual home build and pushed Tyler and Amber to apply. At first, they were hesitant. They had been working on building their credit, but they figured it would be years before it would be high enough for a bank to approve them to pay a mortgage. Still, they picked up an application at their church.

That same night at church, there was a revival. The pastor talked about challenging God, not in a fighting sense but in the sense of handing your biggest dreams to God and watching Him work. The Hall family took the sermon to heart. If they trusted God enough to hand Him their smaller dreams, they reasoned, why not their biggest one? They filled out the MO application.

Mountain Outreach director Rocky Brown

Soon, MO director Rocky Brown called Amber, and the family filled out additional paperwork and went through an interview process. Tyler’s parents got down on their knees regularly to pray with the family that they would be chosen to receive the house. Early one morning, Rocky called and started giving Amber all kinds of information about the home build. “I just want you to know,” he said, “that you’re the family.”

“We just knew it was going to happen,” Amber said. “Sometimes it was hard to have faith, but we just kept believing and putting our trust in the Lord.”

Moving into the new house was a “wow” moment for the family. The MO staff was excited for them, handing the keys to Tyler with big smiles on their faces. The family could have kept living in their rented home, handling the difficulties as they came and staying positive through it, but they are deeply thankful to have a new home all their own now, thanks to Mountain Outreach.

Since its inception in 1982, Mountain Outreach students and volunteers have completed more than 150 home building projects and completed renovations to hundreds more.  The program’s outreach includes numerous service projects that help provide children, the elderly, and financially struggling families with critical and urgent needs throughout the University of the Cumberlands service region.

The University of the Cumberlands has been ranked Kentucky’s No. 1 school for socially minded students and No. 15 nationwide.

This article has been edited and expanded from the original version appearing on the University of the Cumberlands website.

Shoes 4 the Soul: Taking the “First Step Out of Poverty” in Kentucky

According to Buckner International, shoes “are the first step out of poverty” for children around the world. For the 10th year in a row, staff and students at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of the Cumberlands is helping children in rural Appalachia take that first step with a program called Shoes 4 the Soul.

This year’s program consisted of donating shoes, socks, t-shirts and hygiene items to about 550 students across several elementary schools in Kentucky, including Pleasant View, Pine Knot, Boston, Whitley North, Whitley East, Whitley Central, and Williamsburg Independent elementary schools. Cumberlands staff and students brought the items directly to the schools to be handed out by their family resource officers to the children who needed the items.

“Shoes 4 the Soul helps these children in a few different ways,” said Caitlyn Howell, director of Appalachian Ministries, who has organized the program for the last few years. “I think the biggest thing is the shoes. Shoes are a distinctive thing that builds confidence for the kids. We’re meeting some essential needs, but we’re also meeting psychological needs for these kids by providing a brand-new pair of shoes. In some ways, we’re reaching beyond physical needs and helping build confidence that they will carry with them into their future.”

Related: University of the Cumberlands ministry helps build beds for underprivileged children

All Cumberlands’ undergraduate students participate in various community service opportunities each semester, supporting the university’s mission of impacting others in positive ways while teaching students leadership through service. Shoes 4 the Soul is just one event that allows Cumberlands students to give back to their community and serve the children in it.

“The kids are always excited,” said Tammy Stephens, the family resource director for Williamsburg Independent School District. “Most of the kids receiving these shoes don’t get any other pairs of shoes outside of what they get from our family resource center. Little boys especially wear through their shoes quickly with how hard they play. This gives them a good pair of shoes to wear every day.”

The University of the Cumberlands has made it a campus-wide goal to support at least 500 students each year with shoes and other essential items. It costs just $30 to provide a child with shoes, socks, t-shirts, and hygiene products at Shoes 4 the Soul. To sponsor a child, visit  For more information on Cumberlands’ community service initiatives, visit

This story has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of the Cumberlands website.

Rivals Auburn, Alabama Kick Off Annual Food Fight to Help the Hungry

When 18th-ranked Auburn takes on No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl later this year, the Tigers will likely be the underdogs. But student teams at both Sullivan Foundation partner schools have a solid chance to win a competition to raise donations for a pair of regional food banks in the weeks leading up to the big game.

The Beat Auburn Beat Hunger (BABH) and Beat Bama Food Drive (BBFD) events started in 1994 to help the West Alabama Food Bank and the Food Bank of East Alabama respectively. Since then, students at the two rival universities have combined to raise more than 7 million pounds of donated food for Alabamians dealing with food insecurity.

In Alabama, nearly 800,000 people face food insecurity every day, and more than 225,000 of those are children, according to Feeding America, a U.S. hunger relief nonprofit. It’s a staggering figure, and something far too many have faced.

Related: Elon Musk’s brother wants to build “super farm” to combat food insecurity

Student teams at both Alabama and Auburn will work to raise awareness about food insecurity while collecting donations for their regional food banks during the annual food and fund drive.

This year’s event started on Oct. 1 and runs through Nov. 18.

“Food insecurity is in every state and every city,” Olivia Hannum, president of this year’s BABH team, said. “One in six Alabamians and one in four children face this. That’s what stood out to me. I really can’t imagine taking what I’ve learned and not doing anything with it.”

Last year, the Alabama team beat Auburn by raising 291,047 pounds of food, which fed people from November 2020 to June 2021. This year, the team has set a goal of 300,000 pounds for the food bank, which serves Tuscaloosa, Greene, Fayette, Hale, Lamar, Sumter, Pickens, Marion and Bibb counties.

The BBFD team at Auburn didn’t capture last year’s trophy, but they still collected 259,160 pounds of food for the Food Bank of East Alabama.

Related: Student volunteers pack 30,000 meals at Elon University’s Rise Against Hunger event

With more than 1,000 donation barrels stationed across campus and the city of Tuscaloosa, UA students, faculty, staff and community members can donate conveniently. The BABH team will collect the goods throughout the campaign, bringing them to the West Alabama Food Bank. Last year, due to the pandemic, the BABH team went virtual, accepting monetary donations in addition to canned goods. The team will offer the same options—along with invaluable learning experiences—this year.

“It was my freshman year, and what really struck me was when I learned about the children that are food-insecure in our state,” Hannum said. “I learned about the secret Meals Program where people put meals in schoolchildren’s bags to last them through the weekend. It’s so hard to see these little kids who have no control over their situation [and] are worried about their meals for the next three days. That was a driving force for me.”

“What began as a relatively small-scale event has become one of Alabama’s largest food drives,” said a representative for Auburn’s BBFD team in an Eagle Eye Auburn video. “The University of Alabama has won this Auburn/Alabama food fight the last four years in a row, so this year Auburn students are looking to take back the victory.”

Student Volunteers Pack 30,000 Meals at Elon University’s Rise Against Hunger Event

The energy was high in Phoenix Activities & Recreation Center on Sept. 4, as over 100 students from Sullivan Foundation partner school Elon University packaged 30,000 meals in just two hours at the annual Rise Against Hunger meal-packing event, hosted by Elon Volunteers.

As music played to keep spirits up, students wore masks, hairnets and gloves and worked at both sides of 10 tables, moving efficiently to scoop ingredients into bags. Volunteers then weighed and sealed them, and the sealed bags were packed up into boxes that were loaded onto the Rise Against Hunger truck. Keeping with the event’s tradition, a gong rang every time students packed 5,000 meals.

“We went so fast that we actually missed a couple,” said Autumn Cox, a first-year Elon student. “I’ve never seen it before, and it ran so smoothly, they really have it down to a science.”

Related: Auburn, Alabama students join forces to help food-insecure families

Last year, the Elon community volunteers were able to pack 23,000 meals for the Rise Against Hunger event.

Rise Against Hunger is an international hunger relief organization. Its goal is to end hunger across the globe. Rise Against Hunger regularly hosts meal-packing events, and this is the sixteenth time the event has been hosted at Elon.

After a year of virtual and hybrid events, students were excited to be attending the event in person. “I was really impressed and also just loved the energy of all the students,” Cox said, who is in her first year at Elon. “I’ve heard this from other campus partners that, especially this year, students are just so excited to be involved in things again.”

Some of the meals will be sent to Haiti, which was recently hit by an earthquake and then a tropical storm. Rise Against Hunger will follow up with volunteers to let them know where all of the meals have been sent.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Elon University website.