UA Sullivan Award Recipients Focus on Food Insecurity, Dangers of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Caitlyn McTier, a senior at the University of Alabama, has been helping children facing food insecurity since she was in the fourth grade. UA honored her dedication to placing service above self with the 2021 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, along with fellow student Eric Harrison, an advocate for children of parents with drug and alcohol addictions, and Jacqueline Maye, a dedicated staffer at the university.

The Sullivan Award recognizes excellence of character and service to humanity. It honors one man and one woman of the graduating class and one non-student associated with the university. Here’s more detail about each recipient:

Caitlyn McTier

Caitlyn McTier
Sylacauga, Alabama native Caitlyn McTier said she owes her heart of service to mankind to her grandparents, who grew up fighting racism and discrimination in Alabama prior to and during the civil rights movement.

In 2012, McTier started Caitlyn’s Cubby, a nonprofit group at her school in Talladega County. Caitlyn’s Cubby helps combat food insecurity in middle and high schools throughout the state by providing free meals on weekends.

According to, McTier founded Caitlyn’s Cubby out of concern for her best friend in the fourth grade, who went home hungry every day to a family that didn’t even have the money for snacks. McTier would sneak food out of her own house for her friend and began to recognize how serious the problem of food insecurity was in her community. “It was just one of those eye-opening experiences,” McTier told CBS42 back in 2016. “Even though I was so young, I was able to see hunger. I knew it was something that I wanted to work on stopping.”

McTier and some friends started stuffing school bags with basic necessities and sticking them in the lockers of students who were going hungry. “We go around kind of in a circle in an assembly line and just keep putting food into each of the bags, and then we put a bible verse into it at the end,” McTier explained at the time.

Before long, Alabama Childhood Food Solutions began providing the group with food donations. Caitlyn’s Cubby has served nearly 3,000 meals to students to date.

She continued that line of service when she came to UA, addressing food insecurity among college students. Partnering with the UA Food Insecurity Task Force, the journalism and creative media major started Project FIERCE (Food Insecurity Education and Recharging Civic Engagement).

McTier is also a founding member of the Alabama College Basic Needs Coalition and serves on the Alabama Child Hunger Task Force, traveling to universities throughout the state to discuss food insecurity and food pantry structures. McTier is the SGA’s vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the first Black woman elected to the SGA executive council, and president of 32nd Order of XXXI, an honorary society that recognizes the most influential women at the Capstone based on their character and contributions.

Recipient: This Sullivan Award recipient is also a gymnastics star at Auburn University

Eric Harrison

Eric Harrison
Throughout many childhood trials and tribulations that left him feeling “lost,” psychology major Eric Harrison, a recovering addict, held onto one dream: attending and graduating from college.

Even after suffering several near-death experiences, he decided to pursue his dream once again. Now, as a UA honor student who has been clean and sober for about five years, he realizes that his life has a purpose, which is to use his experience—even the negative parts—and his education to uplift others.

He volunteers with the Parent Resource Institute for Drug Education of Tuscaloosa, speaking to youth and young adults about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. He also implemented a 12-week program in a Tuscaloosa County alternative school and mentored youth at the Tuscaloosa County Juvenile Detention Facility while working to create an organization that provides support to children of addicted parents. He hopes that sharing his testimony will bring encouragement to those who have gone through similar struggles.


Related: Sullivan Scholar Sarah Guest aims to become a leader in education


Jacqueline Maye

Jacqueline Maye (Staff)

A single mother of four, Jacqueline Maye has been a dedicated program assistant at the university for more than 20 years.

She has trained numerous employees and proudly shouts “Roll Tide!” wherever she goes.

Maye has served as an ambassador of the UA WellBama Program and has been an active member of Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church for nearly 25 years, the HOLT in Action board for nearly a decade, and the Holt Partnership for 10 years.

Service Is a Top Priority for Students in Mary Baldwin University’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted

By Maya Reyes, Mary Baldwin University

Lexi Tavakoli’s jeans may have been thickly cuffed for fashion reasons, but on this day they served a practical purpose.

The cuffs kept her jeans out of the mud.

A freshman at Sullivan Foundation partner school Mary Baldwin University (MBU), Tavakoli was part of a team of people planting trees at the Valley Mission, a Staunton, Va. shelter for people experiencing homelessness. The Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA’s Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) organized the service opportunity to assist with Shenandoah Green’s Legacy Tree Project.

Volunteering is meaningful to Tavakoli. A first-year student in MBU’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG), she happily volunteers her time. “I’ve got to do something constructive with my time and use it to aid others,” she said.

Related: Mary Baldwin University staff and students find myriad ways to help community in pandemic

College students don’t typically volunteer with the YVC program, but Tavakoli isn’t a typical college student. The California native completely skipped high school. She started at MBU this year at the age most students start high school.

Chris Lassiter, coordinator for the local YMCA’s YVC, is thankful for the help of PEG students.  “I think part of what makes it successful is that they’re great kids who are mature and eager to impact their community,” Lassiter said.

this photo shows several students in Mary Baldwin University's Program for the Exceptionally Gifted volunteering at the Out of the Darkness Walk event in Staunton, Virginia

Volunteering at the Out of the Darkness Walk are (left to right) Heidi Bustos, PEG residence hall director, Victoria Peterson, Addison (last name not given) and Shaahi Kanumuri.

One of the coordinators of this partnership is Heidi Bustos, MBU residence hall director for PEG students, who live in a dedicated center on campus. She saw the vital role that volunteering could have in impacting her hometown community in Chicago.

“My living situation at home was not ideal, and I always found myself looking for opportunities to join organizations that had service opportunities,” Bustos said.

Bustos joined a leadership program that led her to different volunteering opportunities. Through constant networking, she volunteered more than 500 hours. “I believe that service is a big part of me, and to this day I look for different ways that I can be involved in my community and encourage others to do so,” Bustos said.

Related: Mary Baldwin University names first social entrepreneur-in-residence

Bustos gives weekly newsletters to her PEG students with a list of volunteering opportunities in the community, including YVC activities.

Victoria Peterson, a PEG student from Maryland, appreciates the newsletter. “She [Bustos] introduces opportunities that are available to us,” Peterson said. “I try to come to everything I can.”

Lassiter works not only with university students but also students from the community who are in middle school and high school. “It has been really cool to see them all interact and find a common bond through volunteering together,” Lassiter said.

this is a photo of a mask-wearing Victoria Peterson doing volunteer work as a student in Mary Baldwin University's Program for the Exceptionally Gifted

Victoria Peterson, a PEG student from Maryland, volunteers for Science Delivered.

Peterson agrees. “It is nice to talk to people who are the same age as me in a different position,” she said. “It is refreshing.”

In addition to the Legacy Tree Project these young women have helped out Science DeliveredProject Grows, and the Greater Shenandoah Valley Out of the Darkness Walk.

Markita Madden-Puckett, organizer for the Out of the Darkness Walk, was grateful for the help that the YVC provided. “They rocked!” Madden-Puckett said. “That attitude is everything, and when young people are out on a rainy Saturday morning with a smile on their face and happy to help, how can we be anything but impressed?

“I hope that they will volunteer with us again,” Madden-Puckett continued. “We would be glad to have their help, especially if we are able to return to a more typical schedule for our event where things are much more fast-paced and hectic. I know the group could definitely keep the pace based on how they helped this weekend.”

MBU’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.

This story has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Mary Baldwin University website.