Southeastern Gives Back Through Community Service
|Representatives from Southeastern assist with the Families Feeding Families program in Durant.
Giving back to the community is a phrase that is used frequently in this day and age.
Southeastern Oklahoma State University has been a proud member of the Durant community for more than 100 years, and the university understands the importance of community involvement.
In his role as assistant vice president for academic affairs and instruction, Dr. Bryon Clark, tracks Southeastern’s civic engagement efforts, and in doing so, has collected some impressive numbers.
According to Clark, during the 2010-11 academic year, more than 760 individuals from Southeastern (students-faculty-staff) completed, collectively, approximately 30,000 hours of community service activity.
And while those may be impressive numbers, Clark points to another figure – 28,495 – the estimated number of individuals who were served through the University’s involvement – as the most important statistic of all.
Southeastern president Larry Minks is well aware of these volunteer efforts and has witnessed many of the efforts first-hand.
“We emphasize to our students the responsibility they have to be productive citizens,” Minks said. “This includes being an active participant both on and off campus and contributing to the betterment of society. At Southeastern, we are fortunate to have a culture among our students, faculty and staff that fosters assistance to those in need. Our campus community understands that they can make a difference in the lives of others, and this is reflected by their willingness to volunteer their time and effort in meaningful ways.”
In the past, assistance has been provided by the Southeastern family in times of disaster – tornadoes, fires, etc., -- but there are also ongoing efforts such as blood drives, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, American Cancer Society Relay for Life, volunteer income tax assistance program, theatrical workshops, tutoring and Special Olympics, to name just a few.
Another well-known program that Southeastern has been involved with in Durant is Families Feeding Families (FFF).
This program was founded in 2003 by Tish Burkhalter, her husband Brian and their children, with the support of the community.
FFF is a working kitchen providing daily hot meals at no cost to those in need.
Tish, a Durant High School and Southeastern graduate (’10), took over FFF after her husband became ill in 2009 and became director in 2010. She was recognized for her efforts with the 2009 Frank Newman Leadership Award, which honors outstanding civic leadership.
“This is a way of life for our family,’’ she said. “We believe in serving in every aspect of our lives. We believe in the importance of providing and assisting as the need arises.
“Southeastern has become an active participant with the Families Feeding Families community kitchen program,” Burkhalter said. “Various groups, classes, university students and faculty have integrated Families Feeding Families and the Hope Chest community closet volunteer opportunities into individual class schedules.
“The University is active not only in physical volunteering, but also in opportunities regarding various donation needs such as food and clothing.”
Families Feeding Families acts as a clearinghouse through which the food industry and community may donate food and other goods. FFF strives to provide nourishment for the physical hunger people experience, as well as the emotional and spiritual hungers so many people experience on a regular basis.
The FFF kitchen is located in the former George Washington Elementary School, 314 E. Main St. in Durant. It is open for dinner between 4:30-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The menu includes a main course with a vegetable or two, bread and desserts or cookies and drinks each evening.
Southeastern’s Dr. Charla Hall, professor of psychology, is also very involved in the Families Feeding Families program.
“I take a group from Southeastern to serve and clean up at Families Feeding Families on the second Tuesday of every month,” Hall said. “I have been doing this for about three years. Groups vary from month to month, and have included academic departments, student organizations, the president’s office and some of my classes.
“Many times it is a mixture of staff, faculty, students, alumni and family members. This is my favorite because people with different connections to the university have an opportunity to work with one another while making a difference in our larger community.”
Other programs include Food 4 Kids supplemental food program; Back 2 School Backpack program; and the Gideon’s Gift Christmas Adoption program.