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ULM freshmen give back to community through senior wellness program

Published November 3, 2015

Last Friday, a group of ULM students participated in a community service project with the Ouachita Council on Aging (OCA), a local non-profit organization serving seniors aged 60+ since 1967.

ulm students at Ouachita Council on Aging
Students and peer leaders at the OCA wellness center

The mission of the OCA is to act on behalf of older person(s) to secure needed services and benefits. For nearly 50 years, the OCA has served local senior citizens by providing meals, appropriate healthcare, transportation, outreach, recreation, an emergency response system, among other services.

Since 2008, each ULM freshman class has played an integral role in OCA’s outreach. They have contributed to fundraising efforts by supporting the annual quilt fundraiser, provided care packages for senior participants in the Meals on Wheels program, corresponded with the participants, and donated to the OCA food bank.

“We are so fortunate to have a unique partnership with ULM,” said Lynda McGhee, the director of the OCA. “Most Meals on Wheels participants live alone, without any sense of community. Contact with a young person means the world to this population.”

This year, the ULM freshman class, comprised of 1,400 students, raised $1,200 in donations, furnished 66 large care baskets containing items for homebound seniors served by the OCA, and replenished the OCA food bank with over 1,400 cans of food. “The cans of food donated by ULM students, amounting to a one-year food supply, will be distributed to needy seniors throughout the year, especially during the holiday season,” according to Ms. McGhee.                                                                                                   

ulm students at Ouachita Council on Aging
ULM student, Brea Joyner, preparing care baskets

The freshmen who participated in this year’s Meals on Wheels are part of a required freshman seminar (“University Seminar 1001”) that integrates academics and group activities, including community service. Student peer leaders, who are selected through a competitive application and interview process, serve as role models and leaders for their freshman peers.

Brea Joyner, a junior communications major and peer leader, sees the real impact of student involvement in the elderly community. “Many of the seniors who come to this center do not get to see their families or friends very often,” Joyner said. “I think it uplifts their spirits when we come out and give them things as random acts of kindness—not with strings attached, but from the generosity of our hearts.”

The community service experience also had a positive impact on the student participants. Joyner’s grandmother, who passed away this past March, used to participate in the Meals on Wheels program, and Joyner remembers the effect it had on her grandmother. “She used to come home with soup, popcorn, or some other item and these little things made her so happy,” Joyner said. “It improved her quality of life and that meant the world to me. I’m happy that I now have an opportunity to give to others in the same way that others gave to my grandmother.” 

Dr. Bruno

Dr. Nick J. Bruno, ULM president, says that ULM’s participation in the Meals on Wheels program is a reflection of the university’s commitment to serving the community. “Here at ULM, we are dedicated to bettering the lives of our students, both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Bruno. “The Meals on Wheels program facilitates this goal by providing an important opportunity for our students to give back to the senior citizens of our community.”

This year’s donations were made in honor of Mrs. Shirley Cagle, who served as the co-director of the OCA for thirty years. She was instrumental in creating nutrition programs for seniors, and she supervised the Meals on Wheels program. “She loved her seniors, and she appreciated every good thing our freshmen provided for them,” said Ms. Barbara Michaelides, ULM director of retention. “Mrs. Cagle will be missed.”

The OCA operates in ten satellite sites throughout the parish. To learn more about the OCA or how to get involved as a volunteer, please contact Lynda McGhee at 318-387-0535.

For a photo gallery of this event, click here