Stronger Together Oxford: Volunteer program connects community to organizations, non-profits

Published 4:45 pm Friday, April 29, 2022

Stronger Together Oxford — formerly known as the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program— is rebranding and reintroducing itself to Oxford and Lafayette County.

For the last 50 years, RSVP operated under a grant and sponsored by the city of Oxford. Although RSVP provided great services to the greater community, officials found the grant requirements to be restrictive.

“For the last couple of years, it’s been a dream of ours to be able to serve the entire community,” said Arledia Bennett, director of Stronger Together Oxford. “The federal grant was restrictive. You had to be 55 and older and there were certain restrictions on where we could place volunteers.”

However the need to serve the entirety of Oxford and Lafayette County remained strong, so they decided to make a change.

“One day, we decided to go ask the mayor if it was possible for us to relinquish our grant and we came up with doing a community volunteer hub-type program,” said Bennett. “She liked the idea and she came up with the name. Hopefully, we’re going to be able to serve any agency or non-profit that needs volunteers.”

“We’re super excited about the transition from being under the grant to not having to grant anymore,” said Mary Hannah Meek, bookkeeper and coordinator. “It opens a lot more doors for us and we don’t have that red tape anymore that a grant has.”

The grant officially ended March 31 and members began rebranding on April 1. 

Now Stronger Together Oxford is steadily refamiliarizing its program to the public through events like “Cookies and Conversations with Community Partners” at the Old Armory Pavilion on Wednesday. The event was created in order to make new connections, develop old ones and recruit more volunteers for their partners.

Over 10 organizations participated in “Conversations and Cookies,” including Memory Makers, CASA of North Mississippi, Enhabit Hospice, Kare-In-Home, Southern Care Hospice Services, Heart of Hospice, Encompass Health Hospice, Boys Scouts of America Yocona Area Council, Oxford Community Market, OxFilm, the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library, Mary Cathey Head Start Center and Boys & Girls Club of Oxford.

The BSA Yocona Area Council are a new addition to Stronger Together Oxford, but they have been operating for over 100 years.

“We’re just trying to get more involved in the community and raise more awareness about our program,” said Chicksa District Executive Joe Connole. “We’ve fallen off in the ways of community outreach and we wanted to reintroduce ourselves to the community as a resource for volunteers and for the youth.”

Memory Makers’ program director Katharine Hoover said Stronger Together Oxford is vital in their recruitment of volunteers. Currently, Hoover and Activities Director Clark Ross solely operate Memory Makers, a respite day program for caregivers and persons with dementia.

“We were closed for a couple of years because of COVID and we reopened on January 24, 2022,” said Hoover. “We’re the only two staffed so we rely heavily on volunteers. Volunteers do lots of different things but the main thing is keeping our participants company and helping them with activities.”

Many organizations mostly depend on student volunteers for the majority of the year, but conflicting hours and summer break present issues. Hoover said Oxford is lucky to have an invaluable resource like Stronger Together Oxford that can recruit volunteers for them.

“I spoke to Marlee and she really wants to help take the load off of our shoulders by finding volunteers because it can be really tough to find volunteers when students leave,” Hoover said. “So, it’s really nice to have their assistance, guidance, all their knowledge and the time they take to find volunteers for us. It means a lot to us when someone comes out to us and donates that time.”

For more information on Stronger Together Oxford or to get involved, visit www.facebook.com/StrongerTogetherOxford.