'iHeartStarkville' currently underway


David Miller



For volunteers, their community service usually isn't lauded by those around them. Their benefit derives from taking pride in their community and, for many, fulfilling spiritual obligations.


But when there's money, a competition and a party involved, there's more than enough incentive to push volunteerism to the max.


The "iHeartStarkville" community service program began Tuesday and runs through April 6. The first year of the volunteer initiative requires individuals and volunteer groups to select two volunteer efforts in the city, complete at least six to 10 hours for both projects and complete a presentation to be delivered before a panel of judges on April 6. Each group will be judged by its total number of participants and total hours served.



Groups with the highest three-point scores will receive a cash prize from $250 to $1,000 for a community project, nonprofit organization or school organization.


Local groups and individuals must submit volunteer ideas to Volunteer Starkville (volunteerstarkville.org) or the Maroon Volunteer Center at Mississippi State University by Wednesday.


"We know there are a lot of people volunteering their time, but one of our goals is to make sure we track that effort and recognize them," said Stefanie Ashford-Shackelford, executive director of Volunteer Starkville. "And I'd say 80 percent of the motivation is to recruit new volunteers. It's a great way to get the message out and bring people together."


The program, in conjunction with Maroon Volunteers and the Mayor's Youth Council, will conclude with "iHeartStarkville Day" on April 6 at Fire Station One on Lampkin Street. The daylong event will include music from soul singer G.C. Cameron and Jeffrey Rupp. Food will be served, and a children's play area will be available. Local business sponsors have chipped in to provide door prizes, including t-shirts, gift cards and passes for MSU games.


During the day of celebration, groups will partner to select and participate in two volunteer efforts.


Ashford-Shackelford said five teams are currently signed up, including the local Girl Scouts chapter and the Starkville High School volleyball team. She expects five more to sign.


"For me, giving back to the community has always been important," said Lauren Love, SHS volleyball coach. "As a college athlete (at the University of Tennessee), it was something I was always a part of. And it was important because I was from Knoxville and also went to college there. I think I benefited greatly from it."


Love has been an active volunteer in Starkville since she and her husband, Adam, moved to the area five years ago. In January, the SHS volleyball team started a developmental volleyball program from boys and girls in grades 4-8 at the Starkville Sportsplex. The program is every Wednesday from 3:45 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.


"We have such a great group of girls that, when I let them know when it was going on and what we'd be doing, they were all in," said Love.


"iHeartStarkville" also is partnered with Montgomery Leadership Program at MSU to help gather donations for its "Love Snacks" pre- and after-school programs to begin in the summer. Love Snacks will be provided to children in grades K-6. The donations will help stock the Love Snacks pantry.


Volunteer Starkville and Maroon Volunteers will hold Starkville Cemetery Cleanup Day on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon as part of a weekly collaboration between the two groups.





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