Gazebo Gazette

Students from The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Gulf Park Campus in Long Beach, Miss. give back to the community through the IMPACT Community Work Study Program. The program provides opportunities for students to connect with the Hattiesburg and Gulf Coast communities and improve their career readiness.

Jennifer Canaan, a senior social work student, has participated in the IMPACT program through the Gulf Coast Center for Non-Violence for the past two years. During her time with the organization, she assisted the nonprofit by filing paperwork for protective orders, taking crisis calls and working as a Victim Advocate.

“Through each of these roles, I learned not only about how to support others in these situations, but also learned a lot about myself in the process,” she said. “Working in a direct capacity, I have more confidence in myself as a professional.

“I know more about what I can handle, how to better take care of myself, how to establish boundaries with clients and how not to internalize their trauma,” Canaan added. “I know that I am a better person and will be a better social worker because of it.”

Canaan received the Gulf Coast Center for Non-Violence Volunteer of the Year award, which recognized her dedication and commitment to the organization’s mission. Sanjuana Valtierra-Pettaway, another senior social work student, began the IMPACT program in fall 2023 and has worked with Women of Wisdom (WOW), a local nonprofit dedicated to encouraging, equipping, energizing and empowering women.

“I have gained skills in administration, philanthropic event management, writing, organization, empathy, critical thinking and fundraising,” she said. “As I move forward in my own philanthropic vision, I am empowered and confident that I will lead and make the necessary changes in the lives of our disadvantaged youth battling mental and behavioral health, especially in the lives of adolescent and teen girls.”

Robin Killeen, founder and president of WOW, recognizes Valtierra-Pettaway for her contributions to the mission of WOW.

“Sanjuana has worked so diligently and has truly become as asset to WOW Women of Wisdom Inc.,” said Killeen. “Her impact goes far beyond our expectations.”

Killeen also acknowledged the mutually beneficial relationship the IMPACT program creates between The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park Campus and local nonprofits.

“We are so thrilled with the professionalism of the program,” Killeen said. “We were at a crucial growth period and needed assistance. We love the partnerships we have formed with USM Gulf Park.”

The IMPACT Community Work Study Program accepts applicants from all eligible undergraduate students looking to increase their appreciation for civic engagement.