Mariam Bachri, a graduate student about to complete the Master of Public Administration program at Southern Arkansas University, has used her knowledge about the non-profit sector as an opportunity to look for ways to help senior citizens in Columbia County.

Bachri has volunteered this semester at the Columbia County Senior Meals Service (CCSMS), where she has gotten to know the men and women who enjoy meals and fellowship there. She has also gotten a sense of some of their greater needs, and wrote a grant proposal to try to meet them, according to a press release.

The later years in life can be a period of isolation and loneliness for many people, especially those who have lost a spouse or who rarely see their family. Bachri wants to bring fulfillment to those who might not have anywhere else to turn.

“Food does not make one healthy,” Bachri said. “It does not mean you are taking care of yourself properly. People need to be able to get out and enjoy life.”

CCSMS provides thousands of meals per month to senior citizens living in Columbia County, whether they come into the center at 600 Lelia Street in Magnolia, or receive food through the Meals on Wheels program. Bachri said the center fulfills a significant role in providing the seniors with nutritious food to enable them a healthy lifestyle. However, Bachri believes that with a little more funding, the seniors’ quality of life could be dramatically improved.

Southern Arkanasas University
Southern Arkanasas University

As part of her professional project in the MPA program, Bachri has written a grant proposal seeking financing for a transportation van. The van would enable the organization to introduce outdoor activities, such as taking the seniors on visits to historical places, museums, parks, church, schools, shopping malls, favorite restaurants, a movie theater, etc.

Bachri is also proposing facility upgrades, expansion of food services, computers and Wi-Fi, and a big-screen TV for use in the center to bring more indoor activities and social gatherings aimed at enhancing the seniors’ experience.

Shelia Nash, director of CCSMS, said there is always a need for volunteers like Bachri, and that SAU has been a great resource for the seniors.

She said the service relies on people like Deana Taylor, SAU community involvement coordinator, to find student volunteers and fill many other needs of CCSMS.

Many volunteers already provide, cook and serve food, and contribute lawn care and maintenance work. But many times, seniors only need someone to talk to. “They have so many funny stories, so much to say. They just need someone to listen,” Nash said.

“One of my goals since I started working at SAU has been to find places for students to volunteer and to help nonprofits meet their needs so they could continue to provide services to the community,” Taylor said. “It’s important for all of us to support our nonprofit organizations either by donating money or needed items, or by giving of our time. The Columbia County Senior Meals Service provides a place for senior citizens to socialize and get a great, home-cooked meal Monday through Thursday, and they appreciate any volunteers or donations we send their way.”

Southern Arkansas University
Southern Arkansas University

She said Nash and Cathy McMahen, kitchen director, are running their meal program with very few paid employees, yet they are serving meals to nearly 70 people a day in their center and delivering meals to homebound seniors, as well. SAU students have helped unload the trailer from the food bank when it arrives, helped prepare meals, helped serve meals and ridden on the Meals on Wheels van to deliver meals.

SAU believes that helping in the community is a great way for students to become engaged citizens. The skills that they learn here can be used in the places where they make their homes after graduation.

Dr. Amber Overholser, assistant professor and MPA program director, said students in the program are afforded the opportunity to reach out to the community and do vital work that teaches them application as well as theory.

Bachri expressed thanks to Overholser, who has been “a great adviser,” Taylor, who introduced her to CCSMS, and Nash and McMahan for giving her the opportunity to volunteer and interact with seniors.

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