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Coach Andre Bennett is a lifetime Vicksburg Gator

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Andre Bennett, who once led Vicksburg High School to one of the best football seasons in its existence, is still making an impact on the Gators today.

A native of Vicksburg, Bennett was raised by his mother, Janice,  a retired social worker, and his father, Carl Bennett, who was a police officer and has passed away.

He began playing football in first grade at the YMCA for the Bowmar Bears. By the time he was in Vicksburg Junior High, he was over sized but not yet a great athlete.

“In junior high I was working on myself and trying to become a better athlete,” he said.

In 1999, Bennett was a sophomore playing defensive lineman under former Vicksburg High School head coach James Knox. Bennett started that year on defense along with teammates including Junior Nix, Timothy Brown and Joseph Brown. Bennett would help the Gators to the first round of the playoffs.

“I looked to the older players like Will Hood, Jason Myers and Tim Hall,” Bennett said.

The next year Alonzo Stevens would become Bennett’s new coach.

2000 was Bennett’s year as a star athlete. He also scored 18 on the ACT, making him NCAA eligible.

Coach Stevens moved Bennett to offensive lineman to become the team’s lead blocker. The Gators did not make the playoffs that year but the rising seniors knew that the next season would be different.

“We had championship on our mind,” Bennett said, “and we were going to do whatever it took to make it there.”

The next year, the Vicksburg Gators would have much younger players in the starting lineup including Justin Henry, Ben Shelton, Maurice Taylor, Phelan Gray and Rory Johnson. Despite the young team, Bennett was able to help lead the Gators to the third round of the playoffs, and he became a first team all-state lineman. The Gators also beat a top ranked Louisiana team from John Ehret High School, which brought a lot of recognition to Vicksburg High.

After the 2001 season, Bennett received offers from Notre Dame, Louisiana State and Grambling State University.

“I chose Grambling because they made me feel right at home and did not guarantee me anything,” he said.

Bennett transitioned from high school to now rolling out for 5:30 a.m. workouts and playing offensive tackle. After being redshirted in 2002 freshman year, Bennett got his first start against San Jose State University in 2003 and would remain the starter for the next four years. Bennett would be a part of  the 2002 and 2005 Grambling national championship team before graduating.

After graduating, Bennett participated in a few NFL combines where the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans were present, but he never got his shot in the pros. Bennett moved to Hattiesburg and worked out with Brett Favre while trying to get another shot in the big leagues. Instead, he would go on to play arena football in Ohio for the Mahoning Valley Thunder.

During his final 2008 arena football season, Bennett received a call from his old high school coach, Alonzo Stevens, who asked him to come back and coach the Gators, a job Bennett graciously accepted.

“I love connecting with the players and being a positive influence in young player’s lives,” Bennett said. His advice to young athletes? “Keep God first and do not let anything bring you down.”

Bennett is still coaching the Gators today, and he has four kids of his own: AngJanee, Elexcia, Elmer and Elijah. 

He thanks his girlfriend, Christie Thomas, for being by his side every step of the way and his recently fallen teammate, Robert Lewis, saying he was a great guy and teammate. Bennett also thanks his parents and coach Stevens for helping him become the man he is today.

Hometown Hero

For Kami May, working with the United Way is a dream come true

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Kami May and her boyfriend, Ethan Mitchell.

Ever since she can remember, Kami May, Vicksburg native and 2011 Warren Central High School graduate, has had a love for helping others. Even when she was in high school, she volunteered with several organizations, and she believes her desire to help others is just a part of who she is.

“I don’t really know where it came from,” May said. “It’s kind of in my DNA. … Just always having that spirit, that give-back attitude and being a people person has always been in my DNA—to be happy and to be giving all the time. I just grew up that way and always knew I wanted to help people.”

May, who studied communications at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, has been working toward her ideal career since she was a teen.

“I had to have an internship to complete my studies, and my search led me to United Way,” May said. “I actually had a church member, Lori Burke, who served on the board at United Way in Vicksburg, and she told me about the organization. I reached out and was able to do my internship here.”

May’s internship lasted two months when the director of marketing and communications left for a new job. Michelle Connelly, executive director of the United Way West Central Division, offered the job to May.

“That began my career in nonprofits, which was my dream goal since graduating high school,” May said.

After three years with the United Way, May continues to do what she loves, and she learns something new each day.

“Working at United Way, every day is different, and every day has a new story to tell, a new opportunity to serve,” May said. “Every day is a new story to add to a book of things that I’ve helped out with. There’s not a day that goes by here that I’m not helping at least one person, and that means a lot to me.”

May knows that wherever life takes her, she will continue to serve.

“I don’t know what the future holds for me,” she said. “I’m still very young, 26. I haven’t figured that out yet, and that’s OK. I do feel like my love for nonprofits will never go away no matter what the future holds. Whether I stay in nonprofits or leave them, I know that I will continue to give, I will continue to advocate, and I will continue to volunteer.”

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Local church participates in Toys for Tots

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Bishop Oscar L. Davis, First Lady Loretta Davis and Word Church of Vicksburg members

In 1947, Marine reservist Maj. Bill Hendricks founded Toys for Tots, the U.S. Marine Corps-funded program that gathers and distributes toys to disadvantaged children. With about 15 million children living in poverty in the United States, program proved itself to be useful and has become a holiday tradition. 

In 2014. Takita Selvy, a member of the Word Church of Vicksburg, was given an opportunity to serve her community by joining with the charity as its Warren County coordinator.

“We’ve never had a Toys for Tots coordinator in this area,” Selvy said. “So. someone contacted my pastor and asked him if he knew anybody who would like to be a coordinator, and at that time, I didn’t have a job, and I wanted to stay busy in the ministry. I then took on the role as coordinator five years ago, and it’s just been blooming ever since.”

Every year, Selvy works with her fellow church members to gather all types of toys for children in need in the Warren County area.

“With our chapter it began five years ago,” she said. “We do it through my church, the Word Church of Vicksburg, and it’s pastored by Bishop Oscar L. Davis, and we try to make it greater and grander than the last year. We had a really big year last year and the year before that, and this year we just wanted to get the community involved. That was our main goal.”

With several organizations  and churches pitching in—including Child Protective Services, the Vicksburg Children’s Shelter, and the Family and Development Center—Selvy is grateful to the community for helping to make Toys for Tots a success each year. She says none of it would be possible without her pastor.

“Our pastor loves children, and he always wanted to be involved with Toys for Tots,” she said. “So when the opportunity presented itself, he was excited that we, as a church family, would be making a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children.”

The Word Church of Vicksburg is collecting toys for children ages 2 through 18. On Dec. 7, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., church members will be gathering at 2150 Iowa Blvd. to pack a truck full of toys. Then, on Dec. 14, the church will host a family friendly event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 255 Fisher Ferry Road. Guests will be able to meet with Santa, drink hot cocoa, enjoy a train ride and decorate Christmas cards for deployed Marines.

For information, and to learn how to contribute to Toys for Tots, call Takita Selvy at 601-885-3599 or Jacqueline Brown at 601-589-0793.

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Felix leads Vicksburg Steel Strong to make a difference in the community

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Vicksburg Steel Strong President Antonio Felix holds up a popular Steelers memento, the terrible towel. Sales of the towel benefit various charitable organizations.

Vicksburg Steel Strong is an organization made up of Pittsburg Steelers fans who came together to enjoy football and to make a difference in the community.

The organization has been in existence since Nov. 4, 2018, and Antonio Felix is its president. Felix has always had love for the Steelers.

“We voted Tony as President because he is a strong and very dependable man,” said member Pat Terrell.

Felix, born in Los Angeles, moved to Vicksburg at a young age with his mother, and he graduated from Vicksburg High School in 1992.

A short time after graduation, Felix went to prison for four years on a aggravated assault charge. While incarcerated, he made the most of his time. He learned carpentry and earned a barber’s license in 1995.

After his release, Felix never looked back. Today, he lives in Vicksburg with his wife of 24 years, Marcie, and their three kids: Marcus, Antonio Jr., and Dejah. He’s also been a barber for 24 years and works at Fred’s Barbershop.

Vicksburg Steel Strong does community service work by hosting clothing drives, feeding the homeless, mentoring youth at the Warren County Detention Center and sponsoring a debutante ball, among many other things. The group also participates in every parade that Vicksburg hosts and supports Toys For Tots.

“I see this organization continuing to grow, and we have our minds right so I know we can do it,” said Adrienne Casselle.

Members of the Vicksburg Steelers Strong Club.

In the past year, Vicksburg Steel Strong has made a huge impact on the community, and they have no plans to stop.

“We are firm believers in Philippians 4:13 that says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,'” said Terrell.

The group is about 30 members strong, and each member has a big love for their community.

“We are small in numbers, but we are full of love,” Felix said.

The members all have different stories on why they joined the organization, but they are all glad that they did.

“I am a true fan to the Steelers—inherited by my parents which is why I joined,” said club secretary Kevia Hall.

As the group’s leader, Felix is an example that people can change if given a second chance and he is paving the way for young kids to follow the right path through his mentoring. The organization brought people together from all over the community with the love of a football team, but their love reaches out to others who are having a tough time. The group is not in any competition with anyone, they just want to be better than they were the year before.

For more information, visit the club’s Facebook page.

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