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.”
Tracye Prewitt: ‘follow your dreams’
Tracye Prewitt, an instructor at Dana Road Elementary School, met the challenges of being an instructor, and for 14 years, she has served as a mentor and positive figure to students at her school.
Her educational journey started at Mississippi State University as a history major, and later, the Lexington, Miss., native became a stay-at-home mother before moving to Vicksburg. She then decided to get back into the workforce, and Dana Road Elementary caught her attention.
As a member of the Dana Road Community Outreach program and faculty, Prewitt has brought several community leaders to the school to speak to her students.
“Being a part of the Community Outreach is a big deal,” she said. “One of our biggest events is the Leader In Me event, and that’s a team effort. My biggest event that I do is Read Across America.
“I strive to get people in the community and people that have an impact on our community to come out and read to the school. I want these kids to know that these important people such as the mayor, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the first lady of the state, representatives and former military generals think they’re important enough to take time out of their day to come and read a book to them.”
Even outside of work, Prewitt’s students are still her priority. She started an initiative to encourage her students to read more and to get the community more involved in education.
“I asked my friends on Facebook to sponsor my class for a month, and for $1 a child or $30 for a month, they bought the entire class a book,” she said. “Most have come out to the school, and read their book that they sponsored and presented the kids with the books. Sponsors have been (Mississippi Rep.) Oscar Denton, Shelley Tingle, Angel Meade, Tina Arrington, Robert Crear, just to name a few. The kids have loved getting books to take home that they can read forever. This bolsters literacy as well as community involvement.”
Pruitt hopes to continue being a positive impact on her students and let them know the sky is the limit when it comes to reaching their goals.
“I want my students to know that they can be anything they want to be and don’t settle for any reason,” she said. “Always strive to be what you want to be and follow your dreams.”
Kacie Lindsey: ‘I’ve always loved animals’
Kacie Lindsey, supervisor at the Vicksburg Animal Shelter, has dedicated her time, effort and energy to helping animals in Vicksburg.
“I make sure that the animals and employees are taken care of, communicate with the police dispatch and investigate animal cruelty,” she said, describing her job. “I deal with the community a lot. Some people call me because there’s something they don’t understand about the shelter or their animals. There’s just always a process with everything and steps that have to be taken.”
Before her work at the shelter, Lindsey had long immersed herself into the world of animals, especially dogs.
“I’ve always loved animals. I’ve always had animals,” she said. “When I was younger I wanted to go to school to be a veterinarian but plans changed.”
Lindsay worked at a boarding facility, St. Hannah’s Farms and Kennel, where the dogs were able to run free and play, and also for an English bulldog breeder, Puppychase Kennel, in Georgia. After she and her family moved to Vicksburg, she trained dogs and was a vet tech at the Vicksburg Animal Hospital where she worked for six years before taking her job at the Vicksburg Animal Shelter.
Even outside of her job, Lindsey contributes to the well-being of animals. Clearly, they are her passion.
“I have fostered animals (and) transported them when needed,” she said, adding, “I have actually rescued animals that are in bad situations. For instance, there was a Saint Bernard that was next door to a friend of a friend and, as everybody knows, Saint Bernards are very large animals. This poor girl was skin and bones. We rescued her, and now she’s happy, healthy and living her best life.”
Lindsey also involves her children in her work.
“I’ve passed my love of animals down to my children, and that’s the reason I have a house full of animals,” she said. “They help me with everything. When Bagel the Beagle was running around downtown, my daughter was … going downtown with me every day to gain his trust, and she’s actually the one that helped me catch him, and he now lives at our house, spoiled rotten, and we could not imagine our lives without him.”
Lindsey hopes that her work will inspire others to understand the importance of helping animals in need.
Nellie Caldwell: ‘I’m trying to make a difference’
In 2001 Nellie Caldwell received a phone call that would change her life forever. That call was her call to service.
“In 2001, I was selected for the (Vicksburg) Mural Committee,” Caldwell said. “For eight years, I worked as chairman of that committee, and we now have 32 beautiful murals on the flood wall. I love the murals but after those eight years, I said I would never get into a project that lasts this long ever again.”
Her resolve didn’t last long.
“But then our church came up with the idea of a homeless family shelter. We wanted to do something for the community, and they asked me to be on the board for that homeless shelter,” Caldwell said. “I thought about it and thought, ‘Eight years is nothing compared to a lifetime because this will go on forever’.”
Caldwell agreed to be one of the leaders for the shelter. She knew it would be tough, but she believes that her love of helping others has always made it feel like fun.
“I don’t do this to be recognized,” she said. “I do what I do because I love, love, love what I’m doing, and I’m trying to make a difference.”
Though her official work in the community began at the beginning of this millenium, Caldwell’s will to serve and help others began much earlier. Her family, she said, always “wanted to help people.”
“We had nothing, but we had more than our neighbor did,” Caldwell said. “So, we would wrap up things at Christmas time and [take] them next door to a family that had less than we did. Those are things I grew up doing. So, the thought of a homeless shelter came up, that was right down my alley.”
As a member of the Lifting Lives Ministries board, Caldwell helps homeless people all over the Vicksburg area.
“It takes a lot of work, but there’s so much satisfaction when you see success stories happen, and families are able to get jobs … and move out and into an apartment,” she said. “It is very rewarding when you see that, and like I say, this hopefully will go on forever because it’s much needed.”
To learn more about the Lifting Lives Family Shelter, visit the Facebook page.
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