NACOGDOCHES, Texas — A Stephen F. Austin State University student service project that helps feed approximately 150 local families during Thanksgiving was recognized as a model for other universities across the country Nov. 21 at the National Council on Family Relations annual meeting in Fort Worth.
Thanksgiving Homebound has assisted Nacogdoches families in need for nearly 10 years. Coordinated by SFA’s Jacks Council on Family Relations, the service project stands out because of its longevity, community and campus involvement, and impact on SFA students’ education.
“It allows students to see that poverty exists all around them and that their efforts can help alleviate families’ struggles to provide for themselves,” said Dr. Jennifer Newquist, assistant professor in SFA’s School of Human Sciences and faculty advisor for JCFR.
Three SFA human development and family studies students had the honor of presenting at the national meeting: Lindsey Lightfoot, 2018-20 JCFR president and Weatherford junior; Julie McAnally, JCFR past vice president and graduate student from Lufkin; and Jaycie Case, JCFR past president and graduate student from Aledo.
Lightfoot, McAnally and Case discussed how they have involved SFA students, faculty and staff as well as the Nacogdoches community in the Thanksgiving Homebound service project each year. They described how the project works, from adopting the families to creating grocery lists tailored to the age, gender and Thanksgiving traditions of the children in each family.
“The conference attendees commented on how special and personalized this service project truly is,” Lightfoot said.
Thanksgiving Homebound started in fall 2011 shortly after SFA’s Family and Child Development Club became the SFA student affiliate for the National Council on Family Relations, the premier professional association for understanding families through interdisciplinary research, theory and practice.
That year, several JCFR members volunteering at the Greater East Texas Community Action Program’s Head Start in Nacogdoches overheard two teachers discussing the many service projects that benefit GETCAP Head Start families during the Christmas season. Though the teachers appreciated these projects, they wished organizations recognized that families needed assistance at other times of the year, too.
The JCFR members then worked with their faculty advisor to design a project to gather nonperishable food items for eight GETCAP Head Start families for Thanksgiving. Local GETCAP Head Start staff members were overwhelmed by the success of the project.
Quotes about this success from both participating families and community organization advisors “resonated with the school affiliates at the conference,” McAnally said. “Those affiliates left with a good idea of how to start similar projects on their campuses.”
In less than a decade, Thanksgiving Homebound has grown tremendously. Along with GETCAP Head Start, the project assists organizations such as the Solid Foundation Association, a nonprofit tutoring and mentoring program for at-risk youth; the Family Crisis Center of East Texas; the Boys and Girls Clubs of Deep East Texas; and the Nacogdoches County adult probation program.
“The conference attendees were impressed by how many families we were able to reach,” Case said.
With the increase in Thanksgiving Homebound participants, JCFR members now rely on SFA faculty and staff as well as other campus and community organizations to adopt families and provide them with nonperishable goods for a Thanksgiving meal.
“The SFA community truly goes above and beyond in this project, and that helped me realize that people do care and want to help out,” Lightfoot said.
To meet their service project goals, JCFR members are interacting more with others on campus and in the community. And as more community members learn about the student-run JCFR, more professional development opportunities open up to these students.
“Thanksgiving Homebound has taught me how to create connections with local resources and those who advocate for families in a community,” said Case, who has helped with the service project for the past five years. “It and JCFR have created such a powerful learning experience for me that they’ve inspired me to continue my studies in the field of human sciences.”
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