UM-DeSoto Student Recognized for Volunteer Work
Ismail named child advocacy center’s Volunteer of the Year, nominated for governor’s award
SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – For Nazha Ismail, one class project led to fulfilling holiday wishes for 65 DeSoto County foster children. That effort has resulted in a Volunteer of the Year award and an acknowledgement from the Mississippi governor’s office.
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Ismail is a senior general studies major at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center – Southaven. After receiving her associate degree in business from Northwest Mississippi Community College, she enrolled at UM-DeSoto in the fall of 2016.
Ismail, who minors in business, psychology and sociology, was initially looking for a place to volunteer for a class assignment. A friend suggested that she contact Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center in Southaven.
HHCAC serves children and families in DeSoto and Tate counties. The nonprofit’s mission is to “respond to child abuse with a supportive team approach that reduces trauma through advocacy, treatment, education and prevention.”
“I wanted something close to home and something with longevity,” Ismail said. “I called and spoke to Mrs. Darlene Cunningham (the center’s family advocate) and I’ve been volunteering there since.”
Ismail thought she would be asked to help with typical office work, but Cunningham gave her a more meaningful task.
“It was a fundraiser where they gather wish lists from children in the foster care system and make sure they experience and have a Christmas,” Ismail said. “I asked if I can take on some of the children’s wish lists and after all was done I ended up with 65 kids. I had never met any of the kids, but what mattered was I needed to make sure their wish lists were met. Many people helped me do that.”
Ismail began asking local businesses if they would consider donating to the project. She received toys, gift cards and monetary donations. She was able to fulfill all the children’s requests.
Ismail was recognized as Healing Heart’s Volunteer of the Year at the center’s Race to Heal Hearts fundraising event on May 5.
“Nazha worked all fall to organize donations for the kids,“ said Cheryl Beene, president of Healing Heart’s Board of Directors. “The photos of donations don’t even do justice to the amount of work she put in - she even got Southeastern Truck Lines to transport the gifts for us. All that said, we were thrilled to honor her as our Volunteer of the Year.”
Not only was Ismail named the center’s Volunteer of the Year, but she was also nominated for Mississippi’s 2018 Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence Award. As a nominee, she received a certificate of appreciation from Volunteer Mississippi and Mississippi’s first lady, Deborah Bryant.
“I personally didn’t feel I did enough, but these recognitions were very humbling and I am thankful for them,” Ismail said.
Ismail is still finalizing her plans after she graduates from UM-DeSoto, but one thing is certain.
“I do wish to continue with Healing Hearts and any other organization that needs help,” she said. “I really feel that every person that wants to volunteer needs to visit one of many organizations and do it. Many people out there want to help but don’t know who to ask or where to start. All I can say is just do it.”