UM Student Encourages the Next Generation during Summer at Ole Miss
Clarksdale’s Wells serves as summer programs counselor and mentor
Photo: University of Mississippi Sophomore Jhalen Wells spent his summer working as a summer programs counselor with the UM Pre-College Programs office. Wells enjoyed giving back and serving as an encourager and mentor to students participating in the RebelQuest programs in June and July. Pictured with Wells (middle right) are L to R: Christian Mead, Sloan Hollis and Solene Perrier, all of Oxford.
OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi sophomore Jhalen Wells wanted to spend his summer making a difference. While growing up in Clarksdale, Wells looked up to older kids who worked hard for the chance to go to college and pursue their dreams, he recalled.
“It was an inspiration to see others in my community go off to college to better themselves and do something new,” he said. “I hope I set a good example like this and made the summer a little brighter for the students I had the opportunity to work with.”
The integrated marketing communications major served as a counselor this summer for UM’s Pre-College Programs office. In June and July, he worked with rising fifth and sixth graders who attended the UM Rebel Quest program.
Wells said that checking in each morning with the kids was one of his best parts of his day.
“Just seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces when I walked into the room made my day,” he said. “They might be dragging in, but after they saw that I was energetic and ready to have a good day, it would wear off on them.
“It means a lot to me to have such a positive effect on others.”
Along with encouragement and smiles, Wells was known for special weekly send-offs for the day campers participating in Rebel Quest. He purchased ice cream with his own money and threw a special ice cream party.
“I just wanted to give the students, faculty and staff a fun way to end a great week,” he said.
“Wells was a great addition to this summer's team of counselors because he is kind, generous and cheerful,” said Wendy Pfrenger, associate director of the Pre-College Programs office.
“He leads by example and was such an encouragement to everyone around him,” Pfrenger said.
In August, Wells served as a counselor with UM’s JumpStart program that welcomes incoming freshmen to campus to take two courses and settle into life on campus before the start of the busy fall semester.
His advice for the incoming freshmen: “Find your purpose, try new things and don’t be afraid.”
Wells put his own advice into practice last year, when as a freshman, he tried out for a walk-on spot with the Ole Miss football team.
Last fall, he began working as a student customer service representative with the campus recreation program. It was through this position that he met a few student athletics trainers who thought he would be a good fit for working with the Ole Miss football team.
“I had an interview and that turned into a student athletics training position with the football team,” Wells said. “It was a very exciting and fun job that I loved being a part of.”
Wells woke up early each morning this spring and walked from his room in the LuckyDay Residential College over to the Manning Center to help with early morning practices.
After being around the team, Wells said he missed his days as a four-sport high school athlete.
“It was great to see up close what a college athlete’s life is like and when the call came for walk-on tryouts, I decided to give it a shot.”
At the end of March 2021, he tried out and was surprised to find out that he made the team and had a chance to play as a running back in the Red and Blue Grove Bowl game.
“My family recorded it, and when I came home to watch it with them, it was such a great moment to see how proud they were when they heard my name called out,” Wells said.
The final week of the spring semester, Wells received a call from the Ole Miss football office explaining that due to the number of seniors receiving another year of eligibility, he was being put on a waitlist for the team.
Wells has continued to stay fit and kept his grades up this summer in case another opportunity to play with the team comes his way.
Finding your purpose is something else dear to Wells’ heart. Earlier this year, he felt called to give back to his new community of Oxford and Lafayette County. After looking into how he might help people struggling with homelessness, he found the Doors of Hope transition ministries program.
“One day I was sitting in my dorm room researching how to help people in Oxford, and I came across Doors of Hope,” he explained. “I called the organizers and asked if they had any needs and was told that families living in the transitional housing could use household products to help keep their spaces clean, especially in light of COVID.”
Wells hung up the phone and began calling and making connections around Oxford to organize a donation drive to get the families what they needed.
“I was scared to get out in Oxford because I’m not from here, but I just got out of my comfort zone and started asking around to see who might could help,” he said. “I learned that having a diverse group of people supporting you is the best way to go.”
Wells said he started by getting in touch with different leaders and organizations around Oxford to let them know that he wanted to organize a supplies drive for these families. He went by Oxford City Hall and spoke with Mayor Robyn Tannehill. He visited the Oxford Chamber of Commerce and several churches around town.
He made flyers and distributed them around town. He put it out on social media and asked leaders around town to do the same.
The drive was conducted July 10 in the parking lot of Wells’ residence hall on campus. He and a few volunteers collected two truckloads of supplies to share with residents at Doors of Hope.
“I was in awe,” Wells said. “Even now, a few weeks later, there are still supplies being delivered to the dorm.”
Even as a 19-year-old college student, Wells has a lot of irons in the fire that help him fulfill his passions for creating and giving back.
He enjoys singing and songwriting and has performed at a few venues around Oxford. He is developing a clothing line, with proceeds to go to support mental health awareness, and he is starting a nonprofit to help other students and youth to grow in their self-confidence.
Wells is the kind of person who savors the joy of others, Pfrenger said.
“A lot of students stay busy and take on leadership roles, doing service with the organizations they're part of,” Pfrenger said. “But here's Jhalen in the middle of summer, working more than one job and taking classes and doing service projects all on his own just because that's who he is.
“We feel really fortunate in Pre-College Programs to have had Jhalen setting such a good example for kids this summer.”
Wells said that helping others not only gives him joy, but also a purpose.
“What’s the point of living your life if you can’t use it to help someone else?” he explained.