Where You Are

A large group of people wearing aqua shirts on either side of a woman wearing yellow and black in the center. Outside the front of Noxubee County High School, a large group of people wearing aqua shirts on either side of two women wearing black in the center. Four women standing smiling behind a plush tiger. A woman wearing a green polo hugging a plush tiger. A woman wearing a green polo and a blue sweater hugging a plush tiger. A woman wearing a black dress jacket and a yellow shirt listing “HOPE.”
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Changing the Narrative

Written by Leah Barbour • Photo by Kevin Hudson

A professionally dressed woman standing in front of many rows of food cans and beside a sign that lists “HOPE.”
Dr. Yvett Roby, director of Mississippi State
University Office of Survivor Support

Imagine what Mississippi might look like if everyone had access to healthy foods. The state could set an example for other rural states in using existing resources, collaborating with officials and stakeholders, and creating solutions that have measurable impacts for individuals and families.

One Brooksville native, Dr. Yvett Roby, has a vision of improving food security locally, and she’s setting an example in Noxubee County that other local leaders can adopt. With her doctoral degree in instructional systems and workforce development from Mississippi State University, Roby analyzes complex problems to develop realistic solutions.

“We have the highest rate of diabetes here in Mississippi, and people want access to healthy foods. I was a volunteer with the United Way, and I noticed people experiencing food insecurity. I went to the local grocery store in town and bought a lot of food to give, but I couldn’t keep doing that,” she explains. “I’m in a position to give back to my community, but my resources—our resources—are limited.

“I knew I needed to start a food pantry. I also knew that MSU has the Extension program in all 82 counties. I met with our agents and shared our needs.”

Crayton Coleman and Josephine Tate, MSU Extension agents in Noxubee County, connected with Roby and introduced her to representatives of Extension’s AIM for CHangE program, which fosters community-led coalitions to promote access to healthier foods and increased activity. AIM for CHangE stands for Advancing, Inspiring, Motivating for Community Health through Extension.

Roby bought a building to become a new community center and food pantry and moved it to a central location in Brooksville. While she was still figuring out how to fill it with food, Roby had already come up with a name.

“I named it the H.O.P.E. Family Enrichment Center, and H.O.P.E. stands for Helping Others Prosper through Empowerment. That’s the goal: to empower the people to make their dreams into reality,” she says.

“We needed a refrigerator, a freezer, racks, carts, and food. I started attending AIM for CHangE meetings and saw that participants from other areas were doing what I wanted to do. Yolanda Pruitt came and helped create the Coalition Coffee Hour.”

Pruitt, the program manager for AIM for CHangE, says the coffee hour was designed to allow communities participating in the program to receive technical assistance and connect participants to resources already in place.

“With COVID, we had to find a way to connect everybody, not only with each other but also with the resources they need to run community organizations,” Pruitt explains. “Yvett was able to partner with Noxubee County High School for food drives. She got real buy-in from the school, and hundreds of kids brought canned food.”

High school students collected more than 1,100 cans of food, and the partnership Roby developed with the high school is only just beginning.

“Students are getting to develop as individuals and take pride in their community. They’re developing leadership skills. These high school kids are addressing food insecurity and are assisting in volunteer opportunities as well,” Roby emphasizes. “We are empowering youth in developing our county, and the kids are so excited.

“This is bigger than food; we are healing the community. AIM for CHangE offers all these resources, and all we have to do is take advantage. The pantry is going strong, and we distribute every first Saturday every month.”

Soon, the H.O.P.E. Family Enrichment Center will offer digital resources for young people, as well as other after-school activities. Roby continues participating in Coalition Coffee Hours to develop solutions for her community and beyond.

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