By Samuel Bolen
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was 22, fresh out of college, and eager to be involved in my community. There was just one problem: I didn’t know where to start. I had a degree, a promise of a part-time job, and no idea how to put what little I had to good use.
I recalled the name of one local nonprofit, Stewpot. I couldn’t identify where it was located, the services provided, or the present needs. So I searched for “Stewpot” online, clicked “donation needs,” and read a request for deodorant for homeless participants.
That was all I needed to carve a pathway between my home and downtown Jackson. Naively, I stopped by Walmart, bought two sticks of deodorant, and hoped these items would be a first step to discovering more about Stewpot. The deodorant delivery allowed me to meet with a staff member and tour the facility. But I also wanted to learn more about Jackson, its neighborhoods, its people, its needs, its leaders, and its opportunities. Most importantly, I wanted to find my place of involvement and impact.
Now, over a decade later, I have the privilege to lead the Jackson Leadership Foundation, an organization dedicated to empowering ministries similar to Stewpot, developing new ministries, and connecting a growing network of volunteers and donors, people like me who love Mississippi, love Jackson, and want to make a difference. Every day, our team works to provide programs and services in the city. Currently, we serve around 25 ministry leaders participating in our leadership training, shared staffing, back-office services, and our volunteer platform. We have mobilized many volunteers to meet needs such as mentoring, emergency housing, access to clean water, employment and more.
While the work is rewarding, the relationships are transformative. I’ve had the privilege of linking arms with everyone from the homeless in the street to the principal at the school to the pastor behind the pulpit. I have officiated weddings, assisted in funerals, celebrated new jobs, mourned losses, and prayed feverishly for my friends in the city. I have found my place, and my place is Jackson, Mississippi.
I invite you to consider your place in our metro area. Maybe you’re like me: You want to make a difference but don’t know how or where to begin. Maybe you want to volunteer, or maybe you want to start a nonprofit. Let Jackson Leadership Foundation help you.
What is in your hands? Maybe it’s two sticks of deodorant and a lot of hope. Those sound like perfect ingredients for you to find your place in this beautiful city.
Samuel is executive director of the Jackson Leadership Foundation. He and his wife, Hallie, live in Jackson with their three sons and are members of Redeemer Church.