The Closing America's Wastewater Access Gap community initiative is a groundbreaking effort to provide communities with the resources they need to improve their wastewater infrastructure and close the gap for those that have been left behind for too long. This initiative is being piloted in 11 communities across the country, including those in northeastern Mississippi, where residents lack basic wastewater management, which is essential to protect their health and the environment. The University of Mississippi has been at the forefront of this effort, with the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement leading the charge. Jarvis Benson, Levi Bevis, and Blair Wortsmith have been instrumental in advancing the work of the institute through the M Partner initiative, the Northern Mississippi VISTA Project, and LOU Saves.
The M Partner initiative is a community collaboration program that helps link universities' capacities to local communities' goals and needs. Through this program, a group of 50 UM students and members of the VISTA Project from North Mississippi were brought to New Albany for a day of service. The Closing America's Wastewater Access Gap community initiative has already made an impact in Halifax and Duplin Counties, providing investments to build wastewater infrastructure to improve drainage problems and sewer line connections. Albert Nylander envisions virtual reality as a powerful tool for students and community partners across Mississippi. The University of Mississippi has also been nationally recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for its efforts to support dynamic and remarkable community participation.
The Student Engagement Fellows program is a co-curricular service-learning experience at the University of Mississippi that evaluates civic learning outcomes of students while participating in it. The Closing America's Wastewater Access Gap community initiative will be a roadmap for expanding efforts in the rest of the country. It includes loans and direct grants for community facilities, loan guarantees for community facilities, grants for training in technical assistance for community facilities, disaster grants for community facilities, and grants for economic impact initiatives. These initiatives are essential to improving life for residents of northeastern Mississippi communities. They will help ensure that these communities have access to basic wastewater management services that are necessary to protect their health and environment.