Community Service Projects

USJ Breaks Record with 2016 RIFA Donation

University School of Jackson and Trinity Christian Academy combined their efforts to collect food for Regional Inter-Faith Association, bringing in more than 71,000 lbs. of food. This was a record-breaking donation for RIFA and a huge endeavor for the schools, given that last year, both schools together brought in almost 43,000 lbs. of food.

Almost every USJ student participated, and several brought in truckloads of food.

As a means of encouraging student participation, USJ offered incentives to students. Each Upper School English teacher, for example, offered rewards for the class that brought in the most food, as well as to classes that had 100% participation in the event.

The entire Lower School had 100% participation, as did this year’s senior class.

In the Middle School, eighth grade students were rewarded with a dress down crazy socks day and special cookies.

Upper School students received another reward when Director Ben Murphy allowed students to shave his head after agreeing to do so if the school collected more food than last year. "The amount of student and faculty involvement and dedication to the canned food drive was absolutely amazing,” says Mr. Murphy. “To help collect all that food in four days is an enormous task, and our students, faculty, and parents deserve so much credit for helping to feed those in need. We collected so much food I probably should have shaved my head twice!”

Student leaders of the food drive at USJ were Addison Dunn, president of the Key Service Club, and Kristen Pickens, president of the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) Club.

"I was brought to tears on the last day as the enthusiasm and collaborative spirit mounted,” says Mrs. Bridget Clark, Key Service Club faculty member. “Our students’ support of RIFA—an organization that is so vital to our community—was an amazing thing to watch.”

Students Participate in National Anthem Project

USJ students participated in the National Anthem Project and hosted a Freedom Shrine dedication on Monday, September 14.

The National Anthem Project, a nation-wid e initiative, was launched in 2005 after a study indicated that roughly 60% of Americans surveyed were unable to recall all of the words to The Star-Spangled Banner. The National Association for Music Education organized The National Anthem Project to revive America's patriotism by educating students about the importance of The Star-Spangled Banner—both the flag and the song. Elizabeth Atkins, Lower School music teacher, is in charge of the anthem project at USJ, which is sponsored by The Exchange Club.

As part of the ceremony, Mike and Janet Tankersley generously donated a Freedom Shrine to the Lower School in honor of their son, Adam Tankersley.

The Freedom Shrine is a collection of replicas of historic United States documents. The shrine originated from the Freedom Train. This train toured the nation in 1947 carrying an exhibit of famous "documents of liberty" such as the United States Constitution and Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The tour was conceived to give Americans the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of American citizenship. The documents included were carefully chosen to exemplify the beginnings of our nation and the subsequent important United States turning points.

Students complete Leadership University


Congratulations to the USJ juniors who recently graduated from the Jackson Chamber leadership development program, Leadership University.

Six USJ juniors were selected for their leadership potential. Participating in community activities that exposed them to various organizations, community needs and services, the students were also encouraged to observe the community from different viewpoints.

After 63 classroom hours and 12 hours of community service, Kayln Boyd, Savannah Head, Amanda Cooper, Ally McFarland, Caroline Miller and Molly Morris graduated from the 8-month program.

Activities ranged from ringing the bell for the Salvation Army to simulating a city council meeting. The class also toured the criminal justice complex, participated in mock job interviews, and many other activities.

On graduation day, Ally McFarland was chosen to receive the first Judy Renshaw Award from Judy Renshaw, who has recently retired from the Jackson Chamber and has led the Leadership Jackson and Leadership University for many years.

Key Service Club RIFA 2014 Food Drive Challenge


A trip to New York City can be a life-changing experience, but for USJ’s eighth-graders who opt out of the weeklong fieldtrip, another life-changing experience awaits.

Students who stay behind have the opportunity to volunteer from Monday to Wednesday with Regional Inter-Faith Association (RIFA) — a Jackson nonprofit that helps the needy. Students arrive at school at 8 a.m., take the activity bus to RIFA, and work until 2 p.m. with an hour-long lunch at 11 a.m.

“We used to spend the week entertaining them, but based on the idea of one of our parents, we decided to change our direction to community service,” said former Middle School Director Courtney Burnette. “We have found it’s a more meaningful week for them if we allow them to do a community service project like this. They have the opportunity to experience some real, hands-on, community-service.”

This year the students were Zoe Bebout, Ashley Carter, Ashlee Allison, Kaleigh Kwasigroh, Tucker Smith, James Gregory, Patrick Evans, and Xavier Hawkins.

They washed windows, picked up trash, sprayed weeds, sorted canned goods, moved boxes of books, carried out the trash, and stocked the freezers with meat. Most importantly, they unpacked and sorted food items for the Backpack Program. They also folded plastic bags so that the program’s assembly line would run smoothly and then packed the bags, which provides food and nourishment for children over the weekend.

USJ sends anywhere from five to 15 students to RIFA to help with community service activities on any given year. This year, the school will send 10 students. Burnette said students are appreciative of the opportunity to help, and RIFA appreciates the help given to their program.

“It has been an eye-opening experience because many of our students are surprised at the needs that exist right here in their own hometown,” she said. “It’s an experience that sticks with them.”

As a bonus, the students can apply a few community service hours to their Upper School graduation requirement.

USJ and RIFA have a strong history as students and parents often volunteer with the organization. The school’s Key Service Club has led the effort to collect canned goods in the annual USJ-Trinity Food Drive Challenge. The USJ community donated more than 30,000 pounds of food in each of the last two competitions.

Burnette said RIFA plays a significant role in the well-being of the Jackson community, and USJ benefits from its relationship with the organization. The experience for these student volunteers during the field trip week is priceless.

“The kids may come back to school tired, but they have a really good time doing something worthwhile for someone else.”

Students attend HOBY workshop

From left: Calley Overton, Charles Campbell, John Henry Woods, and Anjali Mahajan.

USJ students attended a Hugh O'Brian Youth (HOBY) Community Leadership Workshop in Jackson.

During the program, the students participated in a discussion panel with Jackson Police Captain Tyrese Miller, Amy Jones from Madison County Juvenile Court, and Trey Garrell from Union University SGA. In addition to a number of great activities, the students completed one hour of community service, working with a nonprofit organization, Letters to Nepal.

Students representing USJ were Calley Overton, Charles Campbell, John Henry Woods, and Anjali Mahajan.

The Community Leadership Workshop is HOBY’s introductory one-day leadership program for high school freshmen. A typical workshop focuses on leadership as a discipline to be explored and learned as students interact with local community leaders, participate in group activities, and conduct community service projects.

Students represent USJ on Anti-Drug Council

Congratulations to Summer Basham, Parker Lewis, and Nate Schwindt who were selected to represent USJ on the first Jackson Madison County Anti-Drug Coalition Youth Advisory Council. These juniors will work with other representatives from area high schools to bring their unique perspectives to the problems related to substance abuse among youth in our community. Not pictured is Caroline Miller.

Mu Alpha Theta, Middle School play Santa Claus at Christmas

The Mu Alpha Theta Club and Middle School students completed separate toy drives before the holidays for the Exchange Club Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse.

The Mu Alpha Theta Club, pictured above left, donated almost $500 worth of toys. Middle School Student council officers and sponsors, above right, get ready to deliver the many toys donated by Middle School students in their annual Christmas toy drive. Pictured, from left, back row, are Sponsor Mary Ellen Vaughan, students Michelle Nnaji and Ashley Carter, and Sponsor Laura Stack; front row, students Macy Scott and J.D. Jaggers.

Bansi Govin

Student recognized by President for community service

Sixth grader Bansi Govin completed more than 50 hours of community service.

She received a certificate of recognition and a letter from the President congratulating her for her community service efforts.



Students collect letters for Make-A-Wish

From left: Anjali Mahajan, historian; Carrie Beth Workman, treasurer; Ashlee Dunn, chairman; and Ubaid Tanveer, president. Club sponsors are Allie Durham and Carla Roach.

The newly formed USJ Make-A-Wish club recently collected letters to Santa from Middle and Upper School students and delivered them to Macy's for their Believe
in Santa campaign.

USJ students enjoyed revisiting the childhood tradition of writing to Santa, and
in the process, delivered 572 letters. For each letter submitted, Macy's donates $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation up to $1 million.

Funds are used to provide special events and trips for terminally ill children. USJ students contributed $572 through the letter delivery to the Macy's to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. 

USJ wins Pop Tab Palooza

Lower School students and faculty collected 242 pounds of pop tabs from canned drinks last year, winning 2014’s Pop Tab Palooza elementary division.

The contest helped Ronald McDonald House of Memphis collect almost 4,000 pounds of pop tabs and provide a home away from home for families in need. Families of patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital may stay at the house for free.

Each quarter, USJ awarded the class with the highest number of pounds collected to a special treat. Many times the treat would be a snack and a canned drink to help them start their collection for the next quarter. 

Linda Yates’s second-grade class won the class competition for the year with a total of 32 pounds.

USJ is already off to a great start in the 2015 competition. During the first quarter, Jenny Carey's third-grade class collected 129 pounds of pop tabs. Ava Barham brought in the most tabs the first nine weeks.

“We are well on our way for the title again, if we can keep up those big numbers each quarter,” said fifth-grade teacher Cindy Bell. “This is just a small way we can help others in need.”


This slideshow contains pictures of students collecting pop tabs.

Key Service Club RIFA Food Drive Challenge

Juniors Carrie Cates and Madison Martin Juniors Gray Northern and Seth Rohlwing

USJ and Trinity collected 45,532 pounds of food for RIFA during the annual Food Drive Challenge. USJ contributed 35,000 pounds to the total.

Organized by the USJ’s Key Service Club, students brought in canned food between Aug. 21 and Aug. 28. USJ was announced as the winning school during the USJ-Trinity football game on Aug. 29.

Donations supplied the soup kitchen, snack backpacks, and emergency kits that RIFA provides for those in need.

Other Projects

From filling boxes with supplies for needy children in other countries to ringing bells for the Salvation Army to collecting food for the local soup kitchen, USJ students and faculty are busy with many community service projects during the school year. USJ students must have 50 hours of community service to graduate, and all student organizations must complete at least one service project each year.

Service to the community is just a part of learning at USJ. Below are just a sampling of the many ways students and faculty members work in tandem to give back.

  • The USJ Lower School bi-annually participates in the Memphis St. Jude Math-a-thon, raising money for cancer research. In 2013, for example, this endeavor raised more than $66,000, ranking USJ #1 in the nation among schools who participated and earning USJ special recognition. Read more …

  • The Key Service Club recently collected 35,500 pounds of food for the Regional Inter-faith Association, our local food bank for the homeless.

  • The Spanish Club and National Spanish Honor Society annually sponsor an Angel Christmas Tree, which most recently collected 12 large boxes of supplies, most of which were children’s vitamins that were distributed at an orphanage in The Dominican Republic.

  • The Operation Smile Club, in its inaugural year, was able to purchase a surgery table for reconstructive surgeries for impoverished children suffering from a cleft lip or cleft palate.

  • Other various clubs and organizations at USJ sponsor  service projects that benefit the following throughout the year: Lifeblood, Soles 4 Souls, Operation Christmas Child, Carl Perkins Child Abuse Prevention Center, Ronald McDonald House, Jackson-Madison County Humane Society, American Cancer Association, and The Salvation Army.

USJ's recycling efforts pay off

USJ has earned almost $2,000 from recycling since 2009. In Spring 2014, the school passed the 100,000 mark for the collection of drink pouches.

Students also recycle aluminum cans, cardboard, plastic, paper, consumable workbooks, copy wrapper paper and non-laminated construction paper.

Students donate books

Mattie Boyd and Aisha Suara drop off books at Hands Up! preschool.

The National English Honor Society at USJ collected more than 300 books and donated them to the Hands Up! preschool library.

The group also donated 1,000 books to the Dream Center of Jackson.



A community service day at Hands Up!

Students on the Hands Up! campus.

On March 10, USJ’s Middle School Student Council participated in its first annual community service day at Hands Up! Preschool.

The day was designed by the students to give back to the community of Jackson. After entertaining several ideas, the group decided to give their time to Hands Up!, which serves “at risk” children.

When students arrived, Hands Up! Director Donna Agnew had countless ways for the students to assist, said Mary Ellen Kelley, a Middle School Student Council Sponsor. “From cleaning cubbies and playing sidewalk chalk with the kids, to serving lunch and assisting in classroom activities, the Middle School students saw firsthand the great work and foundation that Hands Up! Preschool provides.”               

“When we returned from our community service day, we spent time reflecting on our experiences. Our Student Council has a greater appreciation for all that USJ provides and insists on going back to Hands Up! to serve their new friends again.”

Relay For Life

Earlier this school year, Middle School students raised $10,500 for the American Cancer Society during the 5th Annual Relay for Life Walk-a-Thon on the track at Kirkland Stadium.

USJ, which earned the Gold Medal Team Award in previous years for the amount of money raised, won the Emerald Medal Team Award for the first time, said Laura Stack, a Middle School Student Council Sponsor.

Helping those in need

Students collect food for RIFA.
Gifts for WRAP.

USJ students contributed a record-breaking 33,500 pounds of food to the Regional Inter-Faith Association (RIFA) in fall 2013. The food drive was a competition with Trinity Christian Academy, and the two schools donated 42,714 pounds of food — more than double RIFA’s previous Jackson record.

At Christmastime, Lower School students provided necessities and gifts for a shelter opened by the Wo/Men’s Resource and Rape Assistance Program (WRAP).

“The Christmas fundraiser by the USJ Lower School not only helped us to fully equip our newly opened shelter in Trenton, but also provided replacements for items that were badly worn at our shelter in Jackson,” said WRAP Director Daryl Chansuthus. “The fundraiser also equipped both shelters and the Jackson office with toys and children’s books and provided at least 50 joyful children who visited Santa at

Students find a special way to give back

Ally Glover and Govind Bindra
react after a youngster gets a
basket through a hoop.
Claire Jaggers and Ali Graham help another youngster toss tennis balls.
Marisa Mariencheck supports a
tire as a child attempts to throw
a football through it.

One student’s passion for children with special needs has blossomed into a student organization that is giving back in a special way.

The Down Syndrome Association Buddy Club was formed last year by USJ students who wanted to raise funds to help families with affected children and also raise awareness of Down syndrome.

“We are not associated with any national organization; we just want to serve the West Tennessee Down Syndrome Association,” said Ally Glover, who brought the idea for the club to USJ and serves as the club’s president. “We have meetings about raising awareness and the need to raise money. We also have participated in fundraising events such as the 5K Buddy Walk.”

One of the group’s largest service projects was to get student volunteers for the carnival portion of the West Tennessee Special Olympics held on the USJ campus in April. Nearly a dozen Upper School students and several Middle School students spent their school day serving area students with special needs by manning booths of carnival-type games, like ring toss and basketball. Students also manned the concessions stand for the day.

“We just showed up and said we are here to help,” said Ally. We helped get things set up before the students arrived, ran the games and concessions, and then helped pack and clean up at the end of the day. Each participant was given a ticket to play each game. It was really neat to see the kids’ faces light up as they played the games. Even though we got community service hours for the day, we all came away knowing we had been a part of something special.”

The club’s main fundraising project for its inaugural year was the “Dimes for Down” campaign that ran during the basketball season. Donors could pledge to give a dime for each free throw made during the season. The first-time project raised more than $500. “This year,” said Ally, “we will do lots of the same things, but advertise more and try to involve the Lower School in our efforts.”