Programs manager encourages outdoor adventure

erin-audubon Programs manager encourages outdoor adventure

People, and mainly children, are spending a lot more time indoors in the past couple decades. Not only does this affect a child’s health, but it also has an impact on the adults they become. 

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center offers so many programs to get people outdoors, and so much of it is thanks to Programs Manager Erin Parker.

“My responsibility here is over all of the education programs, all the school groups, the programs calendar, speakers and workshops,” Parker said. “Any classes we have, I help set those up. I do a lot of the teaching, a lot of teaching biodiversity of the area and getting people outdoors.”

While the Audubon Center began this year’s summer camps this week, the center offers programs all year long to give people of all ages a chance to get outdoors.

“We have programs for every age,” she explained. “One program we have during the school year is Toddler Tuesdays. It’s for children ages 2, 3, and 4, and it’s all about getting kids and parents comfortable with being outside. We have everything from that to tours for senior citizens. There is really something for everyone here. We do a lot of school programs, college students will come, and we have adult classes like learning how to identify birds.

“One program we have is Birds and Brews. It happens every third Thursday of the month and there is always a theme. It’s a great way to relax after work and enjoy a beer or wine. We have snacks, trivia, guided hikes, and it’s a great way to explore center without kids while getting to hang out outside of a bar.”

The PRAC’s summer camp is also a way to get kids outdoors in a fun way through arts and crafts and some hiking activities for older children.

erin-audubon Programs manager encourages outdoor adventure
erin-audubon Programs manager encourages outdoor adventure

Parker is a perfect fit for this position, as she has always had a passion for teaching and the outdoors.

“I’ve always been really outdoorsy,” she said. “Every day is different. When you set out on a hike or boat ride, you never know what you’re going to find. You find more and more things you don’t know about.

“This is my dream job. I get to work with people, especially people that have never been outdoors. It’s really fun and interesting, and your own backyard is way more fun than anything you’re going to see on a screen.”

Also, working at a center devoted to the Pascagoula River is a huge added benefit for Parker.

“It is so biodiverse down here, and everything changes seasonally, so always I’m always learning new things,” she said. “I love talking to people about how we help protect these wild, incredible places that we get to explore. It’s pretty neat to be here in Jackson County in our own center, teaching locals and people from out of state. I get to teach them about how great Mississippi and Jackson County is.”

With National Get Outdoors Day on June 10, Parker is passionate about getting to explore the natural habitats that surround them.


“Especially as adults, we are spending so much time on phones or computers and it is really important to have screen-free time,” she said. “Kids and parents don’t spend a lot of time outdoors, meaning we don’t get to use our senses to explore. Now we feel like the world has changed, and we can’t let kids out of our site, but this is such an amazing place to grow up because there’s so many different habitats and it is always changing.”

erin-audubon Programs manager encourages outdoor adventure

For anyone interested in the programs the center offers but aren’t too familiar with the outdoors, Parker offers one important piece of advice.

“Come on out and visit,” she said. “There is no better way to explore than with someone who is very comfortable outdoors. Having someone who is very comfortable being out there is the best way to introduce someone to nature. We will take people out kayaking for the first time, for example, and they almost always come back.”

Pay it Forward Fridays:

JaxCoHome would love to hear about people doing good in our community. If you know someone that is a champion for our community, the environment, education or local business, fill out the nomination form by clicking here.

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Moss Point holds inaugural farmers market

The River City has a new option for local produce. Saturday, June 3 saw the grand opening of the Riverfront Farmers Market. 

Located downtown along the Escatawpa River, residents and vendors spent a wet Saturday morning shopping for fruits, vegetables, plants, baked goods and homemade soaps

“Moss Point is a wonderful little city that’s got a lot going for it, but there are some things the city wants changed,” said Felicia Yearwood, the city’s grant writer. “People were really excited about the idea of a farmers market to support our local industry, our local farmers, make sure they are successful selling their produce here. It is also giving us an opportunity to have fresh local food that’s grown here in Mississippi. It isn’t shipped in from California or flown in from Brazil. It just recently came out of the ground yesterday. It’s fresh and good for you and at a good price, so people really do appreciate it.”

The farmers market was made possible thanks to a partnership between the Moss Point Parks and Recreation Department and the Healthy Hometown Committee.

“The Healthy Hometown Committee has been very active in promoting healthy eating in terms of improving the quality of items that we have in our city vending machines, encouraging people to grow their own gardens for their families,” Yearwood explained. “We’re looking into possibly having a community garden in the future.”

Committee member Peter Blank was very excited to describe some of the projects the group has been involved in.

“This committee is involved in getting more bike paths and sidewalks for the city,” he explained. “This farmers market is a way to get the community more environmentally conscious and more health conscious, promoting local food and healthy eating, supporting local farmers and cooking at home, which is good for your health.”

Even the though the clouds hung heavy Saturday morning, the weather did not deter visitors from this new farmers market.

“When we started out at 7 o’clock this morning, it was raining and people still came out,” Yearwood said. “We had people shopping with their umbrellas, and as the sun came out we’ve had more people show up. We’ve had people coming steadily through the whole morning.”

By 9:30 a.m., Blank said there were close to 100 visitors to the farmers market.

For anyone who may have missed the grand opening, the good news is farmers market is planned to be a permanent feature to Saturday mornings in Moss Point.

“The time is set right now from 7-11 a.m., but that can change depending on the feedback we get from our vendors and customers,” Yearwood said, “but definitely every Saturday of the year, rain or shine.”

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Mississippi Export Railroad taps youngest female CEO in railroad industry

kate_draft_export-c Mississippi Export Railroad taps youngest female CEO in railroad industry

Mississippi Export Railroad (MSE) announces Kate C. Luce as President and CEO. At age 29, Luce is the youngest female CEO in the railroad industry.

MSE is a freight railroad and transportation services company facilitating the flow of goods between the Gulf Coast and broader North American rail infrastructure.

Luce began her tenure at MSE in customer service, working her way through the ranks of the transportation department; training as Conductor, serving as Trainmaster, and ultimately managing the department. When asked about the new, young CEO, board member Jim Bridges talks of a dynamic and energetic Luce.

“Kate has been key to the long-term succession plan of MSE for several years,” Bridges said. “She has a strong history of achievement in all her endeavors and I have complete confidence that she will be equally as capable as CEO. Her leadership skills combined with a drive to create and recognize new opportunities will assuredly increase our shareholders’ value.”

After cutting her teeth at MSE, Luce left the company to broaden her business and industry perspective. Her outside experience includes working in General Electric’s Transportation division under the Experienced Commercial Leadership Program and as a consultant with Bain & Company in Atlanta. Luce returned to MSE as Chief Operating Officer in 2016.

Luce’s education, experience and integration in the MSE business provide her with a refreshingly comprehensive perspective on the rail industry and a vision for taking MSE into this next era.

“We are at a turning point in the rail industry,” Luce said. “I’m most excited about the focus on determining the product and service mix of the future in rail and finding new ways to better serve the customer.”

Her energy is matched by an innovative spirit and a strong desire to see the rail industry fully realize its potential in today’s transportation climate.

“I love the problem-solving nature in what we do and I truly believe in rail as the safest transportation option for our citizens. Additionally, rail is far more environmentally friendly,” Luce said. “I’m lucky to be surrounded by a talented team of people who share my desire to serve a larger customer base by converting more long haul traffic from truck to rail.”

The young CEO speaks of her vision with a focus on MSE’s core values and an eye toward the bigger industry picture.

“I look forward to playing an even greater role in helping our customers find meaningful solutions to their problems and growing in our success together,” Luce said.

Luce holds a BSBA in Supply Chain Management from Auburn University and a Master of Business Administration from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, with emphasizes in both Financial Analysis and Leadership and Ethics. During her time at Duke, Luce served as SGA President and a Fellow at the Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics. She is a recipient of the Keohane Leadership Award for exceptional leadership and currently serves on the Board of Advisors at the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell College of Business.

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Administrator serves her school, soap box derby

ski-2_549x768 Administrator serves her school, soap box derby

Education is a true time commitment. As educator is responsible for numerous children for a large portion of the day, not only in teaching them, but also for their well being. Being a teacher responsible for up to 30 students is daunting enough, so one can only imagine the stresses of being a principal for an entire campus.

“I supervise the 460 children and 50 adults every day,” said Susan Stachowski, principal of Magnolia Middle School in Moss Point. “I am responsible for monitoring grades, instruction, attendance, behavior, everything.

There are moments I think “Oh goodness, I’m responsible for that building and everything in it.’ However, Dr. Vincent believed in me, and I won’t let her down.” 

Stachowski is completing her second year as principal of Magnolia Middle School. She was previously a teacher at Magnolia Middle School from 1994-2000 teaching English and Career Discovery, and has returned after 16 years at Colmer Middle School in Pascagoula.

“It’s exciting to be back home and back where I feel like i’m making a difference,” she mentioned.

Spending so many years in education, Stachowski has opportunities to see her students evolve and grow outside of the classroom.

“I enjoyed teaching Career Discovery because it was fun helping children prepare for the future,” Stachowski said. “I remember one student I taught my first year loved science, and now he actually works as my Science Department chair.”

Even though it is only her second year back in the district, Stachowski was named this year’s Administrator of the Year for Moss Point schools, showing that is she is making strides early on. 

Even with her work in administration, meaning she does not get to enjoy the upcoming summer break, Stachowski still makes time to be part of the committee that organizes the annual Deborah Washington Memorial Soap Box Derby

“It all started when my son was 10, and as a reference his is now 23,” Stachowski recalled. “Years ago some friends that were doing the derby said come do it with them, and that’s how we got involved. My children haven’t raced in 8 years, but we’ve always been part of the race. It’s become our family community service.”

Originally known as the Magnolia State Soap Box Derby, the event’s name was changed to honor Deborah Washington after she lost her battle with breast cancer. Washington started the event in 1992, and was a beloved Chevron Refinery employee known for her active community involvement.

“I love what the derby does for the city and for the children,” Stachowski said. “I believe in it and want it to continue. My children had a great experience with it, and the friendships I’ve created with the people on that committee mean the world to me. I love the people I work with. We all have a real passion for what we do because none of us on the committee still have children who race. We also enjoy keeping Deborah’s memory alive with the race, and we on the committee consider ourselves ‘Deb’s Angles.'”

Stachowski stays involved in the derby race because of all the unique experiences it offers children in the community.

“You get lots of experiences because winners of the race get to go to Akron, Ohio to compete in the soap box derby there against racers from all over the world,” Stachowski said. 

Another aspect of the races that helps to keep Stachowski involved is her family.

“This is our family community service,” Stachowski explained. “Both of my kids raced but now they are too old for it, but we still stay involved and help with the races each year. In 2006 we were actually honored as the National Soap Box Derby family for that year. It’s truly a family affair.”

With all that Stachowski does in her professional and volunteer life, it is clear she works hard to make Moss Point a gem of Jackson County.

Pay it Forward Fridays:

JaxCoHome would love to hear about people doing good in our community. If you know someone that is a champion for our community, the environment, education or local business, fill out the nomination form by clicking here.

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Moss Point comes alive during River Jamboree

Downtown Moss Point was bustling with activity May 6 with the annual Moss Point River Jamboree.

Saturday’s Jamboree was unique compared to years past because it also doubled as the city’s celebration of Mississippi’s bicentennial. Everyone from all across the coast was welcome thanks to sponsors like Chevron and Ingalls Shipbuilding, who helped make the event free.

Set along the bank of the Escatawpa River in the J. Chester Parks Riverfront Park, attendees of all ages found something to enjoy under the Mississippi May sun. The weather was perfect because the sun was shining, but a gentle breeze coming off the water kept everyone cool and able to stay out for hours to enjoy the event.

Eclectic music styles, from blues to gospel to country, but all befitting The River City, filled the air as attendees visited various vendors. The smells of barbecued and smoked meets wafted through the tents. The voice of a man befitting an auctioneer advertised refreshing Blue Bell ice cream and fresh-squeezed lemonade as ears of sweet corn sizzled on the grill. Local vendors even had custom jewelry pieces and unique clothing items perfect for updating a wardrobe for springtime.  

Even the kids had plenty of opportunities to stay entertained. A Kid’s Zone offered a bounce house, inflatable obstacle course and even a giant slide that could be seen from miles away. Children and their parents could also take an off-the-tracks train ride past the stage and through the park. And of course, an event along the Escatawpa River wouldn’t be complete without kayak rentals to enjoy the beauty of the Jackson County water.

Anyone unfamiliar with Moss Point definitely should have been at the River Jamboree, because even after taking a quick walk around the park, it was easy to see that this event was a showcase of all of the best things about The River City. 

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Tommie Broome named 2017 MGCCC Instructor of the Year

Tommie Tommie Broome named 2017 MGCCC Instructor of the Year

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College celebrated the 2017 Instructors of the Year at the annual Spring Reception held on March 23 at the Hospitality and Resort Management Center in Biloxi.  One instructor is chosen from each of the college’s campuses to receive the honor.

Tommie Ann Broome, of Moss Point, was chosen as Instructor of the Year for the Jackson County Campus.  She is the lead instructor for the Process Operations Technology program and has taught at MGCCC since 2003.  Before beginning her tenure at the college, she worked for Chevron Pascagoula Refinery for 23 years as a process operator, spending more than 10 years of her Chevron career in the Learning and Development Department for the refinery. An MGCCC alumna, she received her bachelor’s degree in career and technical education from William Carey University in Hattiesburg.

Tommie has been involved with North America Process Technology Alliance since 2003 when she began teaching. “Their curriculum was what we needed to get the classes started,” she says. “Having that curriculum helped us get the program off the ground, and it was and has been a wonderful curriculum.” Tommie served as Education co-chair of the Standards and Quality Committee for NAPT before moving to her current position as Education co-chair of the Curriculum and Education Committee. She still serves as an auditor for program endorsements for the S&Q Committee. 

After three years at Perkinston, they moved the program to the Jackson County Campus. The program has grown successfully over the years. “We now have a full day program and a full night program with almost 300 students,” she said. “It has been a phenomenal trip, getting this program off the ground and watching it grow to what it is today.” 

In 2016, Tommie led a group of students in forming a troubleshooting team to participate in the qualifying round for the Third National Troubleshooting Competition held in Texas. The three-member team from MGCCC was one of only eight teams invited to participate in the nationals, out of 25 teams competing at the qualifier. “I was very proud of these students and what they accomplished,” she said. “It was a very tough competition, and our students performed very well.” She plans to take a team again this year. 

“Teaching is fun,” she said. “I come in to work looking forward to the day ahead. Why? Well, because I love what process is all about. No two days are the same, and you have to be good at solving problems. Teaching is certainly the same way, and that’s probably why I like both occupations so much. I want to share my love of process with my students. I know they are initially attracted by the money they make, but I want them to love their careers as much as I have.” 

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Local scientist works for education, conservation

lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation

Click the image above to view larger.

Boasting numerous educational programs for all age groups, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center has become a staple in Jackson County.

Serving the largest free-flowing river in the United States, the center promotes education about the river and leads conservation efforts to the surrounding environment. Leading the effort the whole way is Dr. Mark LaSalle. 

Mark LaSalle is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award. As the Director of the Audubon Center in Moss Point, LaSalle is responsible for coordinating the continued development of the center as well as expanding the center’s educational programs.

“My focus has always been on environment education and wetland restoration, so it was natural that when I learned about the possibility of this center coming to be that I wanted to be part of it,” he said. “I’m always looking for a challenge, so building something like this from the ground up for the past 10 years has been fun for me.”

LaSalle is a wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. Not only does he help to educate visitors to the Audubon Center, but also everyone in the surrounding community about the unique resource that is the Pascagoula River. 

“I work promoting and protecting this resource,” he said. “I like to think of conservation as a three-legged stool that is held up by educational programs, the science to back it up and public policy to make it all happen. We are constantly working on engaging the community about a resource we are trying to protect. We work to be a partner with the community and promote nature-based economic development. My world is education.”

lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation
lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation
lasalle_photo Local scientist works for education, conservation

However, LaSalle stressed that nothing would be possible without his partners at the center who execute everything he dreams. 

“I couldn’t do it without them.”

Another passion of LaSalle’s is to educate the youth of the community on the area’s natural resources. He feels they are the future.

“I feel like this younger generation is not as connected to nature as when I grew up, with all of the technology that is now so readily available,” he said. “Also, children are the building blocks for keeping resources like the river protected. I can get current elected officials on my side, but if I don’t work on the future elected officials then I’m in trouble. Yeah, not everyone will run for office or get elected, but these children will grow up and vote. We might not get an immediate result from these education programs we coordinate, but we will see it down the road.”

Anyone who has the chance to speak to LaSalle about his work can easily hear the passion in his voice about everything he does. He offers a great piece of advice that can apply to anyone, no matter their interests.

“You have to love what you’re doing or you have to do something else,” he said. “Find something you love doing because you’re going to be it a long time.”

Pay it Forward Fridays

JaxCoHome would love to hear about people doing good in our community. If you know someone that is a champion for our community, the environment, education or local business, fill out the nomination form by clicking here.


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Audubon Center holds spring break programs

17796024_1463180050380388_8764190110847778968_n Audubon Center holds spring break programs


The Pascagoula River Audubon Center will offer programs for students during spring break.

The Vacation Day programs are half-day programs for students to explore, through hands-on activities, nature and natural phenomena.

Designed like a typical summer camp day, students will learn about a topic through science, art, games, and more. 

Friday, April 14: Natural Egg Dyeing and All Things Spring

Let’s get creative! Each participant will take home at least 6 naturally-dyed eggs. We’ll do a nature scavenger hunt, plant some spring seeds, and learn about signs of spring. Pre-registration is REQUIRED by 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 12th for the natural egg dyeing program!

Session 1: 9 a.m. til noon for grades k-2

Session 2: 1 p.m. til 4 p.m. for grades 3-5

Tuesday, April 18: Wild Weather 

Have you ever wondered about the weather in Mississippi? During this vacation day program, we’ll make a weather wheel and learn to use weather equipment. We’ll also talk about how to be safe during different types of wild weather!

Session 1: 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. for grades k-5

Wednesday, April 19: Migration Station

Did you know that many birds from all over North America migrate through the Gulf Coast? Our beautiful coastal environments provide food, shelter, and rest areas in the fall and spring. We’ll learn all about birds, flight, migration, and more at this camp!

Session 1: 9 a.m. til noon for grades k-5

Thursday, April 20th: Life Aquatic

What lives in the bayous and bays that make up our backyard? Join us to get up close and personal with our fish and other aquatic creatures that call our coasts home. 

Session 1: 9 a.m. til noon for grades k-5

Friday, April 21st: Reptile Rendezvous

Our cold-blooded neighbors- from lizards to snakes to alligators- love our warm spring afternoons. Learn about how to safely find, observe, and identify the scaly critters that call Mississippi home. 

Session 1: 9 a.m. til noon for grades k-5

Outdoor Adventure Programs for Middle and High School Students 

Looking for something to get your middle or high school student out of the house over spring break? Try one of our afternoon outdoor adventure programs!

Kayaking Rhodes Bayou 

We’ll learn the basics of kayak strokes, how to use a map to figure out where we are and where we’re going (and how to get back!), and get a chance to explore the Bayou and Beardslee Lake via kayak. ALL participants must wear a life jacket (provided) and something more substantial than flipflops. Please dress to get a little wet and enjoy an afternoon of adventure.

Session 1- April 12: 1-4 p.m. grades 9-12

Session 2- April 19th: 1-4 p.m. grades 9-12

Session 3- April 20th: 1-4 p.m. grades 6-8

Cost is $10 for members and $12 for non-members. Each Vacation Day program requires pre-registration, including complete student paperwork. Visit the Audubon Center website for details.

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25th annual soap box derby to be in downtown Moss Point

The 25th anniversary of the Deborah Washington Memorial Soap Box Derby will be held in downtown Moss Point on Saturday, April 29.

The race, sponsored by the Chevron Black Employee Network (BEN) and Moss Point Active Citizens (MPAC), draws participants from across the Southeast. It is open to children between the ages of 7 and 17 who build their engine-less cars from kits purchased from a designated supplier.

Winners of the Moss Point divisions will travel to Akron, Ohio to compete in the All-American Soap Box Championship.

Originally known as the Magnolia State Soap Box Derby, the event’s name was changed to honor Deborah Washington after she lost her battle with breast cancer. Washington started the event in 1992, and was a beloved Refinery employee known for her active community involvement.

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Audubon Center offering summer camps

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center is offering fun, nature-based summer camp programming for a variety of age groups.

Elementary, middle school, and mini-camps run from 9 a.m. until noon at the center. Our high school junior naturalist program runs 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. each day, and is field-trip based. Dates for the camps are listed below.



  • Mini-Camp for children entering kindergarten or first grade
    • Session 1: July 18-20
    • Session 2: July 25-27
  • Elementary Camp for children entering second through fifth grades
    • Session 1: June 5-June 9
    • Session 2: June 12-June 16
  • Middle School Camp for students entering sixth through eighth grades
    • June 19-23
  • High School Junior Naturalist Program students entering ninth grade through twelfth grade
    • June 26-30


Elementary and middle school camps costs $100/week per child for non-members and $90/week/child for members. Each week of camp includes a boat trip with McCoy’s River and Boat Tours.

Our high school junior naturalist program is $135/child for members and $150 for non-members.

The shorter mini-camps run Tuesday-Thursday and cost $50/camp/child non-members and $45/camp/child for members. We do not take the youngest campers on the Boat Tour. 

Visit the Audubon Center’s website for more details and to download the registration forms.


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