Pay It Forward Friday: Shellie Carter Helping Homeless Teens on the Coast

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Many kids look forward to their 18th birthday, but for kids in foster care their 18th birthday is often the day they become homeless. That is when they “age out” of the foster care system, and unless they have plans to go to college or have someone pick them up and take care of them many of these young adults are left with nowhere to go and end up in the streets. A new program through the Community Care Network, Breakthrough, aims to to rescue these homeless kids that are on the streets and give them the housing and necessities they need to help get them on their feet. 

The Community Care Network is a faith-based, non-profit organization located in Ocean Springs seeking to empower their clients and minister to their physical, emotional, and spiritual need, enabling them to move from addiction, homelessness, and/or incarceration to a stable and independent life. The network is made up of different branches, including a long-term transitional home-Sue’s Home. Sue’s Home helps women and children who have either been displaced by incarceration or rehab and are seeking to get their life’s back on track, so they may unify their family again.

The Breakthrough program began in South Mississippi in July and rescues these 18-to 24-year olds who have aged out of the foster care system and have no job or hopes of going to college, said Shellie Carter, director of the program for the Community Care Network. “Many of these kids have bounced around in foster homes or may come from an abusive home and turn to alcohol and drugs to cope”, she said. 

Carter mentions how she can understand and relate to how uncertain and scared these kids are. “I was a child of an addict”, she said, and at age 6 she and her sister were taken from her mother and placed in a foster care in Harrison County. “I’ve been in your shoes”, she tells the kids. 

The program was founded after receiving the Continuum of Care (COC) Grant through Open Doors Homeless Coalition, which is a coalition for the homeless in Gulfport. “When I met Diane Easley, (Founder and Executive Director of Community Care Network), I thought ‘wow what a blessing it would be to work with the community after experiencing what I have as a child in the foster care system and having addiction touch my life'”, said Carter. 

This is her 9th year working with non-profits and second year with the Community Care Network. At 47, she now believes life has brought her to where she needs to be to put her own past to rest and to take those late-night phone calls from kids in Breakthrough who need help or just someone to listen to their concerns.

Homelessness is a challenge in our area 

The homeless population in Ocean Springs has become a  continuous issue in the city. A 2015 count showed a 300 percent increase in homelessness among ages 18 to 24 in the six southern counties, most of them on the Coast, Carter said. In every other age category the numbers went down, she said. The current count of young people living outside in South Mississippi is 54. “I have people call me daily to try and get into the program and on average about 3 people per week”, said Carter. “We’re funded out through the end of the year and at our max capacity with our budget”, she said. “We don’t have any more room- the problem is that big.” There are currently 11 residents enrolled in the program. 

“There’s a lot of barriers that go into homeless youth. If they’re 18 there’s a lot of apartment complexes who won’t accept an 18 year old signing a lease”, she said. “Another issue is employment and transportation that we’ve come across while trying to help the homeless youth.” 

How it works

The homeless youth first go through a centralized intake through Open Doors Coalition and get all of the information to identify their level of need. “A score of one would be the least amount of need and if they score from five to ten they are really desperate”, she said. 

After determining their need, the next step includes finding an apartment so the young person has a warm, safe place to live. The program provides them with everything from furniture and cooking supplies and even food. “There’s a lot to getting a young person housed who has nothing,” Carter said.

Breakthrough also assigns a case manager who provides help learning how to apply for food stamps, search for jobs and even enrolling them in financial counseling. “It’s very overwhelming to 19-year-olds,” Carter said, since many of them don’t know how to cook or parent and “freeze” when asked to fill out job applications.

The program has had many success stories ike a young woman in Gulfport who was homeless and now has apartment and a high school diploma and plans to start junior college this spring. 

“It can happen to anyone”, says Carter. “So if we can all take our shoes off and walk in someone else’s for a day we can all get that perspective and relate in someway”, she added. “I’m sure at some point in life, addiction has touched someone you know or someone in your family and that’s where our human-ness comes in our ability to touch and reach out to these people and give a hand up, not a hand down”, said Carter. 

How you can help

The program is always in need of supplies for the program such as personal hygiene items, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant. Any leftovers are sent back out into the homeless community. “We make care packages and take them back out into the streets to pass out” said Carter.

For more information on the Breakthrough program or Community Care Network, visit their website at

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WAMA to Host 5th Annual Craft Beer Tasting Event

Community members craving a unique place to enjoy local beer, art and music can attend the Walter Anderson Museum of Art’s annual craft beer tasting event set for 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18. 

Now in its fifth year, WAMA Director of Development Corey Christy said the event has been a great opportunity for the museum.

“People get to come into an environment they might not have considered before and get to check out local beers they may not be aware of,” Christy said.

Christy added that the event was initially developed five years ago to expand the museum’s membership base to a younger crowd and for people to understand that museums are for everyone.

“There are folks out there that view museums as ‘hoity toity’ or something for the upper crust,” Christy said. “That is not what Walter Anderson was about. He created art that was intended to be enjoyed by the community at large, and we feel this event plays into that spirit.”  

The event will feature live music, great locally crafted beer and the art of Walter Anderson. Not only will attendees enjoy local craft beer, they’ll have the opportunity to learn about it from those who make it. Tickets are still available and are $15 each for members and $20 for nonmembers. Tickets can be purchased online here. Participants must be 21 years of age or older to attend.

Christy said the event is a great marriage of arts of all kinds and that attendees will have a truly unique experience.

“By attending the event, you are supporting one of the premier cultural institutions in the state and region,” Christy said. “You’ll also hear some great music and try new brews from local breweries as well as local home brewers. It can also be a good topic of discussion for your next Tinder date.”

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Ocean Springs High School Presents Award-Winning Production of “Inuk and the Sun”

This weekend in Jackson County, families can beat the chilly weather outside and experience some indoor entertainment as Ocean Springs High School Theatre Department presents its award-winning production of “Inuk and the Sun.”

“It’s a great opportunity to experience the arts,” OSHS Theatre Department Director Chris Permenter said. “These kids pour their heart into their craft. It’s unique to find such a strong group of students who come together and create something beautiful.”

Permenter said the production has a cast and crew of 50 students, half of whom are actors and the other half serve as technical crew. The department does an entire season of shows, including three MainStage productions – a fall show, a winter show and a spring show, with four studio pieces in the spring by the advanced theatre classes.

“Inuk and the Sun,” an original story based on characters from Inuit mythology, follows a young boy named Inuk as he journeys to save his people and become a man. Inuk is the Inuit word for “human being,” and the plot echoes the universal experience of growing up and coming to terms with life and death. 

In his second year as director, Permenter said he has created a student-based program and tries to always choose a strong season that not only fits the actors, designers, and tech crew’s strengths but also their weaknesses –  to challenge them to become better artist and not just do shows that they are comfortable with.

“With the amount of puppetry, mask, and headdresses used in the show it takes a village to make it possible,” Permenter said. “The show is completely student-designed. My set, costume, props, makeup, and sound designer students started designing in May of 2017. It’s a very long process, but that’s why the kids love it – every rehearsal you find something new. The actors play spirits, northern lights, seals, and so many more exciting characters.” 

In addition, Permenter said the fall show is always the show used in competitions. “Inuk and the Sun” has earned OSHS a number of awards, including All-Star Cast, Best Director, Best Costumes and Best Non-Human Characters. “Inuk and the Sun” will also be taken to the Mississippi Theatre Association Festival in Columbus, Miss., from Jan. 11 to 15  to compete for the state title.

The department was also one of 40 high schools across the nation chosen to perform internationally the American High School Theatre Festival. Permenter said 30 students from the theatre department will be going to Edinburgh, Scotland, the first two weeks of August to perform its spring production of “Metamorphoses” by Mary Zimmerman. Much of the proceeds from the shows and other fundraiser events are going toward this once-in-a-lifetime experience for these students.

“It is very important to have community support,” Permenter said. “This small town of Ocean Springs is being internationally recognized at the largest theatre festival in the world. My wish is for the community to come together and support these kids and their hard work.”

Performances start at 7 p.m. on January 5 and 6 at the Ocean Springs High School Robert E Hirsh Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Those who are interested in donating to the student trip to Scotland can do so by going to the the American High School Theatre Festival website and enter a “Gift of Performance” or contact Ocean Springs High School.

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Children’s Christmas Workshops Available at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art

Children in fifth through seventh grades can create their own art for the holiday season at a workshop sponsored by the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.

WAMA will be conducting Christmas art workshops from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 20, and Thursday, Dec. 21. In these workshops, participants will learn basic drawing and composition techniques and will make several projects, including a Christmas card block print.

Anthony DiFatta, the director of education for WAMA, said the workshops are part of a strategy to increase the number of classes, workshops and camps that the museum will offer. These will focus on art composition. 

“In these workshops, the children will be learning about composition – using the seven motifs that Walter used,” DiFatta said. “They’ll also learn the process of block printing.” 

The seven motifs include spirals, circles, half-circles, S-curves, wavy lines, zig zags and straight lines. WAMA also currently has an exhibit called Atomic Alternatives: The Block Prints of Walter Anderson, featuring work from when Anderson carved linoleum blocks during the 1940s while he was living at Oldfields, his wife’s family home in Gautier, Mississippi. He transformed the attic of the house into his studio, carving his fantastical images into battleship linoleum in sweeping lines and bold forms.

DiFatta, who will lead the workshops, is an experienced artist himself, with his artwork exhibited nationally and internationally. He’s worked as a graphic designer, illustrator, professional artist and art teacher in the past, and his new role within WAMA will focus on art education.

He added that the workshops are meant to be a tool to introduce art concepts while providing a hands-on experience.

“Our goal is to educate children about the process of making artwork,” DiFatta said. “We will be using the work, techniques, and subject matter of Walter Anderson to introduce formal art concepts.”

Registration is still open for the workshops. They are advertised for fifth through seventh grade, but DiFatta said he will leave it to the parent’s discretion based on their child’s level of interest and attention span. The cost is $20 per student, but WAMA welcomes anyone who hasn’t budgeted for it. To sign up call us at 228-872-3164, or email

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Rock U 2 Academy of Popular Music Grand Opening in Ocean Springs

Adults and children interested in popular music, theater and dance can learn more about the improved Rock U 2 Academy of Popular Music at its grand opening and open house this weekend.

From 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, Rock U 2 will open its new location at 2820 Government St. in Ocean Springs. 

Tim Alamsha, who owns the business along with his wife, Barbara, said while Rock U 2 has been in Ocean Springs since May 2011, the new location grows their space from about 3,000 square feet to about 9,000 square feet.

“This time last year, we had around 90 students,” Alamsha said. “Now we have more than 200.”

Alamsha has spent his life in the entertainment business. He and his wife began their careers as performers/entertainers, and starting in 1990, he worked for Disney where he was responsible for parades and other shows. After his time at Disney, he worked as the director of entertainment for Universal Studios.

After visiting the Gulf Coast, he said he fell in love with the area and wanted to see what programs were available for children when it comes to popular music. 

“We decided to start something more interactive than just private lessons and practicing in your bedroom,” Alamsha said. “We aim to teach students about things like goal-setting, teamwork and building self-esteem all through music, dance and theater.”

Alamsha said the new location contains nine individual rooms, two group rehearsal rooms, a dance studio, recording studio, video editing studio and more. He said he also plans to add a fitness center and space for theater acting in the future.

“This is a great opportunity to see the new facility,” Alamsha said. “It will be a lot of fun, people can meet the instructors, try out free dance classes and more.”

Rock U 2 Academy of Popular Music offers a variety of classes for children and adults, ranging from theater and film to all types of dance and music lessons on instruments ranging from the ukulele, french horn and more. Alamsha said that the academy also offers an extra unique opportunity to students.

“We pair students up within similar instruments, skills levels, etc., and create bands with them,” Alamsha said. “They perform at the Hard Rock or through our quarterly recitals.”

In addition to three free dance classes, there will be free door prizes and refreshments. Door prizes are provided by Woody’s Roadside Ocean Springs, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, Starbucks, The Froghead Grill – Ocean Springs, MS, Po Boy Express, Coffee Fusion, New York Pizza Ocean Springs, Smoothie King and more. There will also be two holiday gift raffles – one being an IP Casino Resort Spa overnight spa package includes (1) hotel room, dinner for two at the Back Bay Buffet and a $100 spa voucher, valued at $300. Raffle Tickets for the IP Spa Package are $10 each. The Date Night Basket includes a $50 gift card for Hard Rock Cafe Biloxi, wine basket from Maisano’s Fine Wine and Spirits and two movie tickets for The Grand Theatre D’Iberville, valued at more than $100. Raffle tickets for this package are $5 each.

For more information, learn more at

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View, Shop and Create at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art Holiday Open House

Walter Anderson block print

Families needing a break from shopping during the Ocean Springs annual holiday open house on Friday, Dec. 8 or Saturday, Dec. 9 can stop by the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.

Corey Christy, director of marketing and development for WAMA, said the museum decided to join with the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce’s annual holiday open house initiative for the first time this year, creating a new experience for visitors.

“We do after hours events all the time,” Christy said. “This year, we’re excited to participate in the holiday open house event.”

Christy said WAMA will have a variety of special deals on shop items and memberships and also activities for children. WAMA is currently running a special “give one, get one” membership special, allowing people to purchase a membership for themselves as well as getting one to give to someone else.

In addition, Christy said the museum’s popular $5 poster sale will continue, as well as the sale of the 2018 WAMA calendar for $15.

Those who want to view the current museum exhibitions can do so for $10. Christy said there’s a special exhibition called Atomic Alternatives, which includes block prints of Walter Anderson. According to the WAMA website, Walter Anderson carved these linoleum blocks during the 1940’s while he was living at Oldfields, his wife’s family home in Gautier. He transformed the attic of the house into his studio, carving images into battleship linoleum. His large-scale linoleum block carvings directly correspond to the period when Allied forces dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, to effectively end World War II.

Children will also be able to create their own block prints at the block print holiday card station.

On Saturday, Dec. 9, the open house will include pop-up coffee and biscuits from the Ocean Springs local business The Greenhouse on Porter.

With art, activities and special deals, Christy said there is something for all members of the family.

“People can come support the arts,” Christy said. “It’s also a great opportunity for people to relax their minds and get away from the hustle and bustle of shopping.”

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Ocean Springs Tree Lighting Moved to Community Center

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(Ocean Springs, MS) – The annual Tree Lighting ceremony with Santa scheduled for Thursday, December 7 from 6-8 p.m. will now take place at the Ocean Springs Community Center located at 512 Washington Avenue due to the cold weather.

The community is invited to come out and enjoy two hours of holiday cheer with live music by the First Baptist Church Choir, singalongs on the big screen, and a chance to take a picture with Santa.

Have fun at the holiday stations by writing a letter to the North Pole with the U.S. Postal Service, decorate a cookie with the Mary C. Cafe, or make an ornament at the craft station with the City of Ocean Springs Parks & Leisure Department.

Bring a toy for the Ocean Springs Police Department Blue Christmas Toy Drive, a canned good for the Lord is My Help and/or pet food for the Jackson County Animal Shelter. Refreshments provided by Ocean Springs Chamber, First Baptist Church and Froghead Grill. Bring your own camera for pictures.

Get a start on the night by visiting The Roost located at 604 Porter Avenue between 5 and 7 p.m. and get an Oyster Shell ornament from a visiting elf! Take the ornament to the Tree Lighting and place it upon one of our festive Christmas trees inside the Community Center! Eat Drink Love will be opened during the event with holiday drink specials.

For more information on this event and other holiday festivities, contact the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce-Main Street-Tourism Bureau at 228-875-4424.

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‘Tis the Season: Ugly Christmas Sweaters for a Cause

Photo by Tammy Smith | SunHerald 

Over the years, people worldwide have added the ugly Christmas sweater to their list of necessary holiday items.

These sweaters, known for their tackiness and gaudiness, can range from knitted sweaters to sweater vests, handmade to handed down, and can feature an endless number of decorations and images – everything to get you into the Christmas spirit.

This year, Ocean Springs resident Brandt Russo decided to open up a pop up shop in Ocean Springs and take ugly Christmas sweater shopping to the next level.

Russo, who runs his own vintage store through Instagram called Rebirth Vintage Company (@rebirthvintageco), said he’s been collecting these sweaters all year and got the idea to set up a pop up shop from a fellow vintage shop owner.

“Pop up shops basically raid another business’ space for a month,” Russo said. “They help those businesses, and they help your business.”

As a kickboxing instructor at the Alan Belcher MMA Club, he asked the owner if he could use the space next door to set up a shop to sell his sweaters. After the owner said yes, Russo didn’t turn back. 

“It just made sense,” Russo said. “Instead of selling them to my usual place in New Orleans, I could use this space and sell them on my own and donate a portion of the proceeds.”

Russo calls his shop the Naughty Elves Ugly Christmas Sweater & Vintage Finds Pop Up Shop, and he offers sweaters that can match any personality, as well as some other vintage holiday items. He said buying from his shop offers a unique experience compared to bigger box stores like Wal-Mart.

“The cool thing about these, for the most part, is that they’re older; they’re wool; they’re knit – hand-knit,” Russo said. “If you go to Wal-Mart, they’re going to fall apart on you. You’ll only spend $12, but you’ll only use them twice.”

In addition, 10 percent of all sales will go to the Humane Society of South Mississippi – a cause near to Russo’s heart.

Seven years ago, Russo said he found his dog Dorothy under an interstate at a homeless camp. There was a litter of puppies, all sick with Parvo, and he chose her. He said she’s been his best friend ever since.

“I’ve had a couple of relationships over the years, and, you know, the only one that has been solid has been my dog,” Russo said. “It was very easy to want to help other animals in that situation because she’s been such a blessing.”

The Naughty Elves Ugly Christmas Sweater & Vintage Finds Pop Up Shop, located at 2646 Bienville Blvd. in Ocean Springs, will be open 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday through Dec. 20.

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Support Local Businesses for Small Business Saturday

Provided by Downtown Ocean Springs

If you haven’t finished (or even started) your holiday shopping, consider visiting a local store in your community on Saturday, Nov. 25, for Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday is an American shopping holiday held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving during one of the busiest shopping periods of the year.

First observed in the United States on November 27, 2010, as an advertising campaign created for American Express, it is a counterpart to the all-popular Black Friday and upcoming Cyber Monday, which feature big retailers like Target or Best Buy and e-commerce stores, respectively. By contrast, Small Business Saturday encourages holiday shoppers to visit small brick-and-mortar businesses in their local areas. 

According to American Express, an estimated 112 million consumers reported shopping at small businesses during the 2016 Small Business Saturday, up 13 percent from the year before. In addition, more shoppers reported visiting local independent businesses in 2016 more than ever before, and a record high of 72 percent of U.S. consumers were aware of the day.

For local businesses, however, the recognition of shopping small means much more than the sales.

Mickie Miller, who owns Two Dogs Dancing, a pet store in downtown Ocean Springs, said that she thinks more people are starting to see the benefits of shopping locally even outside of Small Business Saturday.

“The difference in shopping locally versus online is you’re able to walk in and try things on,” Miller said. “You can buy unique items and take them home with you that day.”

Miller said many of the items she features in her store cannot be found at big-box stores like Target, and that’s an extra benefit to shopping locally. She added that shopping locally adds a personal approach to shopping all year-round.

“If you come into my store, I can tell you everything about every single item,” Miller said. “I can help you find all the items and give you recommendations. It’s more of a personal connection.”

Maryalice Miner from Miner’s Doll and Toy Store agreed that the personal connection is what sets brick-and-mortar stores apart.

“People love to feel connected,” Miner said. “It’s satisfying to get back in your car and feel good and to know those people cared that you came into their store.”

After 30 years of owning Miner’s Doll and Toy Store, Miner said another benefit of shopping local is continuity.

“We’re here,” Miner said. “We’re always here. You can come and you’ll always find some good stuff. People know they can count on us.”

Miner said that the store also provides free gift wrapping, meaning people can come in, find a gift, have it wrapped for free and be out the door and on their way to a party. It’s special touches like these, she said, that keep people shopping locally. 

Miner said that while bigger box stores and online shopping have their place, it’s all about people creating a balance of where they shop. She stressed that supporting local business is not only good for the businesses but for the community as a whole.

“We do depend on people coming in to shop,” Miner said. “It’s really worth it for people to make an effort to support their local business. We donate to the local charities, and we’re here for the community. It’s an investment for all of us to have that continuity of these stores. We’re really the treasures.”

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Local Mayors, Chefs to Participate in Five Course Feast for Charity

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Local mayors will team up with talented chefs from their cities to participate in a Five Course Feast fundraiser to raise awareness for food insecurity.

Ocean Springs Mayor Shea Dobson with Frog Head Grill’s Chef Devin Spayde and Pascagoula Mayor Dane Maxwell with Singing River Yacht Club’s James White II, along with three other pairs from the Mississippi Coast, will represent their cities and work together to create one of the five courses.

Frog Head Grill’s Chef Devin Spayde said Mayor Shea Dobson asked the restaurant to partner with him for the event, and he is looking forward to participating in the event.

“It will be the first time cooking in front of so many people on a stage,” Spayde said. “But it’s a good event and will be good exposure for our restaurant that has only been around for a little more than a year.” 

Spayde added that both he and Mayor Dobson are pretty young and new to the scene, making them a bit like underdogs in the event.

The Ocean Springs team drew the dessert course for the event, and Spayde explained they will feature Frog Head Grill’s bread pudding.

“We already have a great bread pudding,” Spayde said. “So we did not choose to do something new. We will put a little twist on it.”

All proceeds will benefit Extra Table, an organization that purchases and delivers healthy food in bulk to Mississippi food pantries and soup kitchens each month. One hundred percent of donations received through Extra Table are used specifically for its mission to purchase food and end hunger.

“Last year’s Five Course Feast raised enough money to feed 30,000 families in South Mississippi,” said Extra Table founder Robert St. John. “At a time of year when many are in the giving spirit, we hope to feed the hungry and raise top-of-mind awareness for those less fortunate along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

Hosted by Robert St. John and presented by Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, the Nov. 16 fundraiser will feature live cooking demonstrations in addition to the five course meal. Tickets are $100 each or a pair for $175. Tables of 10 are $1,000 without wine pairings, $1,500 with wine pairings and $2,500 with wine pairings and a VIP meet/greet reception with Robert St. John. In addition, a limited number of VIP seats are available at the Chef’s Table on stage.

To purchase tickets, visit or call 601.434.1680 with questions. Cocktail attire is recommended.

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