MGCCC-Perk Wesley reaches out in brand new 'Barn'


Special to the Advocate

Wesley Foundation at the Perkinston campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College hopes to turn the aftermath of a school tragedy into ministry outreach. 

In January, six students were killed in an early morning car accident as they were returning to the campus from a Bogalusa, La., club, is a popular night spot where college students gather. Following the accident, many students said they wanted a place to be with friends and dance. 

“It broke my heart,” said Susan Vuyovich, director of the Wesley Foundation. “No matter how successful the ministry had been prior to the loss of these students, I knew we were going to have to change the way we looked at outreach, witness and nurture.”  

To meet the need, Wesley Foundation developed the idea for The Barn. The Wesley Foundation joined forces with volunteers from the faculty, alumni, Stone County and throughout the Mississippi Conference to raise The Barn as an alternative to The Club in Bogalusa.  

The board of directors adopted a plan seeking 40 volunteers, 40 donors and 40 sponsors. It received a $12,000 matching grant in August which was met in 40 days.  Thirty-three additional donors have given. Twenty-two businesses have pledged to be sponsors and to support the building project. More than 40 volunteers have worked on The Barn at Perkinston, affectionately called “Perk.” 

“Since the beginning of this project, I have worked along side the greatest people that will ever grace my life,” said Vuyovich. “Former and present students, board members, friends of Wesley and people I had never met before have worked tirelessly. They came to harvest timber, clear the building site, dig ditches for the foundation, install plumbing and frame walls. 

“Some, like (trustee) Larry Haley and my husband Dale, have not missed a work day. Others like Tommy and Lisa Bennett from North Carolina were strangers who volunteered their sawmill and talent to cut donated trees into boards for The Barn. They are my heroes.”

“This is an exciting and challenging time at Perk Wesley Foundation,” said board chair Earline Hart, who served as Wesley director in the 1960s. “Exciting because we are building The Barn. And because the students, the college administration, the Wesley board of directors, the businesses, the professional people, the community, the volunteers, the Wesley director and many others are entering into the project wholeheartedly  —  giving of their finances, their time and labor, their goods and their expertise. Challenging because of the many hurdles that must be jumped to make it all come about while, at the same time, ministering to the student body with fun, fellowship and food, both physical and spiritual.” 

Former and current MGCCC students and their friends have been the energy and muscle power of Haley’s “Git-’er-done” construction crew. They have given their time on Saturdays and holidays to work toward The Barn’s completion.  

The Barn will fit right in on the Perkinston campus which was once an agriculture college and home to the Perk Barn. Hurricane Katrina did substantial damage to the 100-plus-year-old barn prompting its removal this summer. Some of the original barn boards will be used in the new Wesley barn. 

Perk students have been joined in their efforts by students from Mississippi State University’s Wesley Foundation during their fall break. The timing couldn’t have been better as it was Perk’s homecoming. In just three days the building project went from being a concrete slab to a framed first floor.  

Said MSU student Katherine Minyard: “By the time we were finished on Monday night, all of the walls were put up but one section. I never knew exactly how hard and complicated it was to put up the wall of a house until I got out there and starting helping out. I had a great experience while being down at Perk with everybody. The girls and ladies had food cooked for us for every meal and everybody in the Wesley group made sure we were right at home. I had a wonderful time helping out on The Barn and I can’t wait to come back and help out some more until the entire project is complete.” 

Perk student intern Amanda Blansett thanked the MSU students. “Some of the students were previous members of our Wesley Foundation and graduates of MGCCC,” she said. “Some were from as far away as Missouri.  They graciously put forth many long, hard days of labor. Thanks to their support, The Barn’s walls are now standing.” 

In late summer, before classes resumed at Perk, a group of 15 youth and leaders from Our Lady of Fatima Church in Massachusetts spent an afternoon working on the building project. “Getting help from Catholic brothers and sisters seemed comforting to me,” Vuyovich said. “The Barn’s vision was born out of the sadness felt in the days following the tragic loss of six beautiful Catholic students.”   

Volunteers have contributed to the building project. Hard work requires nourishment, and at 11:30 a.m. each work day, board members Naomi Williams, Harold Breland, Hart, Jim and Jodi Nightengale, Bettye Gibbs and Mereline Walker make certain workers are nourished. “God has blessed us in so many ways. We can always use volunteers to help raise The Barn,” said  treasurer Jody Nightengale. “You need not be a skilled carpenter, plumber or brick mason. We just need people that are willing to help and follow instructions.”  

The Barn’s progress has been steady, and the Wesley leaders hope to have a grand opening in late spring. 

The first floor of the building will house a full kitchen and dining hall, a large gathering room in the center and office space. The entire Perkinston community will be enhanced with wellness programs planned for The Loft, the second story studio. Aerobics and pilates classes are planned for both college students and friends of Wesley. Michelle Sekul, dean of student services and a certified aerobics instructor, has volunteered to teach these classes. Art classes, concerts, cookouts and dances are also planned.  

The building project is not the only thing happening in campus ministry at Perk. Tuesday evening’s fellowship and Bible Study group is a solid ministry. Home-cooked meals are prepared by students, board members or church groups. The shared meal is a time when board members can enjoy time spent with the students. Thursday’s lunch group is the fastest growing part of the ministry. It was a time planned for students not able to meet with the Tuesday evening group. However, this group has out grown the Tuesday group.   

“The college has created an atmosphere that allows good ministry to happen,” said Vuyovich, “and we have a 12-member leadership team in place to do the ministry.” 

Joining sophomore intern Blansett are Janice Gibbs, freshman intern; Dora Lopez, worship leader; Candice Champion, faculty liaison; Brittany Robinson, student liaison, and Luke Bond, sound technician. Sandy Fitch serves as mission chair, and  Kimberly Scott, Michael Hayes, Sesille Garcia, Lindsey Willison and Sara Myers complete the team.