City officials, teachers, business people, workers and all manner of residents took one hour out of their day to meet at St. Paul United Methodist Church and enjoy a service of fellowship and gratitude.
“What a great day to be alive in Tupelo,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr. “This service is a terrific example of us at our best, as thankful people willing to move forward.”
Songs from St. Paul’s Inspirational Choir, the inter-denominational Unity Choir and soloist Larry Montgomery shook the rafters with themes of gratitude and patriotism.
The message of thanksgiving was provided by Police Chief Tony Carleton, Sgt. Michael Russell and two students in the Police Athletic League, Eric Guyton and Caleb Hodges.
“We’re so thankful for a community that unites and allows us to make an impact and change the track of kids’ lives,” Russell said.
Since its organization in 2005, PAL has transitioned to full funding provided by the city of Tupelo, and has served over 2,000 young people. Earlier this year, the Tupelo City Council approved the purchase of the former Salvation Army recreational center to host PAL, which will allow for more than one activity to take place at a time.
“The kids participate in basketball, boxing, weight-lifting, and, most importantly, homework,” Russell said. “These kids want to better themselves and become productive citizens.”
Guyton and Hodges shed light on their own experiences in PAL and how it has changed them.
“We do things as a team and form discipline,” Guyton said. “I’ve learned to use my listening skills and have seen a change in my attitude.”
Russell said it was a blessing, in a time when programs are being closed down and people are getting fired, to be a part of something that is growing.
Major Sue Dorman, senior officer of the Salvation Army in Northeast Mississippi, said she was glad to see the Army’s facility go to community service efforts. It shows, she said, how giving has become a way of life for the All-America City.
“The Salvation Army is only the hands for the community,” she said. “In Tupelo, Thanksgiving has become Thanks-living.”
After receiving the benediction from St. Paul’s pastor, the Rev. Gloria McKinney, members of the audience enjoyed light refreshments and fellowship before returning to their routines.
“It’s really nice to see people enjoy one another, especially after the election,” said Contanna Purnell, assistant Human Resource Director for the city of Tupelo.