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Annual Gifts Strengthen the Ole Miss Student Experience
Ole Miss Family Leadership Council members, from left, John Edge and Felicia Fruia-Edge from Olmito, Texas, and Willie and Aliza Cantu from San Antonio, Texas, visit during the spring meeting. Support from the Family Leadership Council reached the $1 million milestone at the meeting, where the council members allocated funds to 15 Student Affairs departments to strengthen the Ole Miss experience for students.
Photo by Kirsten Simpson/UM Development

Support from the Ole Miss Family Leadership Council now exceeds $1 million with new allocations made for University of Mississippi student services at the spring meeting.

For the past eight academic years, the Family Leadership Council has heard requests from UM’s 15 Student Affairs departments for help in funding special projects, a process that allows council members to learn more about the services offered to their students. The parents then determine which needs to support from their membership dues.

Dr. Willie Cantu and his wife, Aliza, served on the Family Leadership Council while their daughter Sophia Cantu earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Patterson School of Accountancy and calls their Ole Miss experience “a most splendid trip for her and us.”

“From day one, Sophie has been so passionate about Ole Miss. We wanted to share in that with her by being involved as much as possible and giving back to the university that afforded her with so many wonderful opportunities,” said Cantu of San Antonio, Texas.

“Every April, we saw how the funds from the Family Leadership Council come together and form an impactful effort for so many different groups on campus,” he continued. “It’s an effort that we know will continue to create opportunities for many other students, faculty and staff so that their time at Ole Miss can be as wonderful as Sophie’s.”

Brett Barefoot, senior director of development for parent and family leadership, said he appreciates the engagement of the 62 Family Leadership Council members from 23 states and their milestone of reaching $1 million in funding.

“In addition to supporting so many different areas within the Division of Student Affairs, I think this group is special because it is a strong representation of our student body. We have members from all over the country. Some are UM alumni or have Ole Miss ties, while others are only connected to the university because their students chose to attend school here,” Barefoot said.

“These families are coming together with the common goal of supporting the university, specifically Ole Miss students, and what an impact they make!”

This year’s allocations totaled $175,000 to 15 areas. One request for $25,000 was filled to support the Student Health Center with a Medical Emergency Fund to help provide relief to students who meet specified criteria with unexpected medical expenses.

“We are so grateful for the Family Leadership Council’s approval of $25,000 to create the new Medical Expense Fund,” said Alex Langhart, director of University Health Services. “This fund is meant to alleviate financial strain due to unavoidable medical costs students may face.

“The mission of Student Health Services is to keep students healthy so that they can pursue their education uninterrupted. We believe this will help serve our mission and greatly benefit students who have out-of-network insurance with Student Health Services or do not have medical insurance at all,” he said.

Another $22,000 was approved for the University Counseling Center for Protocall, 24/7 crisis phone support that provides help to students after hours, during campus holidays and in the event of unexpected campus closures. Among other approved funds was $18,557 to Student Disability Services for cubicles to increase accommodations for students being tested and receiving other academic instruction.

Four requests from the William Magee Center for Alcohol and Other Drugs and Wellness Education were granted, including $12,500 to develop a peer education program that will engage 25 students to serve in a train-the-trainer program. The program’s goal is to educate students and facilitate a culture of health and well-being. The trained ambassadors will be paid to work with Magee Center staff to implement campus programming and wellness presentations.

Tom Warner of Ocean City, New Jersey, said he and his wife, Andrea, joined the Family Leadership Council to get involved as new parents at Ole Miss.

“We have been involved in our son Thomas’ schools as he has progressed throughout his education. We felt this was a great way to not only get involved but also have a direct impact on student life and Ole Miss,” Warner said.

“After attending two meetings, we have learned so much about Ole Miss, the Oxford community and the future of the school,” he continued. “The meetings have been engaging and informative in so many ways. We look forward to being involved for years to come.”

Barefoot said he is proud of the parents represented on the council.

“Many of our council members stay active throughout the duration of their student’s time at the university — sometimes they have more than one child at Ole Miss. The commitment from these parents year after year is why the council continues to thrive and make an impact.

“Working with the Family Leadership Council members is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Their engagement and support continue to strengthen the Ole Miss experience for our students. It is hard to express how much I appreciate all they’ve done and continue to do on our campus,” Barefoot said.

To become council members, parents of Ole Miss students donate a minimum of $2,500 annually. To learn more about the Family Leadership Council, contact Brett Barefoot at or 662-915-2711.

By Tina H. Hahn/UM Development


Online gifts for the 2024 calendar year should be made no later than noon on December 31, 2024.  Checks by mail will need to be postmarked by December 31 to be counted in the 2024 calendar year.