When William Magee, a University of Mississippi young alumnus, lost his battle with drug addiction, parents Kent and David Magee, of Oxford, shared his story and started an ongoing movement to help students.
Student organizations, alumni, parents, aunts, uncles, faculty, staff, friends, a foundation, a corporation and a church congregation have collectively given more than $1 million in a 12-month period to establish the William Magee Center for Wellness Education Endowment, with the hopes of making a difference in the lives of other young people with similar struggles. The goal is to build a minimum endowment of $1.5 million to support the center's programming and operations.
The first student organization to make a major gift of $25,000 to the Magee Center, Sigma Nu fraternity, has followed up with another $50,000 commitment to take fundraising over the million-dollar mark. Another fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, hosted weekend events to increase its original $30,000 gift, and Phi Mu fraternity has stepped forward with a $25,000 gift.
"What has been so exciting about this campaign has been the level of engagement and support from our campus community," said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs. "I am especially impressed with our student-led support.
"Their willingness to contribute to the opening of the William Magee Center for Wellness Education indicates their interest in helping reduce the alcohol and other drug culture, and their desire to support educational efforts at the University of Mississippi."
David Magee responded: "To pass our first milestone of $1 million in such a short time shows how much the Ole Miss family cares about providing the very best in alcohol and other drugs education to its students. The hard work from students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends has been amazing.
"Not a day goes by without someone new reaching out and saying, 'I want to help.' Our speed in achieving this first $1 million is energizing for the hard work ahead."
Sigma Nu members made the gifts to pay tribute to William's life, David and the family's other son, Hudson, all Sigma Nu members. William Magee also was a member of the Sally McDonnell Honors College, the Croft Institute for International Studies and a letterman on the Ole Miss track and field team.
John Green, a Sigma Nu chapter adviser, said when David Magee shared the center's mission with the chapter, it was a natural decision.
"When David described his vision for the William Magee Wellness Center and the impact it could have on the young men and women at Ole Miss, Epsilon Xi Chapter of Sigma Nu immediately agreed to be a partner in providing the center early support," Green said.
"We are pleased the early financial commitment encouraged other Greek-letter organizations on campus to make financial commitments, which have totaled almost $250,000 from fraternities and sororities to date, with follow-up commitments to come from the Greeks in the future. We look forward to a long-term relationship between Sigma Nu and the William Magee Center."
Phi Kappa Psi president Harris Jones, of Franklin, Tennessee, agreed that the center will be a significant resource.
"Substance abuse is not something that only affects addicts; it affects their friends, family and peers as well," Jones said. "We focus so much on helping the outside community that we often forget about helping each other, so we want to pour into the Ole Miss community by providing education and resources to combat an issue that adversely impacts our community.
"We believe that a healthier Ole Miss community will ultimately be more prosperous and able to help the outside community in a greater capacity as well."
The William Magee Center is slated to open in early 2019 at the university's new South Campus Recreation Facility. A second Ignite Ole Miss crowdfunding campaign is underway, led by seniors Tucker Fox, of Cordova, Tennessee, and Savannah Smith, of Corinth – named Mr. and Miss. Ole Miss for the 2017-18 academic year – and the Class of 2018 senior class officers.
"After hearing the late William Magee's story and the purpose of this, it was clear that being a small part of helping the William Magee Center come to life would be the best way to achieve our goal," Fox said.
Senior class president Guy Thornton, of Hattiesburg, shared that officers agreed that wellness is a common denominator that affects every student in one way or another and that contributing to the center provides a meaningful way for the class to leave a legacy.
"We realize that wellness education is a real need here at Ole Miss," Thornton said. "We want to do something to engage students with a center that promotes a holistic approach to wellness."
Phi Mu president Erin Larkin, of McKinney, Texas, said, "The benefits from giving our support to this program are endless. There is complete peace of mind in knowing that the girls in Phi Mu will have somewhere to go if they have struggles, where they will feel supported and listened to, without judgment.
"It is no secret that many students on this campus feel constricted by the obstacles of alcohol and drug abuse, so to know that there are people working endlessly to create a safe place of holistic healing is beyond encouraging. With all of the recent tragedies in Greek life across the nation, I think it will also be the change that the college culture needs."
Hephner LaBanc said she believes many have offered their financial backing for the William Magee Center because people value individual wellness, but so many individuals struggle to make healthy choices – especially during college.
"I have fully appreciated everyone's willingness to talk about a traditionally taboo topic and then respond with support for a comprehensive initiative aimed at reducing the risk surrounding alcohol and other drugs," she said. "I am incredibly thankful to those who have helped us develop an effective and sustainable intervention."
In-depth planning and curriculum development for the student body is being completed, and the campaign to seek more funds will continue, David Magee said.
"This is only the beginning. This first $1 million ensures that this center is becoming a reality, on its way to opening in 2019. Important work is underway and it's making a difference. With more resources, there's so much more we can do.
"We hope and believe that others who care about this cause will continue to step forward. Ultimately, such support can help Ole Miss build a wellness center that's on the cutting edge in supporting and educating students about alcohol and other drugs."
"William's Story" can be found here.
The William Magee Center for Wellness Education is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations by mailing a check with the center's name in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655.
For more information contact Brett Barefoot, development director, at [email protected] or 662-915-2711.
By J. Dillon Pitts and Tina Hahn