Megan Mullen and her husband, Dan, both believe in building champions.
While her spouse may be working to build champions in the Mississippi State players he coaches, the first lady of MSU football says they both believe that people who work to make others’ lives betters are champions.
Those who volunteer and raise money for the United Way of North Central Mississippi typify this belief, Mullen said, addressing some 100 volunteers at a Wednesday kickoff luncheon for the 2011 United Way fund-raising campaign, which has a $350,000 goal.
“My husband would say you are champions because you have dedicated your lives to helping others,” she said to the volunteers gathered at the Palmeiro Center.
Noting that she and husband had never gotten involved with United Way other than giving money, Mullen said that within an hour of arriving in Starkville more than a year and a half ago, she found herself volunteering for the United Way’s Festival of Trees event.
“The first people we met in Starkville are involved in United Way,” said Mullen.
Mullen said she and her husband are involved in the lives of the athletes he coaches beyond just on the playing field.
“Our role is beyond just that of a football coach. It’s about making people’s lives better,” she said.
Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, who her husband coached as the University of Florida’s offensive coordinator, taught “Dan one of the most important lessons of his life,” Mullen said, and it applies to volunteering with the United Way.
“Tim once told Dan, ‘If you are in a position to make people’s lives better, it is your obligation to do so,’” she said, encouraging volunteers to involve others who have never been a part of a United Way campaign.
“Find four or five people who have never been involved in United Way and get them involved. Get them to make a donation. Be the best you can be, and be champions.”
The United Way of North Central Mississippi helps finance 18 charitable agencies, and one agency, the Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity, was spotlighted during Wednesday’s kickoff luncheon.
Since being established in Starkville in 1987, Habitat has helped 44 lower-income families realize the dream of home ownership, said Director Freddie Rasberry.
“Habitat is not an emergency response organization, it is something that can help stabilize families one by one through home ownership,” said Rasberry. “Habitat is one of those ministries that loves its neighbors and a ministry that helps its neighbors. Home ownership breaks the cycle of poverty and the taboos that go with it.”
United Way dollars are among the variety of funding sources Habitat uses to purchase lots and build homes in the community, Rasberry said. The “partner families” are chosen to receive the home after an intensive screening process and must contribute 300 hours of sweat equity in the construction of their home or another Habitat home.
The results of having a new home have been transforming for families, particularly with children, Rasberry said, citing instances where children in Habitat partner families have shown marked improvement in school.
Habitat also impacts the lives of those who volunteer during construction of the homes, Rasberry said, citing repeat visits by collegiate groups to Starkville year after year and continued support from Mississippi State students who worked on the Maroon Edition home as examples.
“All Habitat volunteers become advocates — advocates for helping people,” Raspberry said.
That’s the crux of what United Way is about, said Executive Director Nikki Rives as she urged support for the upcoming campaign, which will run from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30.
“There’s already a lot of enthusiasm about this year’s campaign and I encourage everyone in the community to participate,” Rives said.
For more information about donating to United Way, contact the office at 323-3830, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org  or stop by the office at 1016G Louisville St.