President’s Leadership Academy Prepares Thanksgiving Baskets for Autism Center Clients


Thanksgiving basketsCAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Nov. 23, 2015 – Southeast Missouri State University student members of the President’s Leadership Academy (PLA) are making a difference this week in in the lives of clients at the Southeast Missouri State University Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment.

PLA members have made 50 Thanksgiving baskets with all the ingredients needed to prepare a traditional holiday meal.

Preston King of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and a participant this semester in the President’s Leadership Academy, said PLA learned that many families with Autistic children struggle financially in meeting their medical needs, making the holidays an added hardship.

“The group was really touched by the idea of providing a simple meal for these families,” he said. “We chose this project as a way to help as many people as we could with our time and resources.”

Thanksgiving baskets2The students prepared the baskets last week which include a voucher for a turkey or ham, green beans, potatoes, stuffing, pie crust and pie filling and other side dishes for a Thanksgiving meal. The baskets also include food items children typically enjoy such as macaroni and cheese, applesauce and pudding, he said.

PLA is a selective program that usually accepts 15 of Southeast’s most outstanding junior and senior student leaders. Through PLA, the participants at Southeast learn to use their leadership expertise to give back to the Southeast campus and local community. This year 19 students were selected, and they were given a $1,000 budget for their project, but these students chose to fundraise and gathered an additional $1,000.

“The President’s Leadership Academy is amazing not only to get to work with Megan (Murray), but also President Vargas,” he said. “It is so beneficial because it brings the best leaders on campus together and we benefit from each other.”

Thanksgiving baskets3Coordinator for Leadership Development and PLA instructor Megan Murray said, “I’ve really seen a change throughout the years because the students have gotten more and more ambitious with their projects.”

Murray has been with the program since it was introduced in 2011.

King, a nursing student, said, “There are so many worthy causes to help,” but a conversation he had with Dr. Linda Heitman, professor of nursing, sparked the idea to assist families associated with the Autism Center. He then contacted Director of the University Autism Center Dr. Melissa King about doing a project to benefit the Center’s clients and their families.

“They contacted us, we developed an idea together, and they pretty much did all this on their own,” Melissa King said.

President’s Leadership Academy members assembled the baskets last week that will be delivered by employees at the University’s Autism Center this week.

“The families have been very grateful for the opportunity to receive these baskets,” Dr. Melissa King said.