STARKVILLE, Miss.--When she's not working on campus, a Mississippi State accountant from Columbus provides an array of volunteer services for a Golden Triangle nonprofit organization renovating bedrooms for special-needs children.
Mindy Matherne, who works with the university's Center for Distance Education, said her administrative role with Rebecca's Rooms is fulfilling because all children deserve a special, safe place at home to enjoy themselves.
"Our mission is to redecorate rooms so that children feel safe and happy," she said.
In 2013, Reid Carter and his wife Cindy established Rebecca's Rooms to honor the memory of their 8-year-old daughter who died two years earlier. As an infant, Rebecca had been diagnosed with Trisomy 13, a genetic disorder in which three copies of chromosome 13 cause multiple disabilities and medical problems.
"One afternoon, I came home and said, 'I've always wanted to help people,' and the name 'Rebecca's Rooms' just jumped in my mind," Reid Carter said. "I knew that'd be an awesome thing to remember her by -- to go to kids with disabilities and redo their rooms. When I mentioned it on Facebook, Mindy jumped in."
Matherne and Reid Carter attended high school together, but she said her desire to volunteer bookkeeping and supervisory services was influenced by personal experience.
"I have a child with a disability, and Reid and Cindy had a vision of making Rebecca's Rooms like (the TV show) 'Extreme Home Makeover,' but on a smaller scale," she said. "Everyone who volunteers learns so much; they feel closer to the child who has a disability.
"There are so many words to describe how it makes you feel when they see their room for the first time," Matherne continued. "The excitement in their eyes and the smile on their face makes up for all the long hours of working hard for that moment."
A recent project in Columbus was completed as a surprise for Philip Gandy, a young man with autism.
"His room makeover included things that were of great interest to him," Matherne said. "The word he used over and over when he saw his room was 'Awesome.' Every time he noticed something new, he would say that; it took him several minutes to take it all in."
Not only did volunteers paint the walls and ceiling with a Spongebob Squarepants nautical theme, they also installed a custom Spongebob Squarepants headboard on a new bed, as well as a new TV and DVD player. Their work was assisted by generous donations from several Golden Triangle businesses.
"It is impossible for us to carry out our mission without the support of local sponsors, whether a monetary donation or gift cards for the family to use during the makeover," Matherne said. "It is also important to the families to know that people in their community want to contribute to making a change in their lives."
Matherne isn't the only member of MSU's Center for Distance Education family volunteering for Rebecca's Rooms projects. Center director Steve Taylor has given his time and energy to connect the organization's leaders with designers from MSU's College of Architecture, Art and Design. Also, representatives from the campus Institute of Golf and various fraternities and sororities have helped raise funds for materials to complete future room renovations.
"Contacts on campus are making a big difference," she said. "Nobody who's working with us takes anything for it; just seeing the kids so happy makes it all worth it."
Matherne said Rebecca's Rooms began receiving national support after it was featured in late 2013 on "The John Boy & Billy Big Show," a syndicated radio music and comedy program. Even as donations continue coming in, recruiting more volunteers remains a priority.
"We need more men," she said. "Heavy lifting, removing walls and installing sheetrock are the kinds of things many of our female and children volunteers can't do or don't know how."
Because not everyone is able to volunteer time or donations, the organization deeply appreciates the prayers and letters of support it receives, she said.
To volunteer, donate or sponsor Rebecca's Rooms, people should visit http://www.rebeccasrooms.com or its Facebook or Twitter pages, Matherne said.
Learn more about MSU at http://msstate.edu.