Spending most of one's childhood in the same small town, Gift of Hope Scholar Austin H. Fortinberry said, "means you know most people with whom you come into contact and have close ties to your community. It also means you have no secrets. If you made a bad grade or had a bad ballgame, the whole world knew it before you got home!"
Your gifts on United Methodist Student Day, enables The United Methodist Church to support students through the Gift of Hope of Scholarship as they prepare for life in uniting faith with knowledge.
Austin and his younger sister, Hayden, were raised in his dad's hometown, Summit, Mississippi, population 1,600.
"I never changed schools and have lived in the same home since age 3," Austin said. "I kept a very active schedule that included lots of sports, church activities and school extracurriculars. I have a circle of lifelong friends."
Centenary United Methodist in nearby McComb, Mississippi, was – and still is – a huge part of Austin's life.
"Growing up," he said, "I was in church nearly every time the doors were open. I spent every summer on a mission team to which, even now, I give much of my time."
The son of physical therapists, Austin discovered how much he loves "being with people and bringing help and happiness to their day." It seems serendipitous that the sophomore at Mississippi State University is studying kinesiology, the scientific study of body movement.
Physical therapy, Austin noted, offers "many times to share faith and joy. My parents run a private practice; there is Scripture on their wall. You are working with patients when they are feeling weakened, and faith is a great help in recovery."
Living his faith is essential to the young man who loves setting a positive example by volunteering with children and youth. "I can only hope," he said, "that I have made faith and church seem as good a place to be as I feel it is."
He is grateful for The United Methodist Church's financial support through the Gift of Hope Scholarship. "Receiving it," Austin said, "has taken the financial pressure off, so I can concentrate on my classes. It has let me commit full time to my studies and only work in the summer and over holidays.
"These scholarships mean so much to the students receiving them. Some would not be able to attend college without them. It can relieve financial restraints and pressures so students can work harder on classes in order to be more successful and even finish early."
On campus, he is active in the Wesley Foundation. He has been a member of MSU's Service Dawgs, recently applied for a resident-assistant position and is in the selection process for a summer position at Mountain T.O.P., a nonprofit Christian partnership ministry.
After graduation from MSU, Austin hopes to go to graduate school to study physical therapy. "I hope, eventually, to to return to my hometown and work with my family in their private practice," he said. "I am also very interested in coaching on a volunteer basis and working with a United Methodist youth group as much as I can.
"I am just getting started. However, I am already learning practical skills that I will take into my career with me."
Barbara Dunlap-Berg, freelance writer and editor, retiree from UMCom
One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, United Methodist Student Day calls the church to support students as they prepare for life in uniting faith with knowledge. The special offering provides scholarships for qualified United Methodist applicants.