Inside the fitness center on Pearl River Community College’s Forrest County campus, students of varying ages lift weights, cycle in spin classes and contort their bodies while practicing yoga—all as part of Zac Bennett’s physical education class. Underneath the clanking of barbels and the spinning whirs of bike chains, however, another deceptively prevalent sound often goes unheard: a deep and empty growling of stomachs.

“A lot of students come into my classes and tell me that they haven’t eaten all day,” Bennett, who serves as the coordinator of wellness and student activities for PRCC’s Forrest County campus. “That’s where I often see financial insecurity in my day-to-day life here. Some students just don’t have the funds to buy lunch, so they go without.”

Financial insecurity is at the root of PRCC’s Costumes for a Cause, a Halloween-themed 5k and one-mile “fun run” on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, at 7:30 a.m. Organizers encourage participants to wear costumes for runs and will award medals to the overall race winner, the age-group race winner and the participant with the best costume.

All proceeds from this event will go toward the establishment of a scholarship fund for students who were raised in the foster-care system and whose education could potentially be hindered without financial support.

While the scholarship focuses on students who have grown up in foster care, PRCC administrators acknowledge that this group represents but one example of circumstances that can lead to financial hardship and impede students’ paths toward higher education.

“Our tuition at PRCC is ($1,625) a year, so money and costs are often issues for our students,” Dr. Greg Underwood, the dean of academic instruction at PRCC’s Forrest County campus and the faculty administrator over the scholarship fund of Costumes for a Cause, says. “Every little bit of scholarship helps. Whenever an opportunity like this comes up to offer scholarships to our students, it’s my job to facilitate the development of the program.”

The Forrest County Campus of Pearl River Community College offers several wraparound services, such as food pantries and clothes closets, that aid students who may be struggling financially. The campus houses a central food pantry as well as smaller food pantries around campus, such as this one inside the Allied Health Center (pictured), where students have access to free and nonperishable food items. Photo by Gaven Wallace.

The fundraiser for this scholarship has already amassed around $1,300 from advanced registration and business sponsors as of Monday, Oct. 31. “We still have a lot of things coming in, and people have up until the race to register, so it’s only going up from here,” Bennett says. Hattiesburg organizations such as Eagle Flatts, Nanny Mac’s, Magnolia Construction Company, Bank First and USM’s chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho have contributed to much of this fund.

While $1,300 might not feel as substantial when compared to a high-cost college or university, Underwood says this money goes farther for a student at Pearl River Community College. “Because our tuition is so low, it is entirely possible that we can raise enough money to cover 50% of a student’s tuition for a semester with this scholarship,” Underwood says.

In addition to scholarships, the Forrest County campus of Pearl River Community College offers aid to students through what Underwood refers to as “wraparound services,” campus resources that help lessen the financial burden on students outside of tuition costs.

“We have an on-campus food pantry and sometimes a clothes closet. We’re not unique in that regard, but we think that we do a good job in serving our students to the degree that we can,” the administrator says.

Raising Awareness for Foster-Care Children

Bennett attributes the idea for Costumes for a Cause to student Britney Diaz-Roman: “She met with us and had a lot of ideas,” Bennett says. “She wanted to help the community and grow the school. We were shooting ideas, and she really wanted to do a fundraiser to help students coming into college who have been through the foster-care program.”

Greg Underwood, dean of academic instruction at Pearl River Community College’s’s Forrest County campus, said he believes the upcoming Costumes for a Cause 5k could potentially raise enough money to cover 50% of a student’s tuition for a semester. Photo courtesy Greg Underwood

“Britney wanted to do something that would create involvement on campus and also raise awareness for children in the foster-care system,” Underwood says. To the team behind Costumes for a Cause, a 5k run around the Forrest County campus does exactly that.

“We thought it would be a good way to not only involve the campus community, but also to bring outsiders in and show everyone what our campus is like,” Bennett says.

To Underwood, the Forrest County campus of Pearl River Community is “one of Hattiesburg’s best kept secrets,” explaining that larger colleges in the area like the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University often overshadow PRCC’s offerings.

“You can do your entire first two years of coursework here, but we’re often overshadowed by USM and William Carey,” Underwood continues. “We’ve been here for over 50 years, but a lot of people still think that we’re only a vocational school. Part of the rationale for this 5k is that it’s a small enough race that we can bring people in and showcase our campus.”

As a teacher and administrator at Pearl River Community College’s Forrest County campus, Zac Bennett views this scholarship as an effective way to combat the financial insecurity that he often sees among students. Photo courtesy Zac Bennett

While this is the school’s inaugural Costumes for a Cause event, Bennett and Underwood express hope toward the fundraiser’s longevity.

“It’s going really well so far,” Bennett says. “We still have the actual event ahead, but I’m trying to keep pushing it. We already have plans for next year to be bigger.” Ultimately, however, they note that the fundraiser’s success will determine the reach of this scholarship in the future.

“Typically, for something like this, we will just use part of the proceeds every year to fund the scholarship. Or, if you get enough money, you can have a balance and the scholarship would be funded off the interest,” Underwood says. “It will all be dependent on how much money we can raise.”

The inaugural Costumes for a Cause 5K/One-Mile Fun Run will be on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Check-in and on-site registration will begin at 6:30 a.m., and the 5k run will begin at 7:30 a.m. outside the Dr. Cecil Burt Special Events Room on Pearl River Community College’s Forrest County campus (5448 Highway 49 S., Hattiesburg).

Registration rates are $20 for the 5k run and $15 for the one-mile run. Advanced registration is discounted to $15 for the 5k run and $10 for the one-mile fun run. Participants can register in advance here. Sponsorship packages are available starting at $100. For more information regarding additional levels of sponsorship, email Zac Bennett at [email protected] or call 601-403-1345.

For more information regarding Costumes for a Cause and other events on Pearl River Community College’s Forrest County campus, follow Pearl River Community College on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or visit

Contributing Reporter Gaven Wallace is a writer based out of Hattiesburg, Miss., where he attends the University of Southern Mississippi in pursuit of a Masters of the Arts in creative writing. During his undergraduate career, he earned the O’Hara-Mackaman Endowment for fiction writing. His work can be found in journals such as Sky Island Journal and West Trade Review. He especially enjoys reading contemporary fiction and poetry with an eye for the postmodern, such as the works of Jennifer Eagan and David Mitchell.