3 Inspired People

Stories Carmen K. Sisson | Photographs Whitten Sabbatini


Photographed by Whitten Sabbatini.

Photographed by Whitten Sabbatini.

For years, Dorothy “Dot” Ryland prayed for God to give her a purpose. Then one day, she looked around her office at West Point City Hall and realized she had already found it.

Ryland became the city’s housing coordinator and deputy clerk tax collector in 2008, and it’s a position that blends well with her compassion for others and people skills.

Often she arrives to find a ringing phone, an overstuffed voicemail box and a line of people snaking outside her door, waiting for their chance to tell their story. She turns no one away. When she can’t help, she finds someone who can. Many nights, she stumbles home exhausted and crawls into bed before 6 p.m.

She has secured enough grants to put 58 families in homes, with the city paying a $14,999 down payment on each family’s chosen property. In addition to organizing homebuyer workshops, Ryland also helps people find food and clothing.

She has seen her share of heartbreak. She recalls one family whose home had burned down during a bitterly cold winter. When she learned they were sleeping in the charred shell that remained, huddling together to stay warm, she spearheaded a relief effort that paid for the repairs.

Home ownership is not only the American Dream, but it’s West Point’s future, Ryland says. The new homeowners take pride in their properties, beautifying the area while providing a strong tax base for the city. With skyrocketing unemployment and housing foreclosures, she knows she can’t meet all needs, but she tries.

“It makes me happy to know I made God smile,” she says. “I know I’m helping people if I can put a smile on someone’s face or make their life easier by just making a call.”

When the phone rings again, she answers with a smile.


Photographed by Whitten Sabbatini.

Photographed by Whitten Sabbatini.

Allen Jones is probably not the only Gospel-gabbing-used-car salesman in Mississippi, but he might be the most generous. Since 2009, the Caledonia native has watched more than $60,000 roll off his lot, free of charge. He handed over the keys and waved goodbye. But there’s a catch.

For the past five years, Jones has given a used car to graduating seniors who are college-bound and do not have a vehicle. Applicants are required to write an essay explaining why they need a car and the difference transportation would make in their lives.

Once the winner is selected, Jones asks only three things: Stay in college, maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average, and keep the car’s maintenance and insurance up-to-date. On the day they graduate from college, the car is theirs, but if they fail to keep their end of the bargain, he takes the car back and gives it to one of the runners-up.

And these aren’t old junkers either. The used vehicles cost between $12,000 to $15,000 and have included a Ford Mustang, a Toyota Camry, a Jeep Liberty and a Mazda6.

“We don’t put a kid in a Ford LTD grandma car,” Jones says, laughing. “We know what the kids like because we sell ’em.”

He is driven by his love for his community — he was the 2012 Caledonia High School Alumni of the Year — and his desire to help others. In his spare time, he preaches and speaks about business, leadership and finances.

“His honesty is impeccable,” says his friend and former history teacher, Leroy Nickels. “If he tells you he’s going to do something, he does it.”

Jones, a self-described people person, says his generosity just comes naturally.

“Everything you give to others will come back to you ten-fold, and it has for me,” he says.


Photographed by Whitten Sabbatini.

Photographed by Whitten Sabbatini.

Never underestimate the power of a mother who wants the best for her children. She just might change the world — or at least her corner of it.

Dr. Angie Riffell was a successful Starkville chiropractor, her penchant for order serving her well as she juggled the demands of a busy practice and homeschooling her children. But in 2007, she realized a key gap was missing in her children’s education. Like her, they loved music, and they were enrolled in private lessons, but it wasn’t enough. They needed the broader, richer experience they could get only by playing in an ensemble.

There was only one problem: What Riffell wanted didn’t exist. So she decided to build it from the ground up, founding the Starkville Homeschool Music Cooperative and paving the way for what may be one of the most unique homeschooling opportunities in the state.

It’s a lot of work, Riffell admits. Last year, nearly 100 students participated in the K-12 program, studying choir and band under the leadership of four instructors and a student intern. In addition to becoming better musicians, the students can earn Carnegie units toward graduation.

But they gain something else, too — the joy of a creative life. That pleasure isn’t reserved solely for art and music either, says Riffell. Everyone possesses a creative spark, whether they find it in the garden, the kitchen or beneath the hood of a car.

She is driven by two passions — her children and her music, says Dr. Cliff Taylor, a fellow homeschool parent and band instructor in the program. Though interest in SHMC was high, Riffell was the catalyst.

“I’ve just always loved music,” Riffell says. “I can’t not sing. I sing in the car; I sing in my living room; I sing when I’m walking. I love it.”