Bernice Murphy has worked with the Warren County Children’s Shelter (WCCS) for more than 22 years. At the time she came to WCCS, Bernice was taking a break from nursing school. A friend from the local job center encouraged her to apply for an interim position with the shelter before she returned to school. Bernice had no idea that saying yes to WCCS would alter her life forever.
“I had it in my mind that I wanted to be a nurse. I didn’t have a lot of classes left to take but I needed a break to focus on some things going on in my life at the time,” said Bernice. “I accepted a position as a Child and Youth Advisor ‘working the floor.’ I had no idea how much this work would impact me and would cause me to completely change what I thought I wanted for my life. Twenty-two years later, I’m still here and loving what I do every day.”
As a Child and Youth Advisor, Bernice spent her days with the children cooking, helping with homework, changing diapers for tiny residents, giving hugs and showing children what it feels like to be loved. She helped abused and neglected children feel what it was like to be part of a family, to have someone to talk to and tuck them in at night. Bernice found the work incredibly fulfilling.
“I just treated these kids the way I treated my own daughter,” said Bernice. “I knew how meaningful the work was with the kids, but I honestly think they impacted me more than I did them.”
Bernice admits that working at the shelter changed her as a mom as well. Knowing the sad and traumatic things that were happening to children even in their close-knit community of Vicksburg, she was very guarded with her daughter.
“I was the ‘mean mom’ who didn’t let her do a lot of things, not because I didn’t trust her, but because I wanted to protect her just like I wanted to protect every child who came into the shelter,” said Bernice. “While I know she didn’t appreciate it growing up, today my daughter is a principal at one of the local schools. Because of the work I did while she was growing up, it has made her a much more aware and compassionate administrator and I’m really proud of that.”
Bernice was able to connect with the children not just as a parental figure, but in a way they often needed it the most… as a friend and confidant. Bernice was 16 years old when her daughter was born. Thankfully, she was surrounded by a compassionate family who supported her courage not to give up on her dreams.
“I was really scared when I found out I was pregnant so young,” said Bernice. “I made the decision that I was going to keep my baby and do whatever I had to do to give her a good life. I found out that my situation was not unlike many other girls in my school, although most sadly didn’t have the support I did. Many of the girls had abortions and they would reach out to me and encourage me to keep my baby even though it would be hard; to make a different choice than they did. After my daughter was born, I was fortunate to still attend school and later graduate. I could be that same voice of encouragement to others. Because of that experience, I can also relate to a lot of the girls who come to the shelter and I can tell them, ‘Look at me, I made it. You can too!’”
In 2012, Bernice decided to go back to school, but not for nursing. The following year, she completed her degree in social work. She was then promoted to Case Manager at WCCS.
“I still get to work with the kids but now I feel like I have a stronger voice to advocate for them,” said Bernice. “I get to work with families and Child Protection Services and part of what I do is make sure that when children leave here, they are in a better situation than when they arrived. I love that. I do miss working the floor sometimes and so I’ll get here early and go help the ladies cook breakfast or help the kids get ready for school. I feel that I can do more for the kids now and that is very rewarding.”
WCCS has a way of capturing the hearts of those who serve its residents. Of the 17 staff members currently at WCCS, Ola Johnson, Cindy McCarley, Berince Murphy, Carla Jones, and Loretha Dudley have dedicated their lives to serving homeless, neglected and abused children for more than 20 years. Mozell Guy has served these children for 18 years. Mary Lindsey, Erica Williams, Segunna Mixon, and Jeanette Wilson have five or more years of service. We want to thank these ladies, and many others, who give so much of themselves to ensure the wellbeing of our children.
Canopy is blessed to have amazing caregivers throughout the organization who are dedicated to helping children heal and thrive.