Women’s History Month


In 2001, Karen Simmons interviewed with John Damon, Canopy Chief Executive Officer. Canopy, formerly known as Mississippi Children’s Home Services, had recently expanded outside of the Jackson area to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Karen and John talked about the latest trends of mental health services moving to a community setting and offering solutions in the home. Karen was director of the community-based solutions, and the intensive in-home and therapeutic foster care (TFC) solutions that were providing positive outcomes by keeping children out of custody, and catalyzing statewide growth.

Karen says, “Where once I was providing oversite to the 4 offices in which we had our two original community solutions, we were now going statewide and adding another major solution. These new changes were huge and catapulted our organization into becoming a leading provider of social and behavioral health in our communities.” The impact was transformational. By bringing the help they needed to them, children could stay in the homes and schools, parents could stay at their jobs, families could continue to participate in their community.

“It has been such a blessing to work alongside so many visionary people who all fill such valuable roles throughout Canopy and share a united mission to see that the voice of every child is heard and that we are meeting their needs,” said Karen.


In 1982, Sandra Austin received a call from a dear friend about an office manager position at Mississippi Children’s Home Society, now Canopy. Her friend thought it would be a good step towards adoption. Sandra was interviewed, hired and her journey began! Over 31 years at Canopy, Sandra watched the staff increase and the solutions the organization offered grow substantially. Growth could not have been possible without the dedicated staff and supportive board of directors that believe in Canopy’s mission; to help children thrive and families overcome extraordinary challenges.

Sandra worked closely with Chris Cherney, past Canopy Chief Executive Officer. Through her decades’ service to Canopy, she wants the current staff to know, “While you might often feel you are not making a difference – you are.” And flashback to December 1982, Sandra and Robert received a call that a baby boy was up for adoption, “I believe that God has a plan for our lives, and he blessed me with a really good one.”


In 1991, Audrey Thompson, LMSW, began working with the organization when she was a sophomore at Murrah High School. During her nearly twenty-year tenure, Audrey was Canopy’s Director of Peer Education Services and Central Region Director for Community-based Services. She owes Canopy her professional aptitude and credits it with where she learned about being a leader and managing people and programs. Thriving in leadership roles, Audrey is the Community Services Manager in the Health and Family Services Department at the City of Evanston, Illinois.

Audrey’s favorite part of her job is being able to listen to the community and then drive change through programs, policies and procedures. She truly believes the words of Arthur Ashe, “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”


In 1998, Jill Pierce joined Canopy as Clinical Director. During her time, she served as Clinical Consultant, Canopy Board Member, Canopy School Board Member, Professional Practices Committee and Strategic Development. She has been involved with the organization for over 20 years, and has said that there are too many memorable moments to count. On September 11, 2001, despite the fear and uncertainty of a nation, Jill remembers the dedicated staff protecting the children in Canopy’s care and helping them process and understand what was going on in the world. It was a time of crisis, and the staff were heroes, drawn together to encircle and protect those children served.

Jill says, “As I look back on some of my most memorable moments at Canopy I am struck by the fact that despite the enormous amount of growth and change the organization has experienced since I first became a part of it in 1998, the culture, values and determination to retain a mission driven purpose have remained the same. As we look ahead to the next 110 years of service we must maintain adherence to our mission and continue to let our values and beliefs navigate our journey. We must continue to be good stewards of the opportunities we are given to change the lives of children and families and make courageous decisions towards that end.”

In 1998, Dorian Turner learned about a little-known, but extraordinary organization doing critical work in Mississippi. That is when long term-board members, Red Moffat and Helen Dalehite, spoke with Dorian about joining Canopy’s Board of Directors. Canopy is grateful that she said, “I’ll give it a try.” Over twenty years later, Dorian is still impacting Canopy’s story and recruiting others to join the team of committed and mission-driven people working day in and day out to transform the lives of children and families in need. The current annual budget is forty times larger now, and the massive growth speaks not only to the excellence of its executive leadership, but also to the scale of need that still exists in Mississippi for the work Canopy is doing.

One of Dorian’s favorite quotes is, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Working with Canopy provides Dorian an opportunity to live out that quote. As for the future, Dorian says, “I hope and expect that twenty plus years from now, I’ll still be a part of Canopy in some way and Canopy will be addressing the needs of the world; not just Mississippi.”