Good Neighbor - Jan/Feb 2019
- story by Denise Jacobs
Bernie Cullen grew up on the West Bank in Algiers and attended the Hotel Dieu School of Nursing in New Orleans, graduating in 1967. From there, she continued to pursue nursing credentials and nursing opportunities for the next 51 years, always bettering herself and always finding opportunities for service.
“My nursing friends and I laugh,” she says,” because we thought we were so mature back then. We had people’s lives in our hands in our 20s!”
“I think,” Cullen muses, "if back then Grandma had had a profession, it would have been nursing. She may not have had the title, but she was the family’s first nurse . . . I knew that if I could just be one iota of that woman, I could consider myself successful.”
In August of 2018, the Hancock County Chamber recognized Cullen as one of Hancock County’s Outstanding Citizens, citing her numerous volunteer commitments. Bernie’s response to the recognition is rooted in gratitude.
“The community has embraced me and my family,” she says. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
“I’ve always been a joiner,” she notes, “from high school on. I always wanted to meet more people in the community. I never realized how many people I’d met until the Chamber Gala this year. I looked around the room that night, and I thought, ‘I know these people.’”
“It’s one thing to love your patients and help them through cancer,” she says, “and quite another when it’s your own child.”
Cullen is currently the chair of the Hancock County Relay for Life 2019 kick-off event and fundraiser, Dancing with the Relay Stars, scheduled for Saturday, January 26, at the Hollywood Casino.
Of all Cullen’s volunteer commitments, Relay tops the list. Cullen says she can’t imagine not being involved in the organization in some way for as long as she lives.
“Beautifying gardens was within my comfort zone. I knew that I could pull weeds and prune trees, and I wanted to know more about gardening.” It was a good fit. Now, she is one of the co-chairs of KWB.
“It needs to be a good fit. If it’s not the right fit for you, you can’t give them what they need, and you’re going to feel that it’s just work. I’ve done work. I’m not going to not get paid and not have fun. If I’m not getting paid for something, then it’s not going to be work; it’s going to be fun.”
For newbies interested in not getting paid for having fun, Cullen recommends the Hancock County Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), where she serves on the Advisory Board.
“You can basically pick and choose what you want to do with RSVP,” she says. “It’ so much fun! You don’t have to commit to anything long term—just a few hours will help.”
The quality and quantity of volunteers from across the country has touched Cullen, a Ground Zero Museum volunteer herself.
“I know a lot of people don’t want to rehash Katrina,” she notes, “but I think there is beauty in the resiliency of the people on the Gulf Coast, and it seems to me the Museum helps us look at losses and gains.”
“In supporting my husband as an actor, I have found another family,” she says. “You won’t find me on the stage, but I can read plays and weed gardens!”
As Board secretary, Cullen brings a sense of organization to the group, a skill she attributes to her nursing career. “As a nurse, you have a process. You’re organized. I often bring my nursing experience to my volunteer role.”
“Every six months, religiously, I look at what I’m involved in,” Cullen explains, “and I find there’s not one thing I want to give up. To me, if you work for your passion in community service, then you get the joy.” Still, at this point, she notes, “the bucket is full.”
What interests Cullen currently is mentoring. “I don’t want to be in the spotlight,” she says. “I want to help others have their day.” These fortunate “others” could not find themselves in more capable hands.
Bernie's thoughts on being a Good Neighbor
I grew up in the small community of Algiers. When I moved to Waveland, I felt the same sense of community/proximity as in Algiers, but my volunteer experience here has been more diverse than I ever thought it could be.
I have gone from Relay to the Arts Council to the Guild for the Little Theater. What I love is that one event allows me to be a good neighbor to so many other people I haven’t met. It’s not about where you are but who you are.