Good Neighbor - August 2021
- by Wendy Sullivan
From a tiny, rural Mexican village on the Guatemalan border all the way to Bay St. Louis, Mely Straub brings her faith, love, and stewardship to our community.
- by Wendy Sullivan
Compassion for those in real need – and heaven knows their numbers have grown lately – drive the wheels at this soup kitchen that is so much more.
- by Wendy Sullivan
Joan Thomas can pinpoint the moment that set her on the path to becoming a teacher – and it was a teacher that inspired that decision.
- Story by Lisa Monti
Join a tender, intimate and humorous send-off for LiLi with her Swimmin' Wimmin' friends - and read the fascinating backstory about LiLi's 80th birthday gift to the world!
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
After an executive career at top New Orleans hotels, Janice now owns Bay Life Gifts and volunteers her expertise to local tourism and relocation programs.
- story by Caitlin Bourgeois
Natalie Guess is one busy lady, and her dedicated service to making Hancock County a great place to live - and work - makes her a Shoofly Magazine Good Neighbor.
- by Lisa Monti
As director of the Hancock County Senior Center, Arlene Johnson has enriched the lives of our seniors for over 35 years.
- Story by Lisa Monti, photos by Lisa Monti and Ellis Anderson
“When they walk in the door, it’s like walking into their second home,” she says.
One enthusiastic senior, a regular at the center, shared a story about a friend who was trying to get in touch with her but didn’t have an address or phone number. The friend knew that she was a regular at the center and went there to reconnect.
“I always say our seniors are Hancock County’s most prized possessions,” says Arlene. “I have learned so much from them over the years, just listening to their stories.”
The director has known clients who worked in cotton fields, in politics, as doctors, lawyers and school administrators. “They’re from so many different walks of life but when they’re here, they’re all family,” she says.
Arlene, a Bay St. Louis native, has two adult children, Amy Johnson and Andrew Johnson, daughter-in-law Sarah Johnson and grandchildren Juvenal, Ava, A.J. and Jace. But her extended family at the center is much larger.
More than 200 seniors are registered at the Senior Center, and between 35 and 45 come every weekday. Any resident of Hancock County 60 and older is eligible to take advantage of the center’s services. The Hancock County Human Resource Agency is the senior center’s sponsoring agency.
Clients are served breakfast and lunch during the week, and they have time each day to socialize and go to classes to learn quilting, crocheting, ceramics or oil painting. They can choose to make small donations: $2 a month for classes and 50 cents for each meal. But the donations are totally voluntary, says Arlene, who still teaches ceramics on top of her duties as director.
More than one of the center’s seniors have asked Arlene to never retire, because according to them, she’s known for going above and beyond. They describe her as kind, loving, considerate and highly efficient. Arlene is quick to share praise. She’s aided by staff members Mel Raboteau and site manager Michael Robertson. Jimmy Rouse has been driving the CTA bus for 25 years. David Payne also is a CTA bus driver.
“We also have transportation throughout the county Monday through Friday,” she said. “We pick seniors up at their door, bring them to the center, and take them on any errands: to the bank, post office, doctor’s appointments or the pharmacy.
Residents who move into the local nursing home are also provided transportation to and from the center so they can continue their activities and socializing with friends.
One reason for the loyalty is the comfort older people feel there sharing with friends and staff. “If they have problems, they come to me. They are that comfortable under that roof. I just love them.”
Sometimes the love follows them home. The center is next door to the community garden which donates vegetables to the center. “In the fall we make soup every Friday and send it home with the seniors so they have an extra something for the cold weather,” Arlene said.
While Arlene’s devotion to the seniors is evident every day, the holidays are a special time to be together. On Thanksgiving Day she cooks a big meal for clients who don’t have a place to go. She picks up those who don’t have a way to get to the center and welcomes neighbors of clients who are alone to join in.
“I feel like I’m blessed to have Thanksgiving with them,” she says.
Another special event started seven years ago is the Hancock County Senior Citizen Prom, which is a “super duper” party with dancing, a special meal and door prizes donated by local businesses. It’s one special way to brighten the lives of seniors who are often alone.
“It’s awesome,” said Arlene, who is co-chair of the prom committee.
In-house programs that Arlene schedules provide information to clients on health and financial matters, nutrition and other helpful topics. She’s also a member of the Seniors and Law Enforcement Together council which presents programs to the seniors on things such as fraud and gun safety.
But it’s not all about seniors receiving information, care and companionship. Under Arlene’s direction, seniors have opportunities to continue giving and serving the community. During the holidays, the seniors hold a toy drive for needy children in Hancock County along with the Misfits Car Cruisers, a local car club.
The senior quilters are currently making lap throws for nursing home residents for Christmas. “It’s just a little something seniors can do for others,” she said.
Although Arlene and the staff at the senior center help out their clients in many ways, she hopes others would see the benefit of helping, even in small ways. “I wish that people would look at our elderly a little bit differently. Sometimes a smile does wonders for them.”
In his job for the state and his role as a volunteer community leader, Gregory Barabino covers all the bases when it comes to Hancock County’s youth - and more.
- Story by Lisa Monti
photos by Ellis Anderson and courtesy Gregory Barabino
Greg was born in Florida and grew up in Bay St. Louis, where he attended local schools from kindergarten through graduation from Bay High. For more than a decade he lived in New Orleans, where he owned an international nightclub that was lost in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The large venue was DJ-driven and showcased musicians from Trinidad and Jamaica.
When he moved back to the Bay in 2008, Greg said he was disappointed to find that there were few African American businesses operating, and that the city was still segregated in many ways.
He joined the Hancock County NAACP branch more than six years ago and has served as president for most of that time.
“Our focus is on political issues, education issues and cultural awareness,” he said. “Businessmen cannot do anything to promote or advocate for African Americans if we don’t have that mindset.”
In addition to his full-time job, Greg owns Greg B Productions, an entertainment company that creates and produces shows.
“I have a DJ, and I emcee and also DJ if I have to. We do music and cultural events, but all positive. It’s something missing in our marketplace. We do only positive experiences, mixing entertainment and culture. I call it EDUtainment.”
His interest in education led him to start a tutoring program called Reading Buddies to help residents of all ages. “The community as a whole has a reading deficit, adults and kids, across the board. There needs to be a cultural change.”
In August alone, he produced two events for young people. The Second Saturday Back to School Block Party was designed educate the community, especially families, on what nonprofit organizations and services are available to them that they might not otherwise know about.
The idea was to bring a focus on life skills and support, he said. About 50 kids showed up for face painting and music and to learn about scholarships and careers. “It was good participation and a good response,” he said.
A Back to School Party with a Purpose was held along with the Bay-Waveland Middle School Fellowship of Christian Students. The $5 admission fee raised hundreds of dollars for the Women’s Job Corps program. That’s the purpose for the partying, he said.
He hopes to be able to have more events during the school year as resources become available.
“My goal is to work with kids by giving them entertainment but throwing in life skills that they can’t get elsewhere. There's no place for kids to gather other than sports. I use the platform of education and bring in other aspects they can learn.”
Greg also is a member of the Rotary Club and is on the board of both the Boys and Girls Club and 100 Men Hall, where he helps out with parking or working the door during events.
100 Men Hall owner Rachel Dangermond said, “I met Greg when I called after my offer was accepted on the Hall – he said he was interested in doing youth activities at the Hall. I said I was too!
“Then he offered to bring some friends and help me unload on moving day. It was a no-brainer to ask him to be on our board, and since then Greg has played an active role in the Hall, helping us keep it a cultural touchstone for the community. “
Greg and his wife, Eileen, have a daughter Gabrielle, who is a senior at Bay High this year. Gabrielle was named Homecoming Queen just last week. She is talented as well as beautiful – Dad says she plays in the band and is “a track star.”
With all of his work responsibilities and community involvement, the community organizer has little leisure time for much else but music. “I especially love listening to R&B, Hip Hop and Jazz.”
In January, Greg was honored by the NAACP in recognition of his contributions and service to the youth of Hancock County. He was presented with the 2019 NAACP Community Service Award as part of the local celebration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King.
“I encourage people to be neighbors again and not isolate themselves,” Greg said. “I also encourage everybody to do what is in the best interest of the whole community, to associate with each other and communicate instead of being isolated.”
The Hancock County judge is a true "supporter of things that really matter" - particularly our children. The new "Halls of Hope" art collection in the Youth Court is just one project he recently launched to improve lives - and spirits.
- Story by Lisa Monti, photos by Ellis Anderson
The Bar Association award, he says, “really belongs to all the people associated with the court system. I can’t move the needle myself. It’s not just me.”
Trent believes it takes “a lot of hard-working, intuitive, out-of-the-box thinkers” to make things happen and get results. “It’s all about partnerships, working with people, listening and problem solving,” Favre says, “and a lot of training is needed, too. We’re not the best, but we’re trying to be.”
In December 2017, Gov. Phil Bryant appointed S. (for Samuel) Trent Favre as the first Hancock County Court Judge, citing his extensive legal experience, including working as Bay St. Louis city attorney, previous experience as an assistant prosecutor for Bay St. Louis and Hancock County Justice Court and many years at private law firms.
In accepting the appointment Trent said, “As a lifelong resident of Hancock County, it has been my greatest privilege to serve my community in various ways. I am tremendously appreciative of this new opportunity to serve and I will do all I can to be a faithful servant of the laws of our great state and country.”
Concerned that the courtroom was grim and forbidding, Trent Favre engaged the help of local artists, who were provided with canvases and asked to paint something with a "hope" theme. The 20+ paintings are now hanging in the lobby, the courtroom and the halls, so when young people come in, they're surrounded with cheerful images instead of blank walls. this painting was done by city prosecutor, Raymond Lee “Ed” Edwards.
Practicing law and serving the community go hand-in-hand in the Favre family. Trent’s father, Sam Favre, was an attorney who passed away when Trent was in high school. “He left a strong legacy of community service,“ Trent said.
He remembers his father’s clients who couldn’t afford legal fees leaving watermelons or collard greens in the family carport as payment. “My dad did not live beyond his means,” Trent said. “He thought it was important to be modest.”
Trent saw the legal profession as a way to provide service to the community and change things for the better. He graduated cum laude from Millsaps College in Jackson in 1996 with a bachelor of arts in philosophy and earned his juris doctorate from University of Mississippi School of Law in 1999.
In law school, he served on the staff of the Mississippi Law Journal, was chosen law school student body secretary and was appellate director of the Moot Court Board. Trent has been a member of the Mississippi Bar Association’s Commission on Character and Fitness since 2012.
Cathy Wilson, Community Coach with Mississippi’s Excel by 5 early childhood development program, worked closely with Trent on the Hancock Chamber Education Committee, which he chaired.
“He’s been a great supporter of things that really matter,” Cathy said. She credits Trent with initiating the Bookworm reading program and he was the first steering chair for Hancock County Excel by 5. “He’s very passionate about empowering teachers, students and families,” she said.
Cathy describes Trent as “a great father and mentor and a man of great faith.” He’s also super organized, with a penchant for notecards. “We tease him about it,” she said. “He is a very organized guy.”
Trent and his wife, Shannon, will celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary in August. They and their two children live in the Favre family home, built in 1859 in Kiln. Katie is 13 years old and Sam is 11.
“He is the sixth Sam to live in the house,” Trent noted. Trent credits his mother, Pat, for helping shape his religious beliefs and moral convictions, and to mind his manners and be respectful.
The Favres are members of First Baptist Church in Bay St. Louis where he was a Sunday school teacher for 15 years and sang in the choir. His feels his faith has prepared him for his job, especially learning to be compassionate and not dismiss people for their mistakes.
“Knowing I’ve got faults in my life, I can look at people and say we can get you on the right path. Every person is worthy of attention and concern."
Trent said his job is a two-for-one role. As County Judge, he can hear civil cases under his jurisdiction. Youth Court falls under the County Court umbrella, and this is where issues of families and children are resolved. “The goal was to get Youth Court under control. It’s where my heart is, to make sure it runs properly."
Trent said his judicial position allows him to harness resources to help people in the court system and form teams to help families get out of difficult situations.
“We all need to be working together to make sure that we’re getting to people who need help. That brings us back to partnerships with people who have done incredible jobs to help support the court and make it successful.”
One of Favre's first projects as judge was "Halls of Hope." Concerned that the courtroom was grim and forbidding, the judge engaged the help of local artists, who were provided with canvases and asked to paint something with a "hope" theme.
The 20+ paintings are now hanging in the lobby, the courtroom and the halls. Now when young people come in, they're surrounded with cheerful images instead of blank walls.
While the decision to leave private practice was a difficult one, Trent said it was the right choice for him.
“I love Hancock County and my job. It’s not a job because I totally feel like I’m able to do what I’ve always wanted to do, impact the lives of people in Hancock County. I look at it as a blessing.”
A driving force behind some of the community's most dynamic organizations, Dina Rosetti has found her "giving place" in Bay St. Louis
- story by Denise Jacobs
That “giving place” has been a theme in Rosetti’s life. One of those lucky young women who know exactly what they want out of life, Rosetti made a conscious decision upon graduation from the University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg) in 1990 to live a life that would make a difference. But where?
At university, Rosetti put her volunteer skills to work for the Ronald McDonald House via the Alpha Delta Pi Sorority in which Rosetti held a number of offices while earning her bachelor’s degree in clothing merchandise and marketing.
By the time she graduated, Rosetti—then Dina Hitt—understood her giving place was her own hometown, Bay St. Louis.
The Princess Dress Shoppe was the first job Rosetti worked after turning to Bay St. Louis. She later moved on to the insurance industry and worked for two local agencies. Now, Rosetti and her husband John own and operate Rosetti’s Liquor Barrel on Highway 90.
Rosetti’s “volunteer career” track has also evolved through the years. When she first returned to the Bay after college she volunteered with the Hancock County Exchange Club, where she held more than one office and twice received the member-of-the-year award. During the same period, she was on the advisory board for the Family Child Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse.
In the mid 90s, Rosetti’s volunteerism became personal when Scott Demboski, the husband of her best friend, lost his life in a train accident. Seeking to memorialize Demboski, Rosetti dedicated herself to creating what is now known as the Bay Area Youth Soccerplex but was then christened the Scott Demboski Memorial Soccerplex (on Longfellow Drive). If she wasn’t busy securing the grounds, raising money, or purchasing equipment, she was bringing lunch to the trustees who were clearing the property.
Through the years, Rosetti became a key member of the Bay-Waveland Yacht Club. She remembers the club as a haven for her family after Katrina—“a place that felt like home.” It was there that her son, Luke, developed the sailing skills he needed to later win high school national championships.
In 2017, Rosetti became the venerable club’s second female commodore. As commodore, she had no manager or assistant manager, so she was just as likely to be found bussing tables as making executive decisions.
Bay resident and club member Liz Maio remembers passing the yacht club after a serious storm and finding Rosetti clearing debris from the club grounds. “As commodore, Dina could have tasked any number of people with the job,” Maio says. “Yet there she was – the first one on the job.”
Rosetti also has served as the Junior Yacht Club coordinator from 2008-2016 and currently volunteers on the Food and Beverage Committee and the Entertainment Committee, in addition to serving as secretary for the Past Commodore Society.
Krewes and clubs have played a large role in Rosetti’s life. While the Mystic Krewe of the Seahorse is front and center now, Rosetti has been a member of the Krewe of Nereids for 26 years and was an officer for 21.
While no longer a casting member, the parking lot of Rosetti’s Liquor Barrel is ground zero for one of the biggest Nereids’ pre-parade parties in town.
Rosetti’s business is as active as its owner. In early May, Rosetti’s Liquor Barrel organized Bourbon on the Bay, its second benefit for the Starfish Café’s experiential education program. The business has also sponsored benefits to help allay the expenses of individuals in need of hospitalizations, etc.
Besides bettering and boosting the Bay/Waveland community, Rosetti has found volunteering a great way to meet new people or, alternatively, introduce new people to the community.
She credits her involvement with the Mystic Krewe of the Seahorse with friendships she’s established with transplants from parts far and wide, and she loves sharing her knowledge of Mardi Gras and the Bay/Waveland festival scene with newbies.
Dina’s husband, John Rosetti, is current president of Mystic Krewe of the Seahorse. While it’s true that Krewe members don their most swashbuckling outfits, Pirate Day in the Bay is not about the costumes. The event was created to help foster local economic development—and revelry, of course.
As the Krewe’s biggest fundraiser, Pirate Day garnered well over $10,000 in revenue last year, all of which was returned to the local community via various nonprofits.
The Krewe supports local business throughout the year, as well. Just a handful of Krewe members six years ago, now anywhere from 70-125 of its 300 members meet once a month at a different local business.
Like many Krewe members, Rosetti has a closet full of costumes—a closet and a half, actually, filled with pirate wear, Mardi Gras outfits, and wigs in every color of the rainbow. She has come a long way since her first Pirate Day in the Bay outfit—one of those “thin, store-bought Halloween pirate costumes.” If you look at my Facebook page, you will see that I will dress up in anything,” Rosetti says.
Rosetti’s suggestion to wannabe pirates is to start with one or two pieces—a simple white blouse, for example, or a gaudy coin necklace, and build from there. “Be creative,” she says. “It grows on you.” Now, after six years as a pirate, Rosetti sees costume possibilities everywhere she goes.
Rosetti offers the same sort of “start small” advice to residents who want to get involved. “Find an organization that supports your passion and start there,” she says.
As a person who has served in all aspects of volunteer spectrum—from delivering lunches to managing the finances to bussing tables, Rosetti has found that even the seemingly smallest efforts have big consequences.
After a fulfilling career in education, Davis "retired" to a second career in social service, one that has both uplifted and inspired the lives of those around her.
- story by Denise K. Jacobs, photos by Ellis Anderson
Spoken like an award-winning social worker.
Upon further thought, she sums it up with, “making the world a better place.” Being a good neighbor means making the world a better place, and Pat Davis knows that she has been fortunate enough to do just that.
Born to parents in their 40s, Davis had the benefit of being a much-loved and welcomed child. She uses the word “spoiled” to describe her upbringing, mentioning a father who was willing to help her pursue any and all interests, once driving young Patricia to weekly tennis lessons 50 miles away.
“I lucked out big in the parents and friends department,” she says.
Luck can only take a person so far. Davis’ long strand of academic achievement garnered her the ability to work on issues that have interested her at the local, state, and global levels. She began with a bachelor’s degree in English from the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina, her home state.
Later, she earned a master’s in English Literature at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti; a MSW at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor); a PhD at the Tulane University School of Social Work in New Orleans; and a master’s of Public Health at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
With an Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics position at the Tulane School of Medicine came the opportunity to teach and take full advantage of the tuition reimbursement plan available to the children of Tulane faculty.
Davis chuckles to recall a “wonderful benefit” of teaching at Tulane: “Three of my children attended Tulane, and I probably received more in tuition-reimbursement benefits for my children than I did in salary!”
In practice, Davis was the only PhD on the Pediatric Faculty among a host of MDs. Her position was funded by a grant to encourage medical schools to take a “biopsychosocial approach” in their training programs. In other words, Davis emphasized the importance of understanding human health and illness in their fullest contexts. She taught about the psychological and social issues in health care while the MDs focused on biological aspects.
In the last phase of her pre-retirement career before moving to the Bay, Davis directed the Medical Social Services Division of the Louisiana State Office of Public Health and the Department of Health and Hospitals for almost a decade.
Upon retirement, she fully intended to relax and enjoy their home on Felicity Street in Bay St. Louis with her husband, Richard Waldsmith, a chemical engineer. The couple designed and built their home from the ground up. She laughs as she remembers the process.
“We had a strict building inspector at the time who told us we couldn’t do our own electrical wiring. Now, my husband was smart and could read directions,” she explains, “so he told the building inspector that he would like to take the same test as those licensed to wire.
“And he did. And he passed! So, when Katrina flooded the house to the attic, we were able to put it together again because we had built it and knew where every piece of house belonged.”
A self-described “junker,” Davis pointed with pride to two doors opening onto the back yard. She purchased them from a Green Project salvage store in New Orleans, not having a use for them at the time. Several years later, they became a focal point in her home. Davis says that most of the house is built from recycled matericals, including the windows, which were found at Carrolton Salvage Yard (also in New Orleans).
As we segue back to the Davis family’s move to Bay St. Louis, “Dr. Pat,” as she is affectionately known, recalls that Betty Spencer, her dear friend and social worker, encouraged her to teach at the University of Southern Mississippi. Together the two women forged community alliances that very much helped to make this corner of the world—at the very least—a better place.
While Davis had more experience in domestic violence and homelessness issues, Spencer’s main expertise was in mental health. Davis also had extensive experience working in New Orleans organizations dealing with violence against women. In the early 1990s, Mayor Mark Morial appointed her to the city’s first task force on domestice violence. She had also represented the Louisiana Health Department on Unity for the Homeless.
Davis credits Spencer with involving her in a group that founded the Open Doors Continuum of Care for the Homeless coalition and for her service as a board member for eight years.
“Betty disrupted my intention to sit on my rocking chair and rest on my laurels rather than take an active role in Mississippi advocacy activities,” says Davis.
Open Doors is still a thriving organization dedicated to raising awareness by building bridges within the community and acting as a unified force dedicated to preventing, reducing, and ending homelessness.
Davis had served on the Louisiana National Association of Social Workers (NASW) board and had not planned to be so involved in Mississippi. Yet, Spencer insisted that her friend also become an active member in the local NASW Program Unit. That led to Davis serving on the Mississippi State Social Work Board of Directors for two terms.
“Being friends with Betty gave me easier acceptance into leadership roles in my new community,” Davis says. “In retrospect, I am extremely grateful that my beloved friend Betty used her finely honed leadership and advocacy skills on me.”
Davis adds that it was a great source of pleasure that she and Spencer were named NASW Pioneers in the same group of ten “inductees” in 2012. Unfortunately, Betty had died in 2010 and was not able to attend the banquet in the NASW Building in Washington, D.C.
In 2015, Davis received the Woman’s College Legacy Award from the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina, her undergraduate college.
Dr. Pat has many other awards to her credit, including the Mayor of New Orleans’ Citizen of Merit Award for Contributions to Domestic Violence Prevention (1993) and the coveted National Association of Social Worker’s (NASW) Schenthal Leadership Award, Orleans Region (1995).
Also, Davis is credited in Feminists who Changed America 1963-1975 (Barbara J. Love) for her work on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, her presentations on women’s issues at universities across the country, and her advocacy work on behalf of healthcare services for women.
Davis's husband Rich passed away in September of last year. Now Davis seems to have finally retired and finds herself catching up on her reading. She calls herself an “audio booker” and explains with a touch of self deprecation that she tries to alternate between light reading—mostly detective stories with female protagonists—and biographies and autobiographies, Ruth Bader Ginsberg: A Life, the latest.
In Dr. Pat’s experience, following her passion has been a good guide for living. She's made significant contributions toward her goal of "making the world a better place," while enriching her own life - and those around her - in the process.
This volunteer extraordinaire finds that she gets more out of community service than she gives - including a lot of fun.
- story by Denise Jacobs
For Bernie, nursing was an external response to an internal call, one inspired by her maternal Cajun grandmother, a “nurturing, caring, spiritual role model.” Cullen remembers her grandma as her “safe space.”
“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.”
By all accounts, Bernie Cullen has arrived.
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.’”
One of Cullen’s first volunteer involvements was with New Orleans’ Relay for Life in 1991. Relay, the biggest fundraiser effort for the American Cancer Society both internationally and nationally, was dear to Cullen’s heart because of her nursing experience in oncology and her personal experience as a mother (Cullen’s son, Joey, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010).
“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.
“I see so many people improved by the money the American Cancer Society raises,” she says.
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.
Cullen’s volunteer experience has grown exponentially since her first experience as a retiree living in Waveland, when she felt an impulse to “beautify the city.” While the impulse extends into the present in so many ways, it began with Keep Waveland Beautiful.
“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.
The first thing Cullen will tell you about volunteering is that “fit” is important.
“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 Hancock County Library System is also a good fit for Bernie. “I’ve loved books since I was a little girl,” she says, “and the library was a place of refuge for me, so being able to work on behalf of the Library System is a labor of love. It’s an opportunity to give back,” and that’s what she’s been doing during her six years on the board, which she vice-chairs.
Every one of Cullen’s volunteer places gives her something in return. As a member of the Bay St. Louis Little Theater Guild, where husband Terry surprised her by pursuing an acting career in his retirement, Bernie has found the unexpected.
“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!”
The unexpected has found its way into Cullen’s involvement with the Arts Hancock County, as well. “I am not an artist,” she says. “I don’t sculpt or paint or take photos, but I have enjoyed this year with the arts.”
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.”
Are there drawbacks to such a deep commitment to community service? Nothing that outweighs the joy factor.
“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 think being a good neighbor comes from within. I think you can be a good neighbor in a small town or a big town, but in a bigger town like New Orleans, your “neighborhood” might become Relay for Life as opposed to your physical neighborhood.
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.
Jeni Ward & Backpack Buddies
A new program approaches a difficult problem with an out-of-the-box solution - literally. Meet the organizers and find out how you can help keep local children from going hungry.
- by Pat Saik