Counselor Education Alumna Directs Haven Acres Boys and Girls Club
When Pontotoc native Stephanie Parrish came to the University of Mississippi, her goal was to become a child trauma psychologist. However, she came to realize that a career as a psychologist would involve more research than hands-on interaction with children. Since her motivation was rooted in directly assisting people facing hardship, she decided that counseling was the better choice for her.
Counseling, like psychology, requires a graduate degree, as well as certification and licensure. After coming from Itawamba Community College to the university for her undergraduate studies, Parrish chose to remain in Oxford for her Master’s. “I had fallen in love with the campus and the school during undergrad,” she said. “As cliche as it sounds, I just felt like Ole Miss is where I was supposed to be. My original plan was to move to North Carolina after high school.” Parrish is hardly the first to be swayed by the beauty of the university and the sense of belonging it conveys.
While her long-term objective is still to obtain her licensure in counseling, Parrish currently serves as the Unit Director for the Haven Acres Boys and Girls Club in Tupelo, a position she likens to that of a school principal. Her involvement in the BGC began while she was earning her B.A. in Psychology.
Of her experience there, she said, “I worked at the Oxford clubhouse as part of the College Corp. program during undergrad. At that time I worked with the seven, eight, and nine year-old girls. I fell in love with those kids and with the overall BGC mission, so I knew that I wanted to try to find a way to volunteer in some capacity with BGC after that assignment ended. I never imagined that I would be over a clubhouse at that time or even as I was finishing up my master’s degree.”
Indeed, Parrish earned her Master’s degree in Counselor Education in August of 2015 and became Unit Director in November, a scant three months later. In her principal-like role, Parrish says, “My staff and I do homework help; I communicate with parents and help build and foster community partnerships. BGC is primarily grant funded, so I have to monthly reports that show what programs we are running and how much participation we have.”
The Boys and Girls Club is after-school program serving children from ages six to eighteen, offering programs on character, leadership development, healthy lifestyles, and academic success.
Her position at the BGC more than fulfills Parrish’s original desire for hands-on interaction with children. “All of our programs are geared toward helping kids make good decisions in all aspects of life. I have about 65 kids that attend my club regularly,” she said, “and I try to really invest in their lives and help them in whatever way I can. My goal is to make sure my kids feel accepted and cared for, whether that is through my direct communication with them or through coming up with new programs and activities that they will enjoy…My short-term goal is to help my organization be more successful and more impactful in the community I serve.”
The BGC also provides Parrish with the opportunity see the children in her care grow in so many ways. She said, “For me the most rewarding things is seeing my kids succeed. Whether it is a child who goes from a D/F average to an A/B average or seeing kids who start out with very little social interaction make friends and start participating in the club and school… Everything I do or plan is with the goal of giving my kids the best experience possible–an experience they wouldn’t necessarily get if they weren’t at the club.” Her care and dedication to the boys and girls for whom the club is named make her speedy post-graduation promotion feel utterly deserved.
Parrish cites a handful of professors she worked and studied with at the university as mentors who contributed to her success and skill level. Her advisor, Dr. Marc Showalter, was, she said, “absolutely invaluable in helping me achieve my Master’s degree.”
Showalter offered glowing praise of his former student, saying, “From the first time I met Stephanie, it was clear that she wanted to make a difference in the world and to help people. During her practicum and internship, she continued to develop her counseling skills and created positive and caring relationships with her clients. She was always looking for ways to grow as a professional and as a person.”
Along with Dr. Showalter, she also mentioned Dr. Josh Magruder as a standout professor; she sought out not only as many of their classes as she could take, but also their advice and guidance. During her internship at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Parrish worked with Dr. Rebekah Reysen, who she credits along with Dr. Showalter for fine-tuning her skills and helping her see what kind of work she hopes to do.
Her former advisor was quick to give Stephanie credit for her talents and caring for the children with whom she works. “Since she’s been at the Boys and Girls Club,” he said, “she has made such a difference in the lives of so many kids. She obviously loves the kids she works with and cares very much about them and wants to help them. It’s been so wonderful to see her have an opportunity to do this work and for the community to get to see just how much she has to offer. I had no doubt that Stephanie would be a success wherever she landed and that has certainly happened. I could not be more proud of her. She is a fabulous representative our program and the counseling profession.”
Magruder, another influence, remembers Parrish fondly. “She was bright, eager to learn, worked well with others, but her passion for counseling set her apart from other students. The passion she had for her client and how to advocate for them was always impressive.”
Parrish’s passion for helping children is not limited to either counseling or the BGC, but rather the world as a whole, and she encourages others to find their passion in philanthropy as well. “The message I try to communicate to others is to really get involved and find some sort of community service project to be passionate about. There are so many people in need in our society, and the world really needs more examples of caring and love. Whether you choose the Boys & Girls Club or some other service project, do something for others. That is the legacy people will remember. Our generation is uniquely positioned to make a big impact on America and the world in general.”
By Katelyn Miller