Suffolk native receives award for work

Published 9:50 pm Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Suffolk native and associate church pastor was one of three honorees in a national conference in Richmond last week.

Sylvia Copeland-Murphy, a community resources officer for the Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority and also the assistant pastor at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Suffolk, received the award from the National Counseling Group during its third annual conference in Richmond Oct. 7. The other honorees were Karen Schultz, of Winchester, and Jane Lanham, of Colonial Heights.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Copeland-Murphy said. “I said, ‘Why did y’all pick me?’ I just felt like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. They said I went the extra mile.”

The National Counseling Group is a private organization established in 1993 to provide an outpatient program designed to address the needs of people suffering from the combination of mental health and substance abuse disorders. The organization knew of Copeland-Murphy’s work because the Newport News housing authority often contracted with the counseling group to help residents in need.

As the community resources officer, Copeland-Murphy helps residents in need of any type of resource, from money for utilities to workshops for independent living and parenting skills. She and her staff also collect money for and award scholarships to residents, partners with local organizations to give away bicycles, holds career expos specifically for residents, and gets trained volunteers to prepare and file residents’ taxes for free. Copeland-Murphy also writes grants to help fund the authority’s numerous resident outreach programs.

Copeland-Murphy said while she and her staff consider all they do their job, the National Counseling Group saw it as “the extra mile.”

“They said they had never seen anybody do as much as our division did for a group of people,” Copeland-Murphy said.

The work she and her staff do for their residents improves the public housing system, Copeland-Murphy said.

“Without this, the system would be worse than what some people deem it already is,” Copeland-Murphy said. “People always hear the bad stuff. People become self-sufficient, but nobody hears about it.”

Copeland-Murphy wouldn’t take credit for her work, saying that she networks others to gather resources for the residents.

“I network so much in the community,” she said. “I have a multiplicity of partnerships in the community, because it can’t be done alone.”

Being an assistant pastor at Oak Grove Baptist Church also helps her do her day job, Copeland-Murphy said.

“Ministry is what I do,” she said. “The people, loving them, helping them, getting the resources that they need, that’s just second nature for me.”

Copeland-Murphy called the award from the counseling group a “nice gesture.”

“I want this office to be a reliable pipeline people can come to to find love, support and other resources in the community,” Copeland-Murphy said.