Elementary school nurse finds joy in gardening during summer

Published 8:30 am Saturday, July 15, 2023

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As summer vacation continues, Bob Harding Shawmut Elementary nurse Brenda Strickland is soaking up the summer sun in her garden at home.

“I love the summer,” Strickland said. “My fingernails are always dirty because I’m in the yard.”

She finds her happy place when the plants begin to flourish under her fingertips. 

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“It’s the best feeling when you work and work and work, and everything blooms, and you’re like, ‘yeah, I did it right,’” she said. 

Strickland, a Beulah native, got her nursing degree from Southern Union. After working in many different fields, she became a school nurse for Chambers County School District. 

She has worked for the district for the past 14 years and now serves at Bob Harding Shawmut Elementary School. 

Strickland knew she wanted to be a nurse after being inspired by her best friend, who had to get a kidney transplant. After the transplant, she went to nursing school and worked in dialysis.

“Which was exactly where she needed to be,” Strickland said. “And she was my hero. I’ve never met a more hard-working, dedicated person than her, and she made me want to be a nurse.”

Though she has loved working there, Strickland said she never expected to work as a school nurse. 

“If you told me I’d be working with the ‘little bitties,’ I would say you were out of your mind, but it’s the most fun I’ve ever had,” she said. 

Strickland said it has been easy to fall in love with the job. The easiest part of her day is interacting with the community’s children. She said they all feel like they’re her children at times. 

“It’s an awesome profession. It really is. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always pretty, but it is a wonderful profession,” Strickland said. “You have the opportunity to touch so many lives in a positive way.”

Strickland and her husband still live in Beulah with their two dogs and one cat. As a homebody, she finds many of her companions in the flowers and plants she nourishes. Strickland also enjoys crafting. She began a side business called Hummingbird Hollow, in which she sells mod-podge planters and paintings. 

“I get up and out of bed when the sun comes up even during summer vacation. I’m up and in the yard,” Strickland said. “It just makes me very happy.”

While her garden helps her get out of bed every day, Strickland has learned to appreciate every morning for another reason. In 2020, she became the patient instead of the nurse at the University of Alabama at Birmingham while she underwent surgery. 

As the world buckled under the threat of COVID-19, Strickland was battling a health crisis of her own with lung cancer. 

“They emptied out UAB too and sent me home,” she said. “And just six months later, I found out I had breast cancer.”

Still, throughout her cancer journey, Strickland received unconditional support from her coworkers and employers at Chambers County School District. 

“I didn’t have to worry about having a job when I finally got well,” Strickland said. “I was out for a long time, and they were so good to me. I can’t even explain to you how good they were to me.”

During her journey, Strickland said she had coworkers who invited her to ask questions, and she gained a lot by talking with friends who had been through similar battles.

“You always hear about, ‘Oh it’s just the best people to work for,’” Strickland said. “Chambers County really is a good place to work. These people went above and beyond.”

Strickland ended up going through a bilateral mastectomy. Since recovering and coming back to work, her philosophy has shifted. 

“People say, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff.’ It’s all small stuff,” Strickland said. “I woke up this morning, and that’s a blessing that I don’t take for granted anymore. Little bitty things just mean so much more to me now.”

As the 2023-2024 school year approaches, Strickland praised her fellow nurses. She said she feels confident that Carla Anthony, CCSD’s new lead nurse, will make a great impact on the district.

“She’s going to do Chambers County proud,” she said.