Life has been a spiritual search for stability and acceptance for Rena ‘Cain, starting from a childhood spent in a foster home.
“As a child, I was teased horribly for speaking correctly and choosing my words,” said Cain, 52, of Vicksburg. “I have been told that I am not like the rest of my friends and family.”
Host family life only led to a longer journey to reunite. She was sent to high school in Michigan, where other parents lived, and then spent more than 20 years in retail management. Ten of those years were spent working in stores in and around Las Vegas before returning to Mississippi. She honed her relationship skills in retail, but in the end it was just a job, not a career.
“The two chain stores I worked for have gone out of business and left Las Vegas,” Cain said. “I was looking for who I was after that,” she said. “Working in retail, I was just following the conditioning of going to work, coming home, supporting my two children. There were too many reps in my cycle. I realized that I am more than my job. So it was a question of who am I, really?
Cain had only a brief stint in technical school under his belt in post-secondary education. Still, a fleeting suggestion from a friend and a self-reflection was enough to bring her back to school, where she thrives in several classes on the campus of Hinds Community College Vicksburg-Warren.
“When I got back to Vicksburg and signed up for school, I had no idea what I was going to do,” she said. “I was in my third term here, still wondering what to do. Then I heard this little girl in my head – the one who used to be teased for her speech – and she said, ‘This same thing that you were teased about will be your saving grace.’ And that’s how I chose to pursue speech therapy. “
This semester, she managed to balance four classes with being a grandmother of five and day work with residents of a local nursing home.
“My dad is quadriplegic and I sit with him, which turned into a paid job at the retirement home,” Cain said. “The reward for me is helping people who are making the transition towards the end of their life. I give them peace.
A mix of academic courses and basic public speaking leads Cain to his goal of earning several degrees in speech therapy after his transfer from Hinds. His instructors are in awe of his persistence.
“Rena ‘is a student of commitment and as we all know commitment is key in college,” said Karen Gamble, instructor of Cain’s public speaking class. “She wants her education and her diploma, and she shows it in every class, in every assignment and on every test. She is also an outstanding representative of non-traditional students who have chosen to return to school after years of absence, despite all the reasons not to try. She has a fastidious full-time job, has a family and always makes her education a priority. I wish we could clone his attitude and his tenacity.
Hinds turned out to be more than just a vehicle for her academics, she said.
“Hinds helped me remove my diapers as a person and see parts of myself that I didn’t know existed,” she said. “There are things that I had not experienced before, having only a brief technical college education. I heard things that I had never heard from teachers, mostly words of encouragement.
These daily affirmations are a welcome change for her, as someone who heard the exact opposite from adults growing up.
“My spirituality has always been to seek out my inner Rena, this little girl who grew up in a foster family, and to help her heal. It was about helping her grow, feel safe and make her a more valued person than she was told to grow up. “
Speech-language pathologists, or speech-language pathologists, work with a number of communication and language disorders. Cain wants to work with children, with the different twist of his own experience in mind.
“I would like to work with children who have speech problems,” she said. “I want to catch them before they get discouraged.”