Since 1989, Nancy Guerry has been instrumental in helping Golden Triangle residents in need.
As Helping Hands executive director, she has filled food pantries, helped coordinate disaster relief, implemented fan drives during hot summer months, among other things.
On Tuesday, she retired as head of the nonprofit. The board of directors gave her a gift basket during a small retirement celebration on Tuesday at Renasant Bank on 18th Avenue North.
New Executive Director Jennifer Garrard took over Wednesday.
What Helping Hands does
The faith-based nonprofit ministry, at 223 22nd St. N., assists local families with financial needs and food. Donations of food and finances come from the United Way of Lowndes and Noxubee. Guerry said Helping Hands helps families that survive from paycheck to paycheck and have an emergency situation.
“Our whole purpose is getting people through this one-time thing, and then hopefully, they’ll be OK,” she said. “They’re not going to have to keep coming back and getting help.”
The organization often helps residents when other agencies can’t, Guerry said.
“You know, we don’t have any real hard, fast rules,” she said.
She noted a recent case in which a woman could not go to the dialysis center because she had bed bugs in her house. She couldn’t afford to have her house sprayed, so Helping Hands bought some spray.
“If she doesn’t see bed bugs anymore for a week or so, we’ll call an exterminator to go out there,” Guerry continued. “She has to have somebody to sign off and say she doesn’t have bugs before (the dialysis center) lets her go back.”
The nonprofit also recently bought a nebulizer machine for a woman who lives in a local hotel. She has no money to buy the machine and has trouble breathing.
“Medicaid will pay for the medicine, but it won’t buy the machine,” Guerry said. “You never know what’s going to come through our door.”
She noted that the community has always been supportive of Helping Hands’ programs.
“The community just always has been supportive,” Guerry said. “It started out real small, like five or six local churches. And it’s just gone on from there. It’s been really great.”
Guerry helps nonprofit grow
Robert Wilbur, a retired pastor who serves on the organization’s board of directors, was also a member of the original board of directors. He recalls the need for a centralized agency to respond to the needs of people in the community.
“Churches and pastors wanted to help people and to do so in a coordinated and responsible manner,” he said.
In January 1989, Helping Hands opened its doors at the Merchants & Farmers Bank building on Fifth Street South.
“Volunteers came to the bank to help people in need fill out an application,” said board Vice President Patti Johnson, who was among Helping Hands’ first volunteers. “Nancy would go over their application to decide how they could be helped. The only money she received was from supporting churches.”
Wilbur moved away soon after the agency was organized but returned to Lowndes County.
“When I came back 10 years later, I became reacquainted with Nancy and found a well-established, respected, effective, and viable ministry,” Wilbur said.
Johnson said Guerry worked hard to help the organization succeed and showed love to so many people.
“We have remained friends throughout these many years and today I serve with her as vice president of the Helping Hands board,” Johnson said. “Good luck, dear friend, in your retirement. You deserve the very best.”
Friendships with United Way
Board of directors member Jan Ballard first met Guerry when she served as the Women’s Advocate and case manager at Safe Haven Domestic Violence Shelter in the mid-1990s. Helping Hands covered the costs of bus tickets for taking the shelter’s victims to safer locations to start their lives over.
“Nancy also ensured that some of our clients’ other needs were met that our own funding resources didn’t cover,” she said.
Later, Ballard began a career at United Way of Lowndes County that spanned 16 years. They worked together often and became friends.
“I will always regard Nancy as a dear friend, not only because of the professional relationship we had, but because she also helped me grow as a Christian because of her own faith and trust in God,” Ballard said.
During her time at the United Way, Ballard said that Guerry was always willing to help the United Way in the aftermath of natural disasters.
“With special disaster relief funding secured by United Way, she conducted intakes and worked with grocery stores to provide food vouchers to those arriving from Katrina who had secured shelter here but had no money or food,” Ballard said. “She provided food and other assistance to people following local weather catastrophes when power outages shut down their refrigerators and freezers. She did that and so much more for people when they were desperate because she truly cares for all God’s children.”
Ballard said she talked with Guerry during one particularly hot summer about implementing a pilot fan drive to help people with inadequate cooling systems.
“She offered to take on the project of reviewing requests and distributing the fans,” she continued. “Thanks to Nancy and a very generous community, the fan drive continues to serve people in Lowndes County.”
Renee Sanders, executive director for United Way of Lowndes and Noxubee, said of all the nonprofit’s funded agencies, Guerry is one of three executive directors who have been in their roles for over 20 years.
“The knowledge that she brought to the table, for me, was just immeasurable,” Sanders said of when she started in 2019.
Sanders also called Guerry her role model, and someone who has been there for her and been a part of her support system.
Helping Hands’ future
Guerry said she doesn’t really have any plans during her retirement, other than spending time with her grandchildren. She said she still plans to volunteer in the community, just in a different capacity.
Garrard has been shadowing Guerry for about a year in preparation for the executive director role.
The board noted that she brings many years of nonprofit work to the job.
“We feel the organization will be in very good hands,” Ballard said Tuesday.
Garrard and Guerry both represented the organization at the recent United Way campaign kick-off at Hitching Post Farmers’ Market.
“I have some big shoes to fill,” Garrard said. “I just want to make her proud in everything that’s to come.”
Guerry said her replacement will do a great job.
“I’m happy to be walking away, and knowing the doors are going to stay open for a while longer,” she said.