Searcy honored with Jefferson Award for community service
NATCHEZ — A knock on the door in 2005 led to the Rev. Stanley Searcy facing his greatest opportunity to embody the ministry he had been preaching for years.
Nearly a decade later, Searcy was honored with the Jefferson Award for Public Service for his response to that knock and a variety of other community projects his church, New Hope The Vision Center, has brought to the area. The award is intended to be a Nobel Prize for community and public service that’s given on the national and local level.
The knock that led Searcy on a journey of spiritual guidance and growth was from Katrina victims who came to Natchez, and specifically New Hope on Morgantown Road, following the devastating storm in New Orleans.
“There was a lady that stayed in the West Bank and her three children, brother and husband were knocking on the door of the church looking for somewhere to stay because all the shelters were filled up,” Searcy said. “I told her we weren’t capable of housing anyone, and she looked at me and said, ‘We don’t have anywhere else to go, and my mom always told me if I got in trouble I could always go to the church.’”
Those words echoed in Searcy’s mind as he realized the opportunity that had literally landed at his doorstep.
“Her words made me realize that her mom was a Christian believer, but that maybe her relationship with Christ wasn’t as strong as her mom’s was and that this would be a perfect witnessing tool for her,” Searcy said. “I didn’t have the facilities to do anything, but I couldn’t turn them away so we brought them into the church.
“Well, behind her were 50 other people, and behind them were even more and before we knew it we had 441 people here.”
Searcy opened his church to the storm survivors, providing his pews as beds for the New Orleans residents to sleep on and inviting various organizations to help feed them.
The coming together of the community to help residents in need was something Searcy said was incredible to witness.
“The community just pulled together, and we were able to give all those people a place to stay,” he said. “It taught me that the real work is behind the walls of the church, that the real work is out in the fields, and it was just one of the most rewarding times in my life.”
The work Searcy did for those visitors and the work he’s done for Natchez residents eventually led local Cynthia Barfield to nominate Searcy for the award.
The award was created, in part, by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1972 as a way to give back to those serving their communities. The awards are first given out on the state level and those award winners have a chance to advance to the national stage.
Searcy was one of 12 Mississippians to receive the award during a ceremony in Jackson in late May.
Being surrounded by people from across the state doing great things in their communities, Searcy said, was inspiring in itself.
“I didn’t think I should be receiving the honor, and then they explained to me that the point of the award is to encourage others to get involved and serve others,” Searcy said. “I just thought that maybe if someone saw that I received this and knew what it was about that it could inspire them to do great things in the community also.”
Searcy and the members of New Hope have a variety of community contributions under their belt, including constructing the Washington Apartments, a community and development housing area near the church. The church is also preparing to renovate Brumfield Apartments to convert into another housing development area.
Those initiatives, along with a long list of ministries administered through the church, are all things Searcy said he hopes inspire the community to do even more things for people in need.
“Sometimes we wait for things to be placed into our hands and everything to be perfect to start serving,” Searcy said. “But if we just start with the small things and start where you can, it will all come together.
“It’s just about taking that first step.”