Natchez Children’s Services director retiring after more than three decades of serving children
Published 12:50 am Wednesday, October 4, 2017
NATCHEZ — After nearly 35 years of service, Natchez Children’s Services Executive Director Nancy Hungerford is retiring from a ministry providing a place of refuge for thousands of area children.
“It is time,” Hungerford said. “We have made lots of expansions and changes over the last few years. I feel so good about all of the things happening there.”
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From 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Art and Architectural Discoveries on Main Street, the public is invited to celebrate Hungerford’s retirement from her three-decade dedication to children.
Hungerford first came to Natchez in 1983 with her family to help lead what was then called the Natchez Protestant Home. At the time, the organization provided traditional residential care for area at-risk children.
Soon after, the name changed to the Natchez Children’s Home to better represent its non-sectarian status.
In 1988, Hungerford took over as executive director and guided the institution through three more decades of change. And through the changes, the focus has always been on the children.
“A child’s work is to play, so we gave lots of opportunity to have healthy play,” Hungerford said. “We always wanted the children to relax and be a child without having to worry.”
The home provided structure, safety, stability and predictability in world that was anything but for the many children who came to building at 806 Union St.
Hungerford’s mission to provide a healthy place to play for children remained with Natchez Children’s Home as it transitioned from an organization that offered primarily residential services to one providing a variety of social service programs, such as family counseling and behavioral therapy.
The transition came as a result of state and national lawsuits and legislation effectively barring the placement of children in residential facilities, preferring keeping families intact as much as possible.
The changes were not easy and led to many sleepless nights, Hungerford said.
“We saw the handwriting on the wall and knew we had to diversify,” she said. “It was so hard to change, but now we are helping as many children now than we have ever helped.”
The group’s Children’s Advocacy Center has served more than 300 children, Hungerford said. The center provides trauma-focused therapy, counseling, referral services and court preparation for children who have been victimized by physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect.
The building which once housed orphans, now is filled with services continuing to focus on helping children in need.
“The building has been repurposed for the same work we have been doing for 200 years,” Hungerford said. “All the while we have adapted, changed and stayed true to the mission of helping at-risk children and families.”
With a bright future ahead for Natchez Children’s Services, Hungerford said she is ready to step down, but not completely.
Hungerford will continue to work as the leader of community resources. She will still be involved with the annual chili cook-off, the annual sales of pecans during Christmas and other projects.
“I will continue the relationships I have built over the years,” she said.
She will also be working at the state and national levels as President of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi.
The extra-time retirement offers will also allow her to focus on other community projects, including participating in this year’s Angels on the Bluff.
More important, Hungerford said she will have time to focus on a new grandchild, expected in February.
Even as she looks forward to retirement, Hungerford said she is grateful to the community and to the Natchez Children’s Home board for giving her the chance to lead the organization.
“There is a Bible verse that says, ‘Be not weary in well doing,” Hungerford said. “I am not weary because I know what we have done is well doing.”
“I may be a bit weary,” she said smiling. “I look forward to retirement because it will be restful, different and welcomed, but I will continue to top my prayer list every day with Natchez Children’s Services.”