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Profile 2019: This is Our Story

The story of any community is the story of its people.

The people who came before us paved the way for the community we inherited, and the community we build today will be the community we leave for future generations.

Today, we share the stories of some of the people who make the Miss-Lou the community it is today in our annual Profile 2019: This is Our Story.

Below we present some of the stories of community leaders and how they see their roles in the community.

Included inside today’s edition, you will find more than 50 pages profiling the stories of people who make our community what it is today.

Their stories are our story:

Stanley Smith

When Stanley Smith returned to Ferriday High School to be the head football coach in 2017, he said it felt good to be back home.

Smith had spent the past seven years moving from coaching job to coaching job.

“It’s part of the business,” Smith said of the moves.

His coaching jobs started at Ferriday High School in 2009 before he moved on to coaching jobs that included stops in 2010 in Monroe, Louisiana; 2011 in Grant Parish, Louisiana; 2012-14 at Louisiana College; 2015 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas; and 2016 in Franklin Parish, Louisiana.

“When I got the job at Ferriday (in 2017) I was euphoric,” Smith said. “To return where you played, put in the blood sweat and tears. It was good to come home and be successful being at home.”

Smith, indeed, grew up in Ferriday and graduated in 2001 from Ferriday High School where he played middle linebacker on the football team.

That experience earned him a chance to play college ball at the University of Louisiana Lafayette before having a career in arena football that took him to teams throughout the United States.

Smith said the experience he gained from living and playing football in 42 states has given him a great insight that he hopes to pass on to the players he coaches.

Ferriday’s football program has found success under Smith’s leadership, with the team making it into the semi-finals for the past two years.

The coaching role is not a position that Smith said he takes lightly.

“I’m there for everybody,” Smith said. “Our kids and our demographic have to push kids forward and motivate them.”

Smith said he would like to take his team to a state championship, but his overall role in the community is to help the players and students achieve their goals and help them advance to college.

“I try to be a pillar of the community, give advice and push them and lean on them with a little stern discipline,” Smith said. “It is special to come home and carry on my calling. When I come home at night, I pray to God to carry on my work. Part of my appointment was to come home and open the eyes of the youth. I’m a prime example. I was raised in Ferriday, played college and pro football. I want them to know they can achieve what they want in life.”

Melinda Ballard

After Melinda Ballard’s mother died in her arms in a nursing home in 2014, Ballard said she was determined not to let the same fate befall her mother-in-law, so she moved back home to Natchez to care for her.

“The public does not talk about what truly happens to people in a nursing home,” Ballard said, adding she witnessed the lives of people inside the nursing home as she visited her own mother every day.

Many of the other residents never got visitors, Ballard said, so when Ballard moved back to Natchez she decided to do something about it.

Ballard started Santas for Seniors in coordination with Trinity Episcopal Church to provide Christmas presents to residents of the Adams County Nursing Center.

“I started Santas for Seniors outreach for seniors mainly because of a big struggle after losing my mom,” Ballard said. “It started out being just Christmas gifts and now we do Christmas and birthdays.”

Santas for Seniors hosts birthday parties for residents in the Adams County Senior Center every fourth Friday, Ballard said, thanks to volunteers and community support.

Ballard said she believes such programs are important in the community because anyone could end up in such a situation.

“You can do everything right in life but because of an accident you might end up in one of these facilities and when that happens, you have less than $50 per month.”

The Santas for Seniors is about more than just providing gifts to the senior center residents, however, Ballard said. It also provides friendship and companionship.

“I want people to see and remember all of the people that paved the way for us and be grateful for them,” Ballard said. “It takes so little of your time to be there and it refills your heart. I wish our community could just be there for each other. It doesn’t matter what race or religion. We are all God’s children.”

Thanks to numerous volunteers Ballad said she hopes to be able to bring the program to more senior facilities by the end of the year.

Chantel Marsaw

Chantel Marsaw said she founded a non-profit organization called “It Still Takes a Village to Raise a Child” in 2013, after her daughter asked her to do something for her classmates at graduation that made Marsaw’s heart ache.

“She asked me if there was anything I could do for her classmates who had all lost a parent,” Marsaw said. “I thought, ‘What could I possibly do?’ … I prayed about it, and then had a vision about giving each of them a plaque.”

Marsaw gave nearly 20 Natchez High School graduates who had lost a parent or sibling a plaque with “in memory of” etched before the name of their lost loved ones during the school’s graduation ceremony.

Now the organization has rallied more than 500 students throughout Adams County, Marsaw said, and she recognizes more grieving students each year.

“There’s a need in this community,” Marsaw said. “I don’t want our community to forget about the children who have lost their parent. … It’s good when they graduate, but they still need to be nurtured. They need to know that even though their mom (or dad) is gone, they still haven’t been forgotten. There are people who are willing to help.”

Marsaw said she and her students used to meet up every day at the VFW building on Seargent S. Prentiss Drive, which her students shared with local veterans.

Marsaw said she is hoping to raise enough funds for a permanent location for the group to meet after school for tutoring, hot meals, social activities and even washing dirty laundry.

After earning a business degree from Alcorn State University in 2017, Marsaw started working at the Natchez Freshman Academy as an assistant and offered emotional support for her students on the side.

“I’m trying to find somewhere for me to meet with my students again rather than contacting them on Facebook or on the phone,” she said. “Through working at (Natchez Freshman Academy) I’ve added more students who’ve just recently lost their parents and some who I knew lost a parent when they were younger. … I’ve stayed in touch with students who joined the organization back in 2013, from both public and private schools.”

Marsaw said people could contribute to the organization by visiting www.itstilltakesavillage.org.

Amanda Jeansonne

Hunger is one problem that never goes away, said Natchez Stewpot Director Amanda Jeansonne, which is why she works to feed the hungry and shut-in individuals in Natchez seven days a week.

Jeansonne said she started volunteering at the Stewpot soon after she graduated from Louisiana State University and married college soul mate, Benny, in 1984.

She and her husband settled in her hometown of Natchez and attended Trinity Episcopal Church — one of the three sponsoring churches of the Natchez Stewpot alongside St. Mary’s Basilica and Jefferson Street United Methodist Church, Jeansonne said.

“When I became involved in the delivery of the meals, I saw the need for it in the community,” she said. “I saw so many people in our community who have so little — and people who don’t have anyone looking after them, making sure they have meals. That has been what has made me want to do what I do at the Stewpot.”

Jeansonne said she jumped head first into the charity, taking a break when she started teaching school at Cathedral and returning later on.

Jeansonne took up pottery making as a hobby in 2003 and founded a popular fundraiser for the Stewpot called “Empty Bowls,” which has collected approximately $10,000 each year for food, cooking and cleaning supplies and building expenses.

In 2015, she succeeded the former director of the Stewpot, Louis Gunning.

“I think I can speak for all of our volunteers — It gives meaning to our lives to have the opportunity to make someone else’s life a little bit better,” Jeansonne said. “Gunning summed it up like this, ‘The Stewpot is made of those who give and those who receive. God is blessing both.’ … The volunteers who come to the Stewpot are all people who have hearts to serve and want to help others. It’s just a great feeling to be a part of that.”

Contributions to the Stewpot can be made at www.natchezstewpot.com

Henry Harris

Henry Harris strives to teach local children how to play the game of tennis, but more importantly how to play the game of life.

Whether working for the Natchez Police Department or Natchez recreation, Harris has been working to keep local children out of trouble for more than four decades.

Harris, who is the tennis pro at the Duncan Park Tennis Center, first started working for the city in 1974 when he joined the Natchez police force.

“After going off to college and coming back home, I became a police officer,” Harris said.

Having been born and raised in Natchez, Harris said he wanted to break some of the stereotypes that people had about police offers.

“I was born in 1950. I came through the civil rights era in Natchez,” Harris said. “My goal was to make sure that people knew the police were there to help them if they needed it.”

While on the police force, Harris started teaching tennis to area children and adults. With the help of then Adams County Youth Court Judge and others, Harris used tennis as a way to keep children off the street and busy.

“It was a way of getting them to stay out of trouble,” Harris said.

Since then Harris has been working hard not only to teach children the skills that are necessary to play tennis, but also the skills that are necessary to get through life.

“Teaching them how to be successful citizens,” Harris said.

In 1985, Harris stepped down from the police department and joined the Natchez Recreation Department. Harris said teaching children about the amount of hard work that is necessary in life has become more difficult than when he started.  The newest generation of children is different, he said.

“It is harder these days, because every kid has about everything they want,” Harris said. “Kids have a misconception about what life is all about.”

Harris said many of the difficult lessons he learned about life came from summers he spent with his grandparents in Kingston. At the time, Kingston didn’t have running water or electricity. Many days were spent plowing the fields and working outside.

“I was born and raised in the city. My parents sent me to Kingston to keep me out of trouble,” Harris said.

Today’s generation of children think everything should be handed to them, Harris said. Some parents are not teaching responsibility and the value of working hard.

Even still, Harris said he and other community leaders keep spreading the message.

“We just keep preaching,” Harris said.

Bill Barksdale

For the Rev. Bill Barksdale, prayer has the power to bring a community together.

The minister of Jefferson Street United Methodist Church and a member if the Natchez Ministerial Alliance, Barksdale said he is using his talent as an organizer and facilitator to help local leaders provide an opportunity for the community to discuss important issues and to pray about them.

Contacted by the mayor’s office right before Christmas, Barksdale said he agreed to help plan a series of quarterly prayer services.

The first community service at Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in December was organized in response to a wave of violence in the community.

Barksdale joined local ministers from the black and white community to offer prayer for unity, leadership and healing.

“Prayer is a conduit for bringing people together and to meet people and build relationships,” Barksdale said. “It can be a conduit to bridge some of the community’s racial divide and to let people know each other.”

“It is an opportunity for a common purpose,” Barksdale said.

Barksdale said when he and others first started organizing the services, he saw how prayer was a common thread in the community.

“You hear people say, ‘Let’s pray about that,’ or ‘Let’s turn that burden over to the Lord,’” Barksdale said. “That is what we are doing at these services.”

Sitting down to make a list of all of the churches in Natchez and Adams County, Barksdale said he identified 99 active churches in the area.

The next community prayer service is planned for March 24, also at Zion Chapel AME Church.

Outside of the prayer services, Barksdale said he believes it is important as a community leader to stay abreast of current events.

“I am kind of geeky, I watch every board of aldermen meeting and school board meeting (on the Internet),” Barksdale said. “That is one of the responsibilities of a community leader — to keep up with what is happening.”

Barksdale said when he and his church learned that the police chief was asking the community to help purchase video cameras for some of the city’s high crime areas, the church stepped up to contribute money for one camera.

“(Chief) Armstrong said he needed one; we gave him the money and they put the camera up,” Barksdale said.

The preceding stories are just a few of the people who make the Miss-Lou what it is today. Read more stories in today’s Profile: This is Our Story edition included with today’s Natchez Democrat.

By Scott Hawkins, Ben Hillyer and Sabrina Robertson