Dr. JoeAnn Ballard was born in rural Mississippi into a poverty-ridden family where the only words children heard were angry ones. At three months of age, she and her two older siblings were left with their great aunt and uncle in Lucedale, MS and it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to JoeAnn.
Now she was in a real home – - poor as ever, but filled with love. Through the years, her foster father raised more than 45 foster children. He was disabled but determined and he taught the children about honesty, family and faith in the Lord. It was through her experiences, first as an unwanted child and then as a recipient of someones caring love that JoeAnn came to know what she wanted to do with her life. As a school girl, she was inspired by the biography of Florence Nightingale and her determination to help others and she decided that she wanted to dedicate her life to helping others and nothing would stop her.
JoeAnn moved to Memphis after graduating from the Nazarene Bible College in West Virginia. Her first job was working with the Memphis South Church of the Nazarene. Her salary was a mere $80 a month and even with such meager means she was selfless in her giving. Half of her salary went for room and board and theÂ other $40 she spent on the needs of others. In fact, she went one entire year without spending a penny on herself.
It was through her church work that she met Monroe Ballard, a young school teacher who had the same high standards and the same determination to be a blessing to others. When they married, they agreed helping others was to be their first priority. They knew it would require personal sacrifice and team work but they were up to the task.
The beginning of their personal ministry started when Monroe noticed that one of the students in his class had threadbare clothes and always seemed hungry. She had a good mind and attitude, but was being defeated because of the conditions in her home. That weekend, he and JoeAnn invitedÂ Laura to their home. They fed her, took her shopping and to church. A ministry was born.
The Ballard’s soon found other children who were eager to soak up the caring atmosphere of their modest home. Word spread through the hurting black community. People began looking toward the Ballard’s for help, and more and more teens with no direction began visiting them regularly. JoeAnn frequently served Sunday lunch to twenty or more and each weekend, their home was filled with overnight guests.
Then the foster children started coming. With three children of their own, Ephie, Linda and Monroe, Jr., the Ballards were still able to find ample room in their hearts and their home for children who had no place to go. Since 1968, they have been foster parents to 75 children. All of them lived with the Ballard’s for at least a year – - some much more. Over the years at least 350 children have been in and out of their home as a part of their personal ministry.
While serving as mother to dozens of children at a time, JoeAnn continued her work with the ministry of the Memphis South Church of the Nazarene and together, she and Monroe, transformed it into the Neighborhood Christian Centers, Inc. It began as a modest operation offering services to a few hundred people and today, The Neighborhood Christian Centers, Inc. has an annual budget of $975,000, and serves about 125,000 families each year. NCC offers a variety of services that include tutoring, college assistance, adult education, legal and financial counseling, food and clothing donations and much, much more. Funding is provided by churches, foundations and individuals. There is no government assistance.
JoeAnn retired as Executive Director in April of 2008 and now serves as a consultant. Her eldest daughter, Ephie Johnson, now serves as Executive Director and various family members assist her in carrying on the legacy set by her parents. JoeAnn also serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Urban Childhood Institute, helping parents, educators and the community understand the importance of the early stages of child development.
April 25, 2008, the love of her life, Monroe, Sr., was called to glory. This dutiful wife, mother and community servant continues to show her love for him through the ministry they began at NCC. Even in her golden years JoeAnn gives selflessly living as Jesus lived—helping others.