Though Neighborhood Christian Centers, Inc. was established in 1978, the ministry actually began years earlier. JoeAnn Ballard was born in rural Mississippi to a poverty-ridden family where the only words heard were angry ones. When she was only three months old, her parents separated, and she and her two older siblings were placed in the home of a great aunt and uncle. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to JoeAnn. Though this home was also financially poor, it was filled with love. It was through her experiences, first as an unwanted child and then as a recipient of someone’s sacrificial care that JoeAnn decided how she wanted to live. Through the years, her foster father lovingly raised over 45 foster children, shaping JoeAnn into the strong, compassionate woman she would become.
After graduating from college in West Virginia, JoeAnn moved to Memphis to take her first job. She was assigned the task of re-opening the doors of a church by starting a Sunday school program. Her salary was $80 a month, half of which went for room and board and the other half for the needs of others. Early on, JoeAnn practiced her philosophy of ministry: How do you present Christ to a hungry man? How do you share the words of Jesus with a woman who can’t pay her utility bill? How do you give hope to a troubled teenager who only sees a future of poverty and shame?
After a short time in Memphis, JoeAnn married Monroe Ballard, a young schoolteacher who shared her values and determination. Together, they began a personal ministry to young people in their sphere of influence.
What started with bringing needy children into their home over weekends turned into a full-time ministry. As word spread in the hurting black community, the Ballard’s modest home was often filled to capacity with people in need. In order to accommodate so many children, they turned their two-bedroom home into a nine-bedroom, four-bath home and worked various jobs to pay for all of the expenses. Since 1968, the Ballards have been foster parents to 75 children, all of them living with JoeAnn, Monroe and their four children for at least a year.
In 1979, local churches and agencies saw the need for an urban neighborhood center and chose Dr. JoeAnn Ballard to be at the helm of Neighborhood Christian Centers, Inc. (NCC). Built on the foundational ministry that the Ballards established long ago, NCC has grown exponentially, offering programs and services in almost every Memphis zip code. The people who walk through the doors of NCC are distrustful of the government system and frustrated by the red tape of agencies. They are frequently unemployed but often don’t know how to fill out a job application or dress for a job interview. Their children are dropping out of school and falling by the wayside, just as generations did before them.
In the midst of what seems hopeless to many, NCC shines a light of hope, striving to break the cycle of poverty and dependence prevalent in American’s inner cities. By breaking this cycle daily in practical and spiritual ways, we are reaching into the future to change the lives of unborn generations. To those in need, NCC has come to be identified as a source of hope; to donors and volunteers, the organization has built a solid reputation as an established and effective means to respond to the needs of the poor.