by Mike Templeton
I finally got to sit down with Urban Appalachian Community Coalition Core Member Nancy Laird and talk about her work, receiving the Nancy Laird Spirit of Service Award from Healthy Homes Block by Block, and what it means to have this award named in her honor. The Nancy Laird Spirit of Service Award honors Nancy’s more than 30 years of service to the community of Lower Price Hill and beyond. The award was given at the Rise and Shine brunch with Healthy Homes Block by Block which helps new families find help with food, childcare, healthcare, and just about everything they may need to survive and succeed.
Nancy is involved in so many things, it is difficult to decide where to begin with this. We met in her office at Santa Maria Community Services in Lower Price Hill. Nancy took care to have me come by on a quiet day because, as she explained, the space becomes filled with 50-60 kids on any given day, and we would not have been able to talk.
That she is the visible presence in a community services center that can field that many young kids is a testament to what Nancy is all about. She sets the bar in the room, and everyone else rises accordingly. As she told me, “I will get in between them in the rare event that there is an issue.” She settles things, and I venture to say that is one reason the Spirit of Service Award is named in her honor.
Nancy has decades of volunteer work under her belt. Helping people find work, health care, food stamps—even something as obvious as filing taxes—Nancy gets these things done. She explains, “I make connections. I take information and communicate that information to the people who need it.” Whether that be educational opportunities or financial assistance, Nancy finds the resources and connects the people with these resources to those who need help.
It is precisely because Nancy is tied in with so many people and resources that she says she feels uncomfortable with being singled out for the award: “I was initially uncomfortable with it in the beginning. I didn’t feel like it was just me,” she explains. She is, of course, honored and happy and grateful for the recognition, but Nancy is quick to point out that everything she does depends on a huge network of people. There is a large network of people who are instrumental in achieving results. Nancy emphasized that her success is the result of group efforts and that things do not happen because of one person: “I am because We are,” she explains quoting an old folk tale. The individual succeeds because of the many.
Nancy Laird’s involvement with urban Appalachia goes all the way back to the Urban Appalachian Council. When outside support and funding for UAC disappeared, she continued to do the work of the UAC by building what she calls an “agency without walls.” As the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition emerged, Nancy naturally teamed with other core members Mike Maloney, Jeff Dey, Pauletta Hansel, John Beale, and Maureen Sullivan to re-group and continue the work of serving the community.
All the same commitment to serving the Appalachian community remained in force while she pulled on every resource she could find to continue educating people, helping them find access to health care, and generally serving communities like Lower Price Hill. Today she is set up in the office of Santa Maria in Lower Price Hill making connections and putting people in touch with the resources they need.
Nancy Laird will be involved in giving out the Nancy Laird Spirit of Service Award to the next recipient. I asked if any specific criteria will go into the decision. She told me they were interested in “people who have been active in Lower Price Hill for years—active outside of the 9-5, that is.” But she was quick to point out that there are so many people she can think of who would deserve this type of recognition. It is going to be a tough choice. Toward the end of our conversation, the topic of retiring came up. Her response was simply,” How can I be finished when nobody else is!”
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.