Shirley Howard is a 9th Ward native who has been serving her community for almost 50 years! She graduated from George Washington Carver High School in 1968 and attended Southern University before returning to George Washington Carver High School to teach in 1973. “I love teaching,” says Ms. Shirley, “I taught health and physical education. I helped with reading, special education, certified jobs education, and recreation.”
Shortly after beginning her teaching career, Ms. Shirley married and had three kids who all are Carver Rams themselves.
One of her children, Stacy Nicole Howard, started working with Thrive 9th’s predecessor, Desire St. Ministries, and introduced her family to what is now Thrive 9th Ward. They all attended Desire St. Ministries together. “Stacy was a teacher and helped in accounting,” says Ms. Shirley.
“My daughter, my baby girl Stacy also contracted lung disease in 2009,” says Ms. Shirley, who deals with the same condition, “she had a double lung transplant in 2014 and she passed in 2016.” Her daughter’s impact is evident, not only in Ms. Shirley’s life, but in the many lives of the people she supported and taught. “She was a tutor and a mentor to a lot of kids in the neighborhood.”
At the time of her daughter’s passing, Ms. Shirley was doing volunteer work at Abundance of Desire, “[Thrive 9th Ward] asked me to work at the front desk, which I enjoy because I know the people that come through there from the neighborhood. I taught a majority of them,” says Ms. Shirley, “and the atmosphere is really great for all of the people that come through the 9th Ward Community Center.”
Before her induction to the Thrive 9th Ward staff, Ms. Shirley had retired from teaching. “I needed something to do and I just didn’t want to sit at home. I enjoy people,” she says, commenting on her choice to leave retirement and work for the community center, a choice that Thrive NOLA has admired since the beginning. “It is a rewarding position to work for 9th Ward Community Center through Thrive because you meet so many different people and the programs that are being offered here for the kids, adults, and youth, like the summer camps, are awesome.”
Oscar Brown, the Executive Director of the Thrive 9th Ward Community Center, says, “it is important for Ms. Shirley to be at the front desk because when people walk through, they know her, and they know this is a community space. She makes people feel welcomed.” Ms. Shirley seems to believe that too, “I seem to bring a little smile to certain people when they come by the office.”
Now as the 9th Ward Community Centers front desk receptionist, Ms. Shirley enjoys greeting and assisting the community members that pass through its doors, but most importantly she feels like she is carrying on her daughter’s legacy.
“Working at the community center has impacted my life because it makes me feel like I’m wanted and needed, and I feel like my daughter would appreciate me doing that because this is her passion. She loved to work with people as a mentor. So, I just picked up from where she left off,” says Ms. Shirley.
Generations of kids, parents, and families in the Desire Neighborhood can give testament to the impact that Ms. Shirley has had on them and the entire community through the ways that she has continued to leverage her L.I.F.E. to serve others. Thrive 9th Ward is beyond blessed by her contribution, commitment, and character, to Thrive 9th Ward and to the Desire Neighborhood.
Yet if you were to ask Ms. Shirley herself, she’d say she’s no different than the next person.
…Which makes you wonder, how many lives could you impact if you leveraged your L.I.F.E. for others?