When Rhonda Rhodes started working with the Hancock Resource Center, her goal was to work herself out of a job. An offshoot of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce, the Hancock Resource Center originated as a one-stop shop for people recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Yet 12 years later, Rhodes is still at the helm and the Hancock Resource Center is providing more services and programs to the people of Hancock County, Mississippi than ever before.
Providing stability through housing
“All of our programs from the start through 2012 were all Katrina related, recovery-oriented programs,” said Rhodes. Moving forward, the team began seeing issues that were not necessarily related to Katrina, but problems perpetuated and made clear by Katrina. “As we got more involved in housing we realized there were issues beyond disaster recovery. Since 2012 we’ve been writing grants related to housing and barriers linked to housing. Now we have programs that serve homeless veterans, housing for domestic violence survivors, and more,” described Rhodes. “Our work focuses a lot around homelessness and homeless prevention with the general population by focusing on people that are chronically homeless and families that are homeless,” she added.
Just recently, the Hancock Resource Center worked with a veteran who had been homeless for over a year to secure housing and employment. “Many people think ‘get a job, then get a house,’ but really we focus on housing first because it’s really hard to concentrate on a job when you are sleeping on the street,” said Rhodes. “In a matter of a year we helped this gentleman go from being homeless for a year to being housed and employed, and in another couple months, we’ll be able to lay off support and he’ll be independent.”
Rhodes shares that there are hundreds of success stories from all of Hancock Resource Centers’ programs, which extend beyond homelessness. They also run a housing rehab program that assists 30-40 homeowners a year; a HUD certified agency that provides credit counseling, foreclosure counseling and pre-purchase education and counseling; and community development activities such as holiday assistance programs, substance abuse prevention program for young people, and a successful youth leadership academy.
Hancock Resource Center accepts a donation from Hancock Whitney and United Way of South Mississippi for their Navigator Program.
A focus on youth
The youth leadership academy was born from the realization that the root cause of many of the issues community members faced were from generational poverty and trauma. Rhodes and staff felt they had an opportunity to influence young students before they could take a path riddled with poor decisions. “The programs for eighth graders and high school students focus on students that have a lot of potential but fly under the radar, who with some guidance and mentoring could develop into strong leaders. We focus on leadership development, personal responsibility and school or career readiness,” said Rhodes. The leadership academy also focuses on building practical skills where participants play a version of the game of life or take part in “adulting” day. “We teach them financial education principals, how to cook, how to get a loan, CPR, basics to open banking accounts or manage stress,” shared Rhodes. Another factor that drove the Hancock Resource Center to focus on this program was to introduce students to the opportunities available to them right at home in an effort to retain local talent and combat the brain drain.
Rhonda Rhodes (third from left) served as an inaugural member of the Hancock Whitney Community Development Advisory Council
Rhodes appreciates the longstanding partnership between Hancock Whitney and the Hancock Resource Center in terms of financial support and associate service. Not only has Hancock Whitney provided Hancock Resource Center with a recent grant earmarked for a new youth mentor program, two associates currently serve on the nonprofit’s board. “It’s incredibly valuable to have Hancock Whitney associates on our board, and it is really important to have people that have a financial background on our board. Having someone with an independent financial background is helpful for when we looking for financial products.”
Rhodes is also grateful for the way Hancock Whitney was able to connect her to other community leaders. In 2018, Rhodes was selected to serve on Hancock Whitney’s inaugural Community Development Advisory Council – a group of community leaders who are tapped to help recognize the challenges our communities face and help the bank understand how it can facilitate solutions. Rhodes describes her experience on that council as invaluable. “It was a great experience to be on that council. It really helped me network with people in other parts of the Hancock Whitney footprint that did similar work,” shared Rhodes. Some of these connections have even helped Rhodes facilitate new services for Hancock Resource Center. “We actually have a new line of business around some loan packaging for the USDA loan program, and this came from me serving on that community advisory committee and meeting someone else who does that kind of packaging.”
From fostering community relations and job placement for the most vulnerable to stabilizing housing for the underserved, Hancock Resource Center provides vital support to the citizens of Hancock County and Hancock Whitney is proud to call them a partner.