BILOXI, Miss. -- Stephanie Nash was born in the Mississippi Delta and after living in East St. Louis, Ill. for twelve years, her family returned to Mississippi to make Pass Christian their home. When Hurricane Katrina forced the single mother to evacuate to Jackson, the biggest hardship wasn't for her but for her 10-year-old daughter.
"She was born here, raised here, and having to uproot her - it was the hardest part," said Nash. "My daughter told me, 'Momma I don't care where we have to live or what we have to do, I just want to go home. I like to visit our family in Jackson but love the Coast and that's where I want to be.'"
Despite her daughter's wishes Nash remained in Jackson for five months after she was told there was nothing to come home to. During that difficult time, Nash and her daughter experienced the kindness of many people - from virtual strangers to family. She received packages filled with clothes, food, and other items from her sister's alma mater, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.
In Oct. 2005 she took a job in Jackson with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In Jan. 2006 her job transferred to Biloxi but Nash still didn't have a place to live. She qualified for FEMA temporary housing but she didn't have any property where the unit could be placed. Extraordinary kindness intervened again.
"Being a single parent, people I went to high school with and became friends with also became my family," said Nash. "My extended family said 'get your unit and get home. You can put it on our land.' These people helped me when I chose to leave the nest once again and venture out on my own."
Nash became a FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaison (VAL) in Nov. 2006 and she felt as though she fit right in. As an Applicant Services Specialist, Nash always worked with VAL and was able to bring key knowledge about FEMA's application system and process to her current position.
In the summer of 2006 she coordinated the "Nuts and Bolts" seminar which provided basic guidance to volunteer agencies starting long term recovery committees. More than 500 participants from non-profit groups and faith-based organizations attended.
Nash often takes time to give one-on-one explanations to long term recovery committees about FEMA's assistance programs. "I know how it felt to be in the dark when I first got here. I wouldn't want to harbor any of that info; not when we're all here to do the same job."
"Stephanie is a great asset to FEMA. She goes out of her way to help any applicant," said Karen Pollock, acting deputy FEMA Individual Assistance section officer. "Stephanie has helped Applicant Services obtain documents for eligibility review in many cases. In one case, an applicant's home repair grant was about to be recouped. We were unable to contact the applicant. One week later Stephanie offered her assistance -- I explained what we needed from the applicant and she stated 'no problem.' Stephanie found the applicant, who was making their own home repairs, and obtained the documents we needed to stop recoupment of the grant. She also connected the applicant with volunteers who assisted in the home repairs. That's team work."
Nash assists wherever she can across the state because she wants to help people everywhere and doesn't want to be confined to one place. She works with FEMA Housing Advisors and in her beloved Pass Christian since "it's dear to her heart." Affectionately known as "Admiral Nash" by her fellow VALs and rumored to run a tight ship, Nash shies away from the spotlight. Her primary focus is helping volunteer agencies help those in need. Her friends have said, beneath the admiral's serious exterior lies a heart so big that Nash would literally give the shirt off her back to help someone.
The passion behind Nash's commitment to her tasks as a VAL can be simplified in one word. "Ho...