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JoeAnn Ballard arrived in segregated Memphis in the summer of 1965, sent by the Nazarenes to revive a defunct African American church. She was 20, a new graduate of the now-closed Nazarene Bible Institute in Charleston, West Virginia, earning $80 each month and lacking everything but confidence.

Ballard found the church padlocked and the property overgrown with weeds. She cleaned it up and informed the neighborhood that the church was open for business. Nobody came. Weeks went by and not one of the neighbors responded, until Ballard learned that they lacked decent clothes to wear to church. Taking every cent she had, she bought clothing from the Salvation Army and distributed it to the neighbors. Children began coming to Sunday school, and the church gradually started to function. After a year, the denomination sent a man to become the pastor, and she was out of a job. But no matter; Ballard had found her calling.

From that beginning, Ballard went on to build a network of seven centers and dozens of small, inner-city churches, as well as to train hundreds of missionaries to care for the Memphis poor. Her organization, Neighborhood Christian Centers (NCC), has grown to a $2 million enterprise with over 40 paid staff members running programs for youth, children, married couples, and single mothers.

At its heart, however, NCC is not about programs—Ballard says she hates programs. NCC is simply the outgrowth of Ballard's personal ministry to the streets of Memphis. It became a family ministry she shared with her husband, Monroe. With the help of her four biological children, NCC has expanded to become one of the best-known nonprofit organizations in the area.

In 2008, Ballard retired from ...

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