By: Javacia Harris Bowser
When Frances Ford first learned that she’d been selected as the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship’s Humanitarian of the Year she was shocked.
“I kept thinking, who would nominate me?” she says.
For 22 years, Ford has worked with Sowing Seeds of Hope, a faith-based organization dedicated to improving health, housing, education, and economic development in Perry County, Alabama. First serving as health care coordinator, Ford was asked to be executive director of the program in 2005.
Ford is celebrated as Humanitarian of the Year for her tireless commitment to improving the health and overall quality of life of residents of Alabama’s Black Belt.
While Ford knows her work is essential, she doesn’t consider herself special because of it.
“The things that I do — I think these are things that we should do,” she says. “Helping your brothers and sisters in need — I just think that is something that we are supposed to do as individuals. And so, I don’t see it as anything special. I just see it as our responsibility as Christians, as humans. We’re here to help one another.”
A Legacy of Hope
Since its founding in 2000, Sowing Seeds of Hope has been a resource for Perry County residents in need.
In 2004, the organization partnered with the McWhorter School of Pharmacy at Samford University to create the Cardiovascular Risk Reduction Clinic. Today this clinic continues to provide weekly monitoring for Perry County residents with hypertension. In 2005, a monthly support group for community members with diabetes also grew out of the partnership.
Sowing Seeds of Hope also helps to provide health screenings to residents and free vision and hearing tests for all Perry County students.
In addition to helping individuals access health care, the organization assists families who need help paying bills or buying groceries or families who’ve fallen on hard times due to a house fire or other catastrophic event.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Under Ford’s leadership, Sowing Seeds of Hope partnered with the USDA to build 19 homes for low-income families. The organization has also taken on over 400 home renovation projects, ranging from handicap ramp installations and roof repairs to complete overhauls.
Under Ford’s leadership the Sowing Seeds of Hope staff also lobbied lawmakers to revise the regulations that prohibited end stage renal disease facilities from operating in areas more than ten miles from a hospital. In 2012, DaVita Dialysis opened its doors in Marion, giving Perry County dialysis patients better access to the life-saving treatment they need two to three times a week.
We Are Family
Family is very important to Ford. When she’s not working, she’s usually spending time with her daughter, who lives in Perry County. Her son lives in Pensacola, Florida, with her three granddaughters. Their visits are always a highlight.
“They are a joy,” she says.
Ford also considers her fellow members at Provewell Baptist Church in Sprout, Alabama, her family too.
Perhaps the call to take care of others is in her blood.
“My grandmother was a midwife,” Ford explains. “And she cared for her father and her uncle. So having an opportunity to help her with taking care of them, it just made me want to take care of people and I thought that nursing or healthcare was the way that I can do that.”
Ford went to Samford University in Birmingham for nursing school. But after getting her degree, she headed back to Perry County, where she was born and raised.
I love the people,” Ford says when asked why she’s stayed in her hometown all these years. “The people of Perry County are its greatest asset. We are very welcoming and inviting.”
Ford is aware of the high rates of chronic disease in Perry County and the low socioeconomic status of many residents.
“But when you see the people, you forget all about the numbers,” she says.
The people of Perry County are loving and strong. They persist despite harrowing statistics.
Ford resigned from her position as executive director of Sowing Seeds of Hope in July 2022, but her work is far from over. She continues to serve as Perry County Health Care Coordinator for the Perry County Commission. She also continues to be a part of BodyLove, a weekly radio program that uses storytelling to promote healthy living.
Every Wednesday morning Perry County residents can tune in to WJUS 1310 AM or 94.3 FM to hear Ford and others discuss a variety of health topics including the importance of health screenings and vaccinations. Past episodes have covered COVID-19, monkeypox, diabetes and much more.
BodyLove is wildly popular throughout Marion and Perry County, but this has its drawbacks for Ford.
“The only thing about providing health tips is I tell them they need to eat healthy and when I see them in the grocery store, they look in my basket to make sure my basket looks like my talk,” she shares with a laugh. “They make sure I’m walking the walk and not just talking the talk!”
Ford also continues to work with fellow leaders in local healthcare to fight for a critical access hospital for Perry County.
“If I get sick in the middle of the night, I’ve got to decide whether I’m going to drive to Tuscaloosa to get care or if I’m driving to Selma or if I’m going to try to go to UAB,” Ford explains. “If I get sick, I have to drive at least 30 miles to get health care and I don’t think that that should be.”
Though Ford doesn’t do this work for accolades, she says she’s humbled that someone thought enough of her work to nominate her for the ASF Humanitarian of the Year Award.
“I always tell people, the things that I had the opportunity to do while I was working at Sowing Seeds of Hope and even as I continue to do things now as Perry County Health Care Coordinator, is because of the people of Perry County,” Ford says. “They trust me, and they allow me to work with them and to help them and that is something I’m very grateful to the people of Perry County for.”