After nearly three decades of fulfilling her calling, residential services director Gloria Hursey said her goodbyes to the Bloomington Housing Authority last week as she officially retired.
Before her first day on the job in 1995, Hursey was a resident of public housing herself. Living as a low-income single mother, she decided to pursue a degree in social work at Illinois State University so she could use her experience toprovide resources that would better serve the residents of today.
Now as she passes on her torch of service, her biggest hope is that the person who fills her position follows in her footsteps.
“At the open house (that BHA hosted for her July 31), I only wanted to concentrate on one thing, whoever would take my seat would fit in with the housing authority and push it forward to be even greater than what it is today,” Hursey said. “When they revealed who that would be (Cheri Pierce), it took a toll of stressors off my heart because I’ve worked with the young woman and know she’s cut from the same piece of cloth.”
Born into a family of beauticians, barbers, teachers, and even sharecroppers, Hursey believes her desire to help people was passed down through generations.
“I always tell people that my purpose in life has always been to be in the helping field,” Hursey said. “When I was 10 years old, we had a neighbor who had nine children and we used to always play together, but they would never let me into their house. One day I guess because there were so many kids and their mother wasn’t paying attention, I was able to get in the house and when I went upstairs I remember seeing blankets on the floor and no furniture. The kids were sleeping on the floor.”
“I went back and told my mom what I saw and from that day on, whenever she cooked a meal, she cooked a double portion to give to our neighbor. Watching that and just seeing her serve people on the streets that needed food or clothing inspired me. My mom was an underdog and I saw it all my life, so I believe the calling was embedded in me,” Hursey said.
As resident services director, Hursey helped public housing residents access educational resources and social services, resolve conflicts, and improve their lives. She has also trained and mentored numerous BHA employees, interns, and volunteers.
Hursey said being a BHA resident before entering her management position gave her a great advantage when it came to enforcing change.
“My life as a resident was a learning experience. I saw a lot of things, and it just encouraged me to be someone who was there not only for my children but for my neighbors as well,” Hursey said. “So when I went into management, it was like a double-edged sword because I knew both sides and I could advocate and sometimes I advocated very loudly.”
In the last two decades, Hursey saw plenty of change in residents.
“Back in the day we had a lot of residents from Bloomington, but after they shut down many housing sites in Chicago, people began to come here and we had an adjustment period,” Hursey said. “We had to adjust because a lot of the people that came had been through more than we could ever dream. They were from a larger metropolitan area and they had trust issues, so we had to try to meet their needs while convincing them they had a support system.”
While there were many difficulties, Hursey continued to pour her heart into residents.
“I think the hardest part was working with clients who you go beyond 100% for, yet things still don’t work for them,” she said. “Even though this would happen I'd continue to pour into them and hope one day they’d come back and say, ‘Now I get it.’ I’ve actually had the opportunity to experience that and it’s the greatest feeling because sometimes you can’t save the masses, but you can save the few. If you can save the few, one day you’ll be able to look up and they’ll become the masses. So that’s why I always say, although some may be hard to serve, serve them anyway.”
It’s a huge task. BHA owns and manages more than 600 units at nine sites in Bloomington, providing affordable housing for over 2,800 people. Regardless, Hursey and her team got the job done.
“I have a staff full of frontline fighters. When you’re working for the people and doing it from the heart, you do what you have to do. And we had moral support from our coworkers and we worked together,” Hursey said. “That’s what you have to do to make an agency a success.”
The best part about the job to Hursey was being able to develop a personal relationship with residents.
“I love interacting with the residents and making myself accessible. Although there were times when I had to be stern, I was stern in a compassionate way,” Hursey said.
After dedicating most of her life to serving, Hursey hopes that her residents remember they were always her top priority. Now as she heads for retirement, she intends to sit back and enjoy the ride.
“I think after everything I've poured into others over the years, I'm finally gonna let someone else pour into me. But once you’ve worked in the helping field, you never stop. Even when you’re old and can’t move around like you use to, you have to keep spreading love because that’s the motor that keeps the engine going.”
The July 31 open house also honored another long-serving BHA staffer, Stacey Wiggins, who is leaving the BHA to pursue full-time graduate work at ISU.
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