The Well sees new leader take helm

·6 min read

Jan. 22—As a missionary of the First United Methodist Church of Brunswick, Nancy Peed believes her extensive work overseas makes her uniquely qualified for her new job — director of the homeless day shelter, The Well in Brunswick.

But even with her impressive resume, she sees herself as a pretty average person. Peed's family has roots in the Golden Isles. She lived here and graduated from Brunswick High School before moving away to attend college and followed work around the state until she returned in 2021. She likes hiking and skiing in Montana, where her adult daughter lives.

Her background is in medicine. A graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, her specialty is respiratory therapy. Ever ambitious, Peed went far in Georgia's hospitals, serving as president and CEO of the Medical Center of Peach County in Byron for 19 years.

Earlier in her life, she felt called to use her skills to benefit those in need of medical care in Africa, but she didn't have a clear idea how. It was very vague and hazy at the time, she said.

But, around 2015, when she was planning to move on from her position in Peach County, the calling came back stronger than ever. And God had little concern for how she felt about the matter.

"All I could really say was 'OK, God, if you think I'm ready,'" Peed said.

While Peed did trust God, she did not feel ready for such an undertaking. Rather, when she initially felt the call to go to Africa, Peed assumed the time would come after she retired. But rather than continue on with what seemed to be her career path, Peed listened to the calling.

"That was a big transition, from hospitals (in America) to Africa," Peed said.

She raised money from friends and groups she'd been part of to fund her mission to Africa. She didn't really know what to expect and kept her mind open, even so she found the transition into African society difficult.

At first, she was concerned she may have difficulty integrating with the culture and may offend someone at some point.

She started as a consultant at a hospital system in Arua, Uganda, helping to improve patient comfort and care.

During the few years she worked as a consultant, she began to notice how the homeless were treated in Uganda, which she said was not unique among African nations. They aren't always treated well in the United States, she said, but in Africa, they were generally assumed to be diseased, cursed or spiritually poisoned if they were acknowledged at all.

"It was more difficult to see them there," Peed recalled. "They stay away from people. They tend to flee from people."

They commonly wore rags and had very little access to food or water, which is where she found her niche — and what God had called her to do.

It was then that what would become known as Freely Give Ministries kicked into gear. Peed called together friends and contacts she'd met in Africa — people she knew truly cared — and started working on ways to help the homeless in Uganda.

It started with simply meeting their basic needs — food, water, shelter and clothing. But as the mission's reach grew with the number of volunteers, they were quickly able to start addressing higher needs.

Homelessness can stem from a simple desire not to work, but more often, it's mental illness, trauma or a general lack of knowing how to get by in the world that leads one to sleep on the streets. This results in isolation and distrust that only worsens their conditions and puts up further barriers to integrating into society.

Africa's culture didn't make it very easy. It's a much more community and family-centric than the America's with its individualistic leanings. But it also has a unique beauty, Peed said.

"There's a lot I wanted to make part of who I am and bring here," Peed said. "I think I've fallen in love with both (cultures)."

But it also means that those who fall outside of or are perceived to be potentially harmful to the family or community structure can be treated very poorly.

"They're people, you know?" Peed said. "Once you get over the fear and judgment, you see the people. 'There but for the grace of God,' right?"

Helping the average people connect with the homeless — those at the bottom rung of society and often at the lowest point of their lives — became the mission's purpose.

While there are more homeless than could be helped in any one lifetime, the mission made a real difference in many lives, she said, and it grew into a resource for the homeless. Not just to find the basics, but to get started on the path to standing on their own two feet.

"The people who were so fearful, they started to see their humanity," Peed said.

She did not stay to see the project come to fruition, but Peed facilitated a land purchase and funding drive for a building in Uganda that the mission could use as a headquarters from which to expand its services.

Peed wasn't able to see the building completed because she came back to the states to look after her father, who was still living in the Golden Isles. He passed away only a few months after Peed resumed living in her childhood hometown.

And she found a reason to stay.

She'd heard of the Rev. Wright Culpepper, pastor of First UMC of Brunswick and executive director of FaithWorks, which manages The Well, from a relative of his in Middle Georgia. When she moved back to Brunswick, she asked Culpepper if she could help. He found a position for her alright — she's been the shelter's director since September.

Since having become reacquainted with the community, she's also become familiar with some negative stereotypes about the homeless. For one, The Well may draw the homeless to the immediate vicinity on Gloucester Street, but it's a stretch to think it draws people to Brunswick from outside the city.

"Most people who come here didn't even know The Well existed," Peed said. "There are always homeless people wherever you go. Every country and every city struggles with it."

She was also reacquainted with how giving and generous the Golden Isles can be. Following recent calls for socks, blankets, food, volunteers and the like, Peed said she was blown away by the response from the community.

In just the few short months since she took over, Peed said she's come to believe Glynn County and The Well are special places, and that great things can be accomplished here.

Her medical background helps with expanding her knowledge of mental health, and Peed thinks The Well can be a place for mental healing along with all the other services it offers — which include breakfast and lunch, showers, assistance getting ID and other documents, resume writing instruction and many others.

As a charity, The Well operates on the generosity of the public. For more information on how to contribute, visit faithworksministry.org or call 912-281-8512.