Derry Petty

Bringing hope to the homeless

By Brandon Twyford
[ABMP Member Profile]

Like many of our members, Derry Petty’s career in massage was less a case of knowing what he wanted to do from an early age than it was a series of happy accidents that revealed a true calling. Even though he had a degree in kinesiology, Petty had trouble getting accepted into a physical therapy program near his home. He was working at a local factory at the time. “I sat down and thought really hard about my next move,” he says. “I recalled a massage therapist visiting one of my classes at Louisiana State University working on a fellow student. I began exploring admission into a local massage program and had to decide between that or a physical therapist assistant program an hour and a half away.” He decided on massage therapy and thus began a 14-year career that is still going strong, though he’s recently gone part time to make room for another passion—teaching step aerobics.
On top of this full life, in 2018 Petty took up an ambitious and honorable cause: reopening a local community fixture known as Grace Haven. Grace Haven was once a stopover shelter for the wives and girlfriends of inmates at the town’s prison. The owner at that time would cook meals and provide a place to stay so family members would not have to drive home overnight. “As the needs changed in the community, Grace Haven became a homeless shelter,” Petty says. “Later, my grandmother, Billie Oliver, became the next owner after volunteering there, and she ran the organization from 1991 until her passing in 2014. I used to help my grandmother at the shelter with events such as Toys for Tots, and with making food, picking up mail, and answering the phones.” But when Petty’s grandmother passed, he says Grace Haven also passed. With no one there to take up the cause, Grace Haven fell into disrepair. The board members abandoned the shelter, the grass went uncut, and the bills with the city went unpaid. “Once I learned the nonprofit needed help, I stepped in to save it. I want to reopen it in honor of my grandmother and the original founder, Ms. Dorothy Williams.” Petty hopes to reopen Grace Haven as a homeless shelter and to provide future programs that will benefit low-income populations. “My goal is to continue the work of helping people.
This is, for me, a way of giving back to my community.”
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