Helping others has always been rewarding work for one local woman who loves people – “It’s about others. It’s not just about you.”
Ella Pettiford’s passion to serve others and to be a good Samaritan sparked at a very young age when a childhood friend had a seizure on their way to school. She recalled her elementary school days when this person she grew up with, who had a medical condition that would cause her to have seizures, had an episode.
“I just felt compelled to stay right there with her through that seizure,” she said. “When it was over, I would help her to gather her books and her things. We would dust them off and walk on together. The good Lord just planted that in me even then. I’ve just always tried to reach out and just be there.”
Pettiford said it would bother her that the other children laughed. Her late mother stressed to her how to treat others, one of many lessons, for which she’s very grateful for.
“She said always be careful how you treat people, because you never know who’s going to have to just hand you a glass of water before you leave here,” she said. “Very early, these kinds of things are what she would say and instill in me.”
Born and raised in Tifton, Pettiford graduated from Wilson High School in 1969. She said there may have been some struggles during her high school years, but the teachers were very caring and she developed good friendships with her classmates. She serves on the Class of 1969 Scholarship Committee, which meets monthly and is active in doing service projects and worshipping together at different members’ churches.
Pettiford is also very active in the community organization PLIGHT (Proud, Loving Individuals Giving a Hand to Teens). She’s the immediate past president.
“That’s been very rewarding work,” she said. “Our focus is on young people.”
Of all the negative things going on in the world, she says she always maintains that “it’s one thing to sit and say, ‘Oh, these awful, awful children,’ but then it’s a totally different thing to reach out and try to make a difference and to try to steer them in a positive direction.”
Pettiford said PLIGHT does a lot of work with local children, offering workshops to instill values in them that will help become productive and positive citizens with good attitudes. She said they do activities that involve adults as well, including the presentation of a Parenting Excellence Award annually, but their main focus is the youth. Recently, PLIGHT sponsored its annual Martin Luther King Breakfast celebration. They always try to get attendance from the local youth.
Pettiford said so many people have gotten away from the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child.” She said that idea is still valid.
“The principle is still just as effective when we embrace our youth and actually determine that we want to help,” she said.
Other community organizations that she’s involved with include the Tifton-Tift County Public Library Board, secretary of the Tifton Emancipation Proclamation Committee, helps at the polls during election and works with community groups that provide tutoring services to students. She has also done some secretary work for the local program Mims Kids Inc., which was founded by State Court Judge Larry Mims and his wife, Joyce.
Pettiford said she just tries to make herself available in the community with various projects. She recently helped with Tift County Commissioner Melissa Chevers’ annual “Sock It to ‘em With Love” sock drive. She said she looks for projects such as this to contribute her time.
As a lifelong member of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, Pettiford is very involved, wearing many hats – she serves as an usher, directs the youth usher board, teaches senior high Sunday school class, is president of the deaconess board, immediate past president of the Missionary Society, teaches a Vacation Bible School class, is assistant to the youth director, serves as secretary of the Senior Citizens Ministry, is a member of the Health and Wellness Committee, works with the kitchen committee, is a Bible seminar teacher at their district union meeting and for the annual association and she serves as president of the women’s auxiliary. She and her husband, Arthur, also fill in sometimes to drive the church van to pick up children for Sunday school.
“I love my church. I love serving,” she said, smiling. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Pettiford helps in many different ways, but she says it’s just a good feeling to know that “the Lord has chosen you for a vessel and sees fit to use you.”
“He blesses us with abilities to reach out and help somebody else, not to hoard it for ourselves,” she said. “That’s what I want to do — just touch people. He’s blessed me with compassion and I thank him for that.”
She said sometimes when people think of missions work, they think of going somewhere out of country.
“His work for me so far is right here,” she said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done right here in this area, so I’m obedient to whatever direction he points me in and what he puts in my path.”
Pettiford says her most rewarding work is when she’s able to do the little things, such as a telephone call to say hello, a personal card or some other thing that no one knows about but her, the individual she’s helping and the Lord.
“Those kinds of things to me are important,” she said.
Along with being dedicated to her church and serving the community, she describes her job as being a ministry as well. Prior to being Mims’ secretary, Pettiford was a legal assistant when Mims had his private practice. She’s worked for him for almost 20 years. She said it’s been a beautiful working relationship. Mims is also very involved in the community and passionate about working with the youth, and Pettiford has learned a lot working under him.
Pettiford graduated from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College with an associate degree in business administration. Through a program there, she earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus. Prior to working for Mims, she worked as a substitute teacher, a paraprofessional, in a dental office and was supervisor of the insurance department at Tift Regional Medical Center, where she received an award for customer relations. She and her husband, who’s retired from Georgia Power, have four children: the Rev. Isaac Ross, Dr. Brian Pettiford, Tasha Pettiford and Lynn Landsberg. They also have four grandchildren.
Pettiford’s advice to young people in achieving their goals is: “To first of all have a goal, to stay focused and work hard. Be willing to do what it takes to accomplish your goal and learning that what delayed gratification means is some things you’re going to have to put on hold for a while. Be prayerful about that goal and the Lord will give you what he wants. He does have a purpose for your life. Bloom where the Lord plants you and it’ll work out for you,” she said.
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.