by Deborah Malone and Rita Prochazka
Hi! It’s Rita and I am so pleased to introduce my friend, Tracy Willard. She is a woman who loves the Lord and others with her whole heart. She and I met many years ago at church and I was able to get to know her better as I volunteered at the nonprofit that she and her husband founded in 2011. Hang onto your hat as you read this amazing story. You will be blessed, and you will praise God as you learn of the ministry Tracy and her family lead. Welcome to “Bloom in Your Winter Season,” Tracy.
Questions by Rita
Tracy, can you share some of your testimony?
I was introduced to the Lord at youth group, which I attended while dating the young man who would eventually become my husband. After one such meeting, we sat together in his car, praying, and I asked the Lord into my heart.
That boyfriend promptly broke up with me after that night, saying my relationship with God needed to be independent of our feelings for each other. My parents didn’t attend church, and I didn’t drive. I asked my neighbors to take me to their church, which they happily did, but I still longed for more.
Providentially, I knew a girl in high school who seemed “different” from my other friends, and I asked her if she was a Christian. Not only was she a Christian, but I found out that the church she attended was just three blocks away from my house. I would walk there every Sunday, and over the next couple of years, my relationship with the Lord became rooted and grounded.
What is your favorite Bible verse and why?
May the God of HOPE fill you with all JOY and PEACE as you trust in Him…. (Romans 15:13)
I love this verse because we all endure hard times where there is not an earthly source of joy and peace. Knowing the God of Hope can provide supernatural joy and peace has sustained me.
Briefly, what are some things you have learned in your walk with God in this season of you life?
Currently, I’m in the “grandma of young ones,” season of life. I’ve learned that God listens to and answers audacious prayers. Two of our three grandchildren lived in Arizona, and every day I would write prayers in my journals, asking for the Lord to bring that family to Michigan so we could be closer. He answered those prayers!
Another thing I’ve learned during this season is that God is much more multi-faceted than I ever imagined. During the height of the pandemic, we began watching online different styles of worship and prayer. Loved getting out of my little box and being able to express my love and gratitude to the Lord in so many ways.
How have you prepared or been prepared for your ministry?
First, I would like to answer that question in regard to practical preparation. Prior to opening our first Hunter Hospitality House location, I was the office manager at a local nonprofit organization called Bridge Builders Counseling and Mentoring. The founder, managers, and board of directors were kind enough to share their procedures and processes with me, which was incredibly helpful when we opened our nonprofit organization.
I also had some previous experience on Port Huron Town Hall and and Port Huron School District’s Parent Teacher Association, and those “working boards” taught me a lot about delegation and community participation.
Now, if I am to answer that question on a more spiritual basis, I would say this: Hunter Hospitality House is God’s ministry, and Hunter was God’s child. For some reason, He chose my husband and I to be Hunter’s parents, and to be with him from the beginning of life to his death, just 16 days later. Knowing every life is here for a purpose, I always believed there would be a reason I was chosen as Hunter’s mom, and I kept my eyes, ears, and heart open for it.
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God planted the idea for Hunter Hospitality House in my heart. Every church we attended, every person we met, every situation we encounter, I believe, would work together for God’s good, and eventually lead to the knowledge we would need to start Hunter Hospitality House.
Share a time, recently, that you saw God work in your life, either in your ministry or personally?
As 2022 wound down, we were facing our first year since opening Hunter Hospitality House where we would be in the red, with less money coming in than went out. It is, of course, a situation that’s very common with small nonprofits, but I regularly prayed it would never happen to Hunter Hospitality House. With less than two weeks left of the year, we received an influx of donations, including one gift that was $5,000 more than the donor had ever given HHH in the past. That gift, and several smaller ones, put us back in the black, and we praised God for his mercy!
Will you share something about yourself that most people would not know? It can be a fun fact or serious.
Years ago, Richard Simmons called me!
I’d written him a letter, telling him about a friend of mine who was going to be seeing him at a Port Huron Town Hall meeting, and asking him if he could give her a little shout out during the event. She’d suffered tragic losses, and was just a really sweet gal. When he got to town the night before this program, he called my house. How he got my number, I’ll never know. My husband even videotaped me talking to him…it was great fun.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I suppose the obvious answers to that question would be starting Hunter Hospitality House and raising three children. However, I don’t really consider those to be personal achievements, because without the Lord, my husband, our family, friends, and community, I couldn’t have done either one of those things.
So, I think my answer would have to be that establishing and continuing weekly Sunday dinners with our grown children, their wives and our grandchildren (and several grand-doggies) is an old-fashioned, incredible accomplishment for which I’d like to be remembered.
Would your life story make a good movie?
Nope, not unless you’re into boring documentaries about a very typical person.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I actually see myself in the exact same place I am now, leading Hunter Hospitality House, enjoying my family and friends, and spending time with the Lord each morning in my little sunroom. Of course, I’ll probably be surprised though…His plans are not our own!
Questions by Deborah Malone
What would your advice be to other “seasoned” women on ways to stay active in ministry?
Don’t settle for “good enough.” Never stop learning ways to improve the way you serve the people the Lord has lent to you for this time.
Have you ever felt “too old” to be used by God? What made you decide God could still use you?
I’ve often felt ill equipped and too old. I’m not cognitively sharp as I once was, and I am definitely not as energetic.
I lean on Hebrews 13:20-21: Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.
What seasoned woman in the Bible is an inspiration to you?
Eunice, the grandmother of Timothy, is an inspiration to me. I pray my faith will be an inspiration to my grandchildren in the way her faith influenced his life.
If you’ve had an illness or physical limitations, what accommodations have you had to make to continue your ministry?
I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia many years ago, which zaps my energy and leaves me sore, and being too busy or not getting enough sleep exacerbates the condition. I’ve learned that resting is imperative in order for me to have the creativity and passion necessary to lead Hunter Hospitality House. Many other leaders seem to go to every local event, travel for conferences, and work well into the night. That’s not me, but I have learned that delegation is an incredible tool.
Tracy, can you tell us a little about your ministry?
Hunter Hospitality House (HHH) is a nonprofit organization providing free lodging, transportation, and abundant amenities in three beautiful homes sitting across the street from both hospitals and the cancer center in Port Huron, MI. My husband and I founded HHH in memory of our late son, Hunter, a premature baby who just lived 16 days. The first home opened on what would have been his 20th birthday, the 2nd home opened on his 22nd birthday, and the third home opened on his 30th birthday. Two of the homes are bed and breakfast style for adults only, and the third is a small house for families with children to use alone, much like a free vacation rental home. Since opening in 2011, we have had more than 2,350 registrations and provided more than 12, 030 free days of lodging.
What challenges have you had to overcome in this time of your “seasoned” ministry?
Our community comes together in a miraculous way to provide volunteers and funds, keeping Hunter Hospitality House running perfectly. My role, as Executive Director, is to create policies and procedures, facilitate staff and board meetings, publicize the organization, and do the fundraising.
One challenge I face is that while fundraising and event planning are crucial, they’re not my favorite tasks. Seriously, I would rather clean a dirty bathroom than ask someone for money. I try to remind myself, though, that God equips those he calls, each morning during my quiet time I imagine being given just enough “equipment” for the day.
Another challenge is time management. There is never a shortage of community events, fundraisers, ribbon cuttings, church services, nonprofit workshops, networking opportunities, etc. Choosing which ones to go to, representing HHH and spreading the word of our services, while still giving myself enough time to finish the quiet work of grant and policy writing, inspecting the homes, and touching base with the guests…it gets a bit overwhelming and exhausting.
Finally, my God-given nesting instinct is very strong, being a homemaker and a wife. I was a stay-at-home mom for years and years. And many days I long to be a stay-at-home grandma, too. I love my job at HHH, but I also love being on call for babysitting. My busy schedule is fairly flexible, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to wanting even more time to spend with our little grandchildren before they are off to school full time.
Tracy thank you so much for stopping by “Bloom in Your Winter Season,” and sharing a little about your ministry with us. What a wonderful service you and your husband are providing in your son’s name!
Bio: Tracy Willard is the Executive Director of Hunter Hospitality House, which she co-founded with her husband, Jeff, in 2011.
2 thoughts on “INTERVIEW WITH TRACY WILLARD”
Wonderful interview! Tracy & Jeff are a gift to our community that is rare these days.
I’m blessed to know them .
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Tracy thank you so much for stopping by and sharing with us!
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