For Nancy Hard, the Family Service Association is exactly that – a family. She has spent the last 16 years as president and CEO of that family, working to provide services that strengthen communities throughout San Antonio.

With what Hard calls “sadness and a little apprehension,” she has announced that she will retire as the organization’s chief executive once a successor has been chosen.

Hard was born and raised in large family in a small community in the northwest Texas town of Chillicothe. It was there that she “learned the importance of neighbors helping neighbors,” and that “strong families build strong communities” – values Hard says Family Service embraces through its mission and programming.

Family Service opened its doors in 1903 and is San Antonio’s oldest social services organization. The organization was founded with the goal of providing financial assistance to families in need. As the organization continued to grow, its commitment to strengthening families held constant.

By the 1950s, Family Service was providing professional counseling services to the community. By the mid 1970s, home-based services and group education for families were established. In the early 1990s, the agency created the first teen-led gang alternative and implemented the largest Families and Schools Together program in the United States.

Family Service now operates as a trauma-informed care organization, providing education, counseling, job training, and financial stability programming, as well as initiatives to involve parents in the community. It currently serves more than 90,000 people in a 28-county radius.

Hard was integral to the organization’s growth. Family Service Association board member Sandra Nannini told the Rivard Report. During her 16 years of employment, Hard moved the organization from a 63-member team with a $3 million budget, to a 550-member team with a $23 million budget, plus a $2 million endowment.

“Nancy is a one of those rare leaders who has the combination of excellent people skills, excellent organizational skills, a willingness to work hard, a passion for the mission and the ability to set a long-term vision,” Nannini said.

Before she was president and CEO, Hard was the organization’s associate executive director. In that role she worked to expand the core services in counseling and parent education. After holding that position for three years, Hard left Family Service and moved to Austin to take a position with the state.

When her predecessor retired three years later, the board of directors contacted Hard directly and encouraged her to apply for the position of president and CEO.

On her second day on the job, 9/11 happened. At the time Family Service had partnerships with organizations and groups throughout the country, and was immediately called upon to gather resources to help those affected both in New York and San Antonio.

Family Service has extensive experience completing critical incident stress debriefings for airplane and train disasters, Hard said, and provided counseling services to businesses and organizations that had offices in the World Trade Center towers.

To serve both those directly affected and those experiencing the situation from afar, FSA put together a local response and teams to deploy nationally.

“Any day it could be something similar to that,” Hard said.

Family Service prides itself on preparing for the future despite not knowing what the next day will bring, Hard said, and that the agency has a reputation for being the “best in class” for the services it provides. Team members are prepared to respond to critical incidents within families and organizations, planning for both best and worst case scenarios to work toward positive outcomes.

What makes Family Service special is the organization’s focus on the impact it can make, Hard said. “We look at what we are doing to make a real difference in people’s lives – not just today.”

She describes the organization as one whose “base is solid, core is solid, and has the ability to be there for the immediate and long-term community response,” both locally and working with partner agencies.

Over the last 16 years Hard has worked to ensure that the services provided focus on the life span. People experience hardship at every age, she said, so she has tailored services to “be more articulated, more focused, and more defined” per population.

“[Hard] has brought the agency to the next level,” said Julie Wiley, public relations specialist with Family Service. Hard has every characteristic of a good leader, Wiley added, and her leadership style is what convinced her to work for the organization.

“She’s always thinking ahead, and challenges and empowers us to do the same. To have support from the CEO that I can go out and think outside the box knowing that she will support my desire to improve and share my vision is truly amazing.”

While it will be tough to leave friends and partners, Hard said she isn’t walking away. She will continue her work at the helm of the organization until she has found and trained her successor, ensuring a smooth transition. 

Family Service’s current leadership team, coupled with solid programming and internal and financial strength, will help the organization thrive well past her departure, Hard said.

“We are extremely fortunate that Nancy has given us the gift of time to find the right replacement for her,” Nannini said. “I think this demonstrates her continuing commitment to the well-being of the organization and its future.”

Nannini said that the timing of Hard’s departure was thoughtful. As the agency moves from a trusted charity organization into the realm of nonprofit business, Hard said it is the right time for her to step down.

“I was exactly what the organization needed 16 years ago in terms of leadership,” she explained. “The role of the CEO is changing, and with incoming leadership they will have a new vision, new ideas, and the leadership needs to be able to help craft that vision.”

Hard told the Rivard Report that she looks forward to seeing how “the best management ever in [Family Service’s] history” will bring its world class services into the next decade.

Family Service Association of San Antonio President and CEO Nancy Hard.
Family Service Association of San Antonio President and CEO Nancy Hard. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Hard recalled celebrating when everyone in the agency got an email address when she first started with the organization. Up until then, correspondence with partner agencies mainly occurred through fax, and it often took several days to complete requests.

More recently, Hard said, she will get a phone call asking if everything is okay if she doesn’t immediately respond to an email.

One principle she hopes the agency will heed even after her departure is that not everything can be done via email.

“To understand people, to develop solutions, and to stay in touch with the agency’s mission you have to build relationships – That can’t be done [online],” Hard said. “Relationships are critical now. They were in the past and they will be in the future – it’s a matter of nurturing them.”

Hard is looking forward to beginning a new chapter, one where she spends more time with her two daughters and three grandchildren. She also plans to remaining active within the community with projects that interest her – possibly even with FSA.

“We will miss her,” Nannini said. “She has definitely left her mark on the agency and on the San Antonio community as a whole.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.