Zeb Hough has moved his family to New Bern amid a pandemic.

Starting a new job is always a challenge.

Make it a leadership role in a new city and embark on the raging Covid-19 pandemic takes it to an extreme new level.

This was the situation that Zeb Hough had to move his wife and two children 800 miles from New York to New Bern last June to become the executive director of Religious Community Services. It is arguably the largest local nonprofit serving the needs of underserved people.

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New Bern Religious Community Services (RCS) are distributing lunches at the RCS New Bern building at 919 George Street in New Bern on March 20, 2020. Staff and volunteers from the First United Methodist Church of Havelock help serve meals.  The distribution program takes place outside the cafeteria entrance, as official guidelines and restrictions are mandatory in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Bern Religious Community Services is celebrating the $ 1.5 million reconfiguration of its George Street complex with a virtual groundbreaking ceremony and Facebook Live tour in New Bern, NC on September 17, 2020. Zeb Hough , Executive Director of the RCS New Bern, From left to right, Mayor Dana Outlaw, David Kick, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the RCS, Denny Butcher, County Commissioner, and Deborah Cook, Chair of the Bee Campaign, lead the RCS inauguration ceremony.  New Bern's Religious Community Services have been providing food, shelter and other basic needs to help the needy and homeless locally since 1982. For more information and to view the tour, see the RCS Facebook page @RCSNB [Gray Whitley / Sun Journal Staff]

“Coming in the middle of a pandemic allowed me to have the ground pretty quickly, just out of necessity,” Hough said. “We were in crisis mode from day one and the consensus of the board was that we had to keep our essential services open.”

The organization’s community kitchen, crisis shelter and pantry had to remain open throughout the pandemic. There were additional challenges of an outpost food distribution program planned for 700 new families in outlying counties. There was the imminent opening of new shelters for veterans and families and the opening of a new, larger daily dining hall.

These are the 2020 fruits of a three-year fundraising campaign to meet the ever-growing needs of RCS.

Community needs remained high

“The large number of community needs really demanded that I go out and find resources to keep our doors open and our services operational,” Hough said.

This was an introductory crash course and gaining the trust of local RCS partners during the toughest times. But Hough sees the situation as positive.

“What allowed me to do is learn the organization and learn this community very, very quickly,” he said. “I’m really glad I did. It’s been a phenomenal year. I wouldn’t take anything back and look forward to how many years I’ll be here.”

In the spring and summer of 2020, people were avoiding face-to-face contact with others amid the unknown virus, especially when it came to strangers.

Hough’s job was to move forward being a sociable person.

“It was definitely one of those situations where you had to be careful,” he said. “As many in-person beer garden meetings as I have had, there were as many afternoon and morning zoom meetings. However, people were interested in meeting me. I had to find this. that worked for them and make it work for me. This is the burden that all essential workers carried. We had to adapt to circumstances to provide the essential services for which we were responsible.

The Hough Family - Summer, Isaiah, Zeb and Eden celebrate a year in New Bern.

The Covid-19 situation has changed dramatically over the past year, with the arrival of vaccines and the lifting of most restrictions. However, an increase in cases in recent weeks indicates that life has not completely returned to normal.

“I am optimistic about our situation as long as we remain vigilant about what is needed,” Hough said. “What we are seeing is that as people return to work and the community opens up, the majority of people are paying attention because their lives depend on it.”

After a year of memories and reflections, Hough said the initial attraction to New Bern had only grown stronger.

“One of the first things I noticed was the spirit of initiative,” he said. “If there is an issue and I bring it to our nonprofit partners, there is a community spirit about it. We will find out how to meet the challenge. If that means collaborating, blurring organizational lines, doing whatever we need to do to get there, that’s what this community is all about. This is what makes it a strong community. ”

Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or at [email protected] Follow him on Facebook at Charlie Hall.

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