'When people need help, you go' Meridian chef pitches in after Hurricane Ida

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Henry Countiss of Meridian (left)  joined Nicholas Oats and Nastasha Pernell of West Point to help out at St. Anthony’s Gardens in Covington, Louisiana after Hurricane Ida.

“When people need help, you go.”

That’s Henry Countiss’ philosophy.

At 24, Countiss is the sous chef and dietary Manager at Aldersgate Retirement Community here in Meridian.

Last week, Countiss was on his weekly zoom call with his corporate colleagues when he learned that a sister community, St. Anthony’s Gardens in Covington, Louisiana, had suffered as a result of Hurricane Ida.

“As I listened to June Brainard, the district manager of Unidine Lifestyles, she asked if anyone could help, I knew what I had to do,” said Countiss.

Unidine is a food service company that services senior living communities all over the country.

Brainard asked the group if anyone was willing to help, and Countiss and Nastasha Pernell, the dining service director at Dugan Memorial in West Point, volunteered without hesitation.

Last Thursday morning, Countiss traveled to Covington where he met up with Pernell and Nicholas Oats, the senior director of dining at Morrison Living.

“I saw fallen trees and broken windows along the way,” Countiss recalled. “But I knew we were prepared as we had packed up our vehicles with the much-needed supplies.”

“I know how I feel about the residents here at Aldersgate, and these folks were so grateful and sweet,” he added. “We wanted to comfort them by making sure they got a good meal. We live in a world where it’s so easy to overlook the care of the elderly, even with all of their knowledge and wisdom.”

When Countiss attended Lamar School, he anchored the O-line as center of the varsity football team as a three-year starter, winning a state championship in 2013. At the time, he would have never guessed that he would find his eventual calling in creating delicious meals for senior citizens.

“I worked as director of dining at The Blake, an assisted living facility in Oxford, for four years,” he recalled. “On my very first day, I remember telling my mother that I wanted to work in this field for the rest of my life. I want to change the perception of dining in a senior living environment. The residents should look forward to an exciting and delicious meal. They should get the respect they deserve, and I intend to make that happen.”

His mother, Amy Countiss, says her son’s heart is his biggest asset.

“From the time he could speak, he’s been taking up and taking care of others,” she said. “He tells me all the time that if he can make a meal that takes a resident back in time or reminds them of home, he will try any recipe to bring them comfort.”

While much of Countiss's skills are self-taught, he has trained under several professional chefs, so it was a natural fit for him to return home and take on the job at Aldersgate, working for Unidine food services.

“Honestly, I’m living my dream right here in my hometown, Meridian,” he said. I’m taking care of senior citizens, giving them the kind of meals they deserve. Little things make the big things matter. I have a big heart, and it’s time to use it. I do so every day when I prepare a great meal for my residents. It makes me happy that I was able to spread the love when I traveled outside of my community to help others in need.”

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