I live in Woodlawn, a small community or suburb of Birmingham, Al. This is a community filled with drugs dealing, sales and use, prostitution at local seedy motels, homeless living in streets and in abandoned houses to keep warm and shelter over their heads and young adults with no purpose in their lives but roaming the streets in search of their futures, predominantly black and Hispanic.
Decades ago, this was a thriving; beautiful community filled with profitable businesses, children playing in the parks and streets in the neighborhoods and the hustle and bustle of success. My aunt and uncle lived in this area 50 years ago. It was small town USA with small town architecture and beautiful brick edifices. You were not afraid to let your children play out after dark and walking down the main street was as safe as in your home.
But now, with the advancement and passages of age and hopelessness, the community has very few businesses and those have to have bars across the windows and alarms systems that rival NASA. Former businesses have broken windows, gutted insides and trash strewn everywhere. The parks are empty save for a few brave children who play only in daylight hours.
The residents are mostly elderly who have lived in their first homes that they purchased many years ago, and our landscape is scattered with low income and public housing, that cater to the quick sells of drugs and alcoholic consumption. Shots ringing out and splintering the night’s peace is common within my neighborhood as are loud fights, muggings, rapes and murder rears its ugly head more often than not.
This is where I live and where I work- within the trenches. I love my small Victorian Gingerbread home built in the 1930’s that sits on a street with several abandoned houses and some occupied dwellings. I adore my neighbors, some elderly and infirmed, some working folks and some barely eking by, but what I love most is the comradery that we have on my street.
As an extension of that, my home is referred to as the “Motel 6” – we always leave the light on for you! The homeless that I greet every morning and night, the residents of the neighborhoods and my former and current clients know that I always have a pot of coffee brewed, baked goodies and leftovers in the refrigerators, just waiting for them to stop by. It doesn’t matter to me what day or what time it is, they are always welcome. Some come to just talk, others need assistance and what better way than over a cup of hot coffee and cookies and cake to delve into life’s insurmountable problems and come up with a solution.
I have a vacant lot next to my home that the neighborhood refers to as “Woodlawn’s Thrift Store”. Overflow of donations throughout the year are put out in plastic containers and plastic and cloth bags for storage and easy to carry in this lot and anyone who stops by can pick and choose what they want and what they need. I even have individuals stop and ask me “when we will be putting out new stuff”.
I keep The Lighthouse for Recovery Ministries’ office home-based for one reason: I am a prime example of turning your life around, with hard work, dedication, motivation and perseverance. Eight years ago, I arrived in Birmingham with very little and lived in a “transitional housing” program and began my life over once again after an acrimonious divorce.
I invite potential clients into my living room and I am never embarrassed to tell them of the mistakes I have made and show them what you can have if you set your mind to it and work with us in our services and programs to make a change. Former clients stop by and are reminded that they may have slipped into old lifestyles but tomorrow they can start over and work towards those elusive dreams once again!
Just as I have a family wall of photographs of kids and grandkids, I also have a wall that holds precious memories close to my heart. These are drawings, paintings, woodwork, cards and other items from inmates in the prison systems, the homeless that leave us little gifts on the front porch and letters from our men and women serving in the military overseas. These are my heroes!
Those that persevere through adversity and challenges - some of their own making and some of circumstances beyond their means. Those that give unselfishly that others may live in peace, freedom, prosperity and safety.
IF we can touch just one person’s life on a daily basis, then we have accomplished the world!
I would not trade one thing about my life, where I live or what I do for my “job”. I would trade everything to cure social injustice, right the many wrongs and once again see prosperity and success brought to the hearts and the eyes of the hopeless and downtrodden!
That is my reason for getting up each morning and simple acts of kindness go a long way in Paying it Forward for each and every one of us.
The Merriest of Christmas’s and a very successful and happy New Year to all!