Giving back to the community not only makes good business sense in that it gets your face and name out there, it also makes you feel good. But even more than that, it changes the lives of others. It makes your employees feel good. It certainly makes the people that you help feel good. Many of the people that you help just need that helping hand. They just need that temporary support in order to make their way in the world. Community service is a win-win all the way around. Decas Realty would like to use this week’s article to spotlight one charitable organization that is near and dear to their hearts. That organization is called The First Light.
Decas Realty was first introduced to the First Light Organization by Heather Benoit who has volunteered for this organization and has helped with fundraising for approximately the last 10 years. Once Decas decided to volunteer, there was no turning back – they were hooked – and this Thanksgiving will mark the 4th Holiday season that has seen Decas involved.
When I asked Mr. Jonathan Benoit of Decas Realty recently why he felt the First Light Organization was the charity for his company to focus their efforts on, he replied that Decas likes to serve the needy and give back to the community. He also felt strongly about the First Light Organization because they “allow women and their children a safe place to sleep for the night when nobody else is willing to help them. It also provides them with a hot meal, a shower, and a bed. It gives these ladies peace of mind while in the transition from a bad life.” It should be noted that not all shelters will allow women to bring their children with them. First Light does.
Back in the early 1980’s area ministers had noticed a dramatic uptick in the number of homeless people who died. A group of area ministers decided to do something about it and in 1983 they started an emergency night shelter that was located in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church located at 2100 4th Avenue North in downtown Birmingham and was staffed entirely by volunteers. This shelter could accommodate up to 15 women and children but would sometimes provide safety and shelter to over 40 women and children.
First Light was incorporated on March 13, 1998 and a capital campaign was begun to renovate the old Granada Hotel, which was located just two blocks away from the church and had recently burned. The old hotel was renovated to accommodate more women and children, to provide space for social services and day programs, and to have living space for permanent residents who were unlikely to live independently again. Since its inception, First Light has grown considerably due to the generous support of local faith communities, corporations, individuals, foundations and civic groups. First Light was able to move into the fully renovated Granada Hotel in May, 2000.
The old Granada Hotel was renovated to accommodate more women, to give families a private space during their stay here, to give the guests a place to stay during the day, to provide space for social services and day programs, and to have living space for permanent residents who were unlikely to move out of the shelter. The new building holds up to 70 women and children and the First Light Organization has approximately 65 apartments throughout the Birmingham area to house the women and children who are ready to live independently.
Below are a few success stories from First Light:
Ms. Jane is a woman whose tenure is the longest of all First Light guests. She was among the first to move into the basement of First Presbyterian Church when it was still an emergency night shelter. She became a kind of mother figure to all other guests, nurturing new arrivals, keeping laundry done, and tending to most housekeeping matters. It became clear that Ms. Jane had found her place in life at the shelter. Matters outside the shelter in the community at large, however, were problematic. She preferred not to go out at all. It became apparent that there was a defined need for permanent housing for women like Ms. Jane… a place to call home, but with assistance from a professional social work staff. To this day, Ms. Jane lives on the fourth floor of First Light as a permanent resident. Things have changed… Jane is happy, stable, and makes monthly visits to Wal-Mart. She has even attended the ballet with other First Light guests- and she had a wonderful time!
Valerie came to us, not because of alcohol, drugs, or domestic violence, but because she had been laid off and subsequently lost her car, her apartment, her two sons and all sense of pride. Immediately upon entering the emergency shelter, Valerie began to seek employment and educational opportunities. Four months later, she had a full-time job, was enrolled in Virginia College and moved out into her own apartment. Several months after leaving First Light, we received an invitation to her graduation ceremony! A few months after graduation, she sent us a card with a picture of her and her two sons! She had regained custody and they were living happily together.
Due to severe mental illness and drug addiction, Susan lost her marriage, her home, and the affection of her sons. During her first stay at First Light, Susan stabilized with the assistance of psychiatric care and then left the shelter to live with her eldest son. This happened two more times. It is very difficult to stay on a healthy plane without professional assistance. It was Susan’s third arrival at First Light that made a lasting difference. Determined not to fail, Susan applied herself in every way to achieving mental health, sobriety and full independence. Presently, Susan is living in an apartment under our Bessemer HUD program. She sees her sons regularly and has the warmest of smiles when she returns to First Light for group therapy.
I recently spoke with Ms. Ruth Crosby, Executive Director of the First Light Organization. She has been with First Light since 1998. Speaking with her is like speaking with a friend that you’ve known for decades. I can certainly understand the enormous success of this amazing organization with her at the helm. Ms. Crosby shared that the First Light is unique in that they have volunteers who bring dinners every night of the year. She also told me that volunteers spend the night in the emergency shelter every night.
The First Light is a true hospitality center and they log over 10,000 volunteer hours a year.
The folks at Decas Realty had a great time serving food to the guests at First Light. Here are a few pictures of them hard at work.
The First Light Organization has a sign that pretty much sums up their attitude.
For more information on The First Light Organization and how you can help, please view their website: www.firstlightshelter.org