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YWCA of Central Alabama

Mission:

To eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all

Alabama Wildlife Federation

Mission:

To promote the conservation of Alabama’s wildlife and related natural resources through responsible stewardship

Ashford Downtown Redevelopment Authority

Mission:

To encourage sustained growth, expanding the economic base and preserving the historic quality of the city of Ashford

Alabama Institute For Deaf and Blind

Mission:

To provide education and service programs to those who are deaf, blind, deafblind and multidisabled and their families

16th Street Baptist Church

Mission:

To share the story of the church and its role in the battle for civil rights

Mission of Hope

Mission:

To provide food and clothing to Jefferson and Walker county residents in financial distress

Freshwater Land Trust

Mission:

To conserve, connect and care for lands and waters in Central Alabama

Distinguished Young Women

Mission:

To positively impact the lives of young women by providing an experience that promotes scholarship, leadership and talent

Auburn Rural Studio

Mission:

To give architecture students a hands-on educational experience while assisting local under-resourced communities

Project Lifesaver

Mission:

To provide timely response to save lives and reduce potential injury for those with the propensity to wander

Stories from the field

2019 Annual Report Vol. 3
Every year, we seek to empower nonprofits, cities and schools by providing them with the resources they need to expand their ability to serve and address community needs. Through our grant programs, we are investing in organizations that are committed to finding sustainable solutions that lead to long-term success.
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A Letter From Myla

Myla E. Calhoun
President, Alabama Power Foundation
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Partners and Friends,

I am excited to share with you our 2019 Annual Report. This report highlights the people and organizations across the state working every day to enhance our communities and build a better Alabama. As we reflect on 30 years of the foundation, we recognize that the work we do would not be possible without our partners who activate this mission every day.

This vital work takes on added importance as we confront systemic racism and inequity while in a global pandemic. Yet, at a time when their own needs are great, nonprofits in Alabama have displayed incredible resilience and courage, all while responding to community relief efforts and ensuring the needs of the most vulnerable are met.

At its core, this response embodies the mission of the Alabama Power Foundation: to improve the quality of life for all Alabamians. Since 1989, this mission has served as the cornerstone for how we approach our commitment to support, transform and strengthen the communities we serve.

While we remain committed to our founding mission, we acknowledge that much of the work remains undone. By working alongside our partners, we will engage in meaningful, and sometimes difficult conversations to address the critical needs of our state, bridge the gaps of inequity and create a path forward where access, opportunity and justice are truly impartial.

As the philanthropic landscape continues to evolve, we are driven by the possibility for innovation that lives within it. We will continue to incorporate new strategies for giving, create opportunities for growth to expand the impact of our grant dollars and ensure a sustainable giving model for our partners.

Even in this season of uncertainty, I am confident that we will emerge from this with a deeper understanding of our profound connection – how the power of working together is our greatest strength and resource for advancement, renewal and change.

Thank you for 30 rewarding years of building a better Alabama. I look forward to working with you as we build on this success and continue this journey for good.


Myla E. Calhoun

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About the Foundation

The Alabama Power Foundation is the state’s largest corporate foundation, funded entirely through resources independent of Alabama Power's customers. We seek out and assist nonprofit partners who spread the most good.
Learn more

Staff + Board Members


Foundation Board Members

Anita Allcorn-Walker
Greg Barker
Chris Blake
Treasurer
Alexia Borden
Myla Calhoun
President
Susan Comensky
Stephanie Cooper
Mark Crews
Mark Crosswhite
Kimberly Jackson
Assistant Secretary
Gordon Martin
Jeff Peoples
Jonathan Porter
Phil Raymond
Mike Saxon
Ceila Shorts
Vice President and Secretary
Zeke Smith
Chairman
Tony Smoke


Charitable Giving Staff

Lisa Blue
Administrative Support
Strategic Initiatives
Hallie Bradley
Manager
Community Initiatives
Myla Calhoun
President
Alabama Power Foundation
Vice President
Alabama Power Charitable Giving
Executive Director
Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund
Don Franklin
Coordinator
Energizers
Brandon Glover
Manager
Strategic Initiatives
Tan Grayson
Program Manager
Community Initiatives
Associate Director
Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund
Theresa Helms
Project Manager
Community Initiatives
Executive Director
Alabama Power Service Organization
Christina Jackson
Administrative Support
Community Initiatives
Coordinator
Alabama Power Service Organization
Morgan Jackson
Communications Specialist
Community Initiatives
Sharon Luna
Budget analyst
Ida Payne
Executive Assistant
Anna Catherine Roberson
Charitable Giving Specialist
Community Initiatives
Associate Director
Alabama Power Service Organization
L. Blair Sullens
Grants Associate
Strategic Initiatives
Allison Swagler-Webb
Charitable Giving Specialist
Strategic Initatives

About The Foundation


  • Our Mission

    To improve the quality of life for all Alabamians.


    Our Efforts


    + Arts and Cultural Enrichment
    + Civic and Community Development
    + Educational Advancement
    + Environmental Stewardship
    + Health and Human Services


  • Our Methods

    We are the state’s largest corporate foundation, funded entirely through resources independent of Alabama Power’s customers. We seek out and assist nonprofit partners who spread the most good.

    We accomplish this by providing:

    • Volunteer support
    • Organizational support
    • Promotional support
    • Financial support


Our Values

  • We Are
    Responsible

    We give with purpose. The people of Alabama depend on us to make smart decisions.

  • We are
    Forward Thinking

    Knowing that we are independently funded to serve gives us the freedom and responsibility to look ahead and become a wellspring of far-reaching change.

  • We are
    Encouraging

    We are champions for those who do great good. We are inspired by the groups we serve and enthusiastically work with them to help maximize their impact.

  • We are
    Courageous

    We are willing and able to take on the most daunting challenges that face our state.


Total Giving by Focus Area

  • Arts and Cultural Enrichment 1,236,455
  • Civic and Community Development 3,003,520
  • Educational Advancement 4,752,575
  • Environmental Stewardship 932,695
  • Health and Human Services 2,356,265

Grant Programs

Every year, we seek to empower nonprofits, cities and schools by providing them with the resources they need to expand their ability to serve and address community needs. Through our grant programs, we are investing in organizations that are committed to finding sustainable solutions that lead to long-term success.

+ Arts and Cultural Enrichment
+ Civic and Community Development
+ Educational Advancement
+ Environmental Stewardship
+ Health and Human Services

Classroom grants
  • 130
    Grants Given
    Since Inception
  • $119k
    Total Given
    Since Inception
  • 2019
    Launch Date

In 2019, we launched a new grant to meet the needs of teachers and schools so they can better engage and support students. The Classroom grant program provides funding for supplies and materials to better the classroom environment and enhance students’ ability to learn.

*funds disbursed in 2020

Focus Areas

    +
Elevate
  • 8
    Grants Given
    In 2019
  • 53
    Grants Given
    Since Inception
  • $795k
    Total Given
    Since Inception

The Elevate grant program awards capacity-building grants to nonprofits by providing them with the tools and resources they need to serve and strengthen their communities.

Along with this grant, we host a yearly Elevate conference for nonprofits from across the state. This conference offers networking and training opportunities for nonprofits to build collaborative partnerships and explore new avenues for creating positive, lasting change.

Focus Areas

    + + + + +
Good Roots
  • 40
    Grants Given
    in 2019
  • 694
    Grants Given
    Since Inception
  • $627k
    Total Given
    Since Inception

The Good Roots grant program partners with the Alabama Urban Forestry Association and Alabama Forestry Commission to supply grants of up to $1,000 to purchase trees for planting in cities, towns and communities, and on properties owned by nonprofit organizations across the state.

Good Roots not only enhances communities, it helps improve the quality of life for people in those communities and keeps our state beautiful and vibrant.

Focus Areas

    + +
Power To Play
  • 36
    Grants Given
    In 2019
  • 175
    Grants Given
    Since Inception
  • $434k
    Total Given
    Since Inception

The Power to Play grant aims to support and increase participation in arts and athletics programs in middle and high schools. Studies have shown that involvement in the arts and athletics is linked to improved graduation rates and test scores. Through this program, we are supporting schools and students by investing $2,500 per grant in activities that represent broad interests.

Focus Areas

    + + +
Students To Stewards
  • 4
    Grants Given
    In 2019
  • 49
    Grants Given
    Since Inception
  • $107k
    Total Given
    Since Inception

Our Students to Stewards grant program creates learning opportunities that reach far beyond the classroom. By supporting STEM and arts-related field trips and programming materials, this grant provides schools with dynamic educational experiences for students to explore potential careers in science, technology, engineering, arts or mathematics and better understand environmental conservation and stewardship.

Focus Areas

    + + +

Volunteer Programs

Our commitment to the state is rooted in the communities we serve. Through volunteerism, Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) and Energizers volunteers are creating positive change and making a lasting impact on the communities we call home.

Together, our volunteers are a powerful source of good.

APSO
  • 37k
    Volunteer Hours
    In 2019
  • 1MIL
    Volunter Hours
    Since Inception
  • 6,200
    Members
  • 10
    Chapters

The Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) is an employee-led volunteer group that empowers Alabama Power and Alabama-based Southern Nuclear, Southern Linc and Southern Company Services employees and their families to serve their communities. By giving their time and resources, APSO volunteers create positive change and strengthen the communities we call home. With more than 6,000 members in 10 chapters across the state, APSO is a powerful source of good.

Energizers
  • 52k
    Volunteer Horus
    In 2019
  • 850k
    Volunteer Hours
    Since Inception
  • 1,500
    Members
  • 11
    Chapters

The Alabama Power Energizers redefine what it means to be retired. This dynamic group of Alabama Power and Southern Company retirees and their spouses is committed to volunteering and serving in communities across Alabama.

Continue scrolling Strategic Initiatives

Strategic Initiatives

Guided by the idea that philanthropic outcomes and economic growth are not mutually exclusive, the Strategic Initiatives arm of the Alabama Power Foundation is focused on developing new tools and programs to extend the impact of grant dollars and build a mindset for program sustainability with our partners.
Learn more

In the dead of night, while most of the rest of the world sleeps, tractor-trailers haul houses down the highways and byways in and around Birmingham.

These aren’t new mobile homes, but older, immobile homes recently unmoored from their foundations and headed to a new destination: Ensley.

The homes are part of nonprofit organization Build UP’s effort to teach students new skills, transform a blighted neighborhood in their own backyard, and create a new middle class in the once-thriving town. Build UP prepares Ensley-area students for careers in construction and skilled trades.

The Alabama Power Foundation provides a low-interest line of credit to Build UP to transport the good-condition donated houses to the Ensley neighborhood. Homeowners pledge their tax deduction for the donated house to Build UP, which then repays the loan to the foundation for the original moving costs. Working with good-condition homes reduces costs by up to 60% per renovation and the construction timeline by about 50%.

Build UP is an example of the future of enabling good works – identifying and supporting them in innovative ways – and part of a powerful reality as the Alabama Power Foundation moves into its fourth decade of elevating our state.

Strategic thinking and mission alignment are at the heart of new, boundary-pushing tactics to distribute resources – both in-kind support and financial. Employing concepts of Impact Investing and Collaborative Impact convening to empower good, the foundation’s traditional grant model has shifted in new directions in the past year.

IMPACT INVESTING

The foundation’s Impact Investing efforts are a way to incentivize nonprofit organizations to think more like businesses, and help businesses offset risk associated with prioritizing social value. This is done by investing grant funds into financial tools – like low-interest loans and other forms of financing. These impact investments provide partners low-cost capital, which the foundation recycles to support other charitable projects when it is repaid.

For nonprofits, these projects help them build revenue streams to sustain programs. These financial tools are also helping businesses make a charitable impact, offsetting risk and providing a return for projects that benefit the community. In Build UP’s case, that means using Impact Investing capital to reduce the costs of its workforce development-oriented program.

For Birmingham-based startup Pack Health, this Impact Investing model is soon to be a reality through a pilot program called Pack Education to benefit at-risk college students at three Mobile-area institutions. Reaching participants digitally through their personal electronic devices, the program provides a personal touchpoint, advice and resources to college students facing challenges and barriers to academic success.

For nonprofits, these projects help them build revenue streams to sustain programs. These financial tools are also helping businesses make a charitable impact, offsetting risk and providing a return for projects that benefit the community.

“Pack Education will be a game changer because student lives do not revolve around their adviser’s office hours,” says Chandra Scott, Strategic Outcomes director, Mobile Area Education Foundation. As a partner helping the Pack Education project come to life, Scott’s focus is on ensuring enough students graduate to supply the local workforce.

“You put this tool in their hands and they can schedule and reach out any time. This is a way to be sure they get in, stay in and finish college,” she says.

She adds of the Alabama Power Foundation’s involvement, “This is the epitome of the public-private partnership, doing something no one has done before, bringing the idea and the funding to the table to create something to impact post-secondary attainment not only in our region but ultimately throughout the state.”

COLLABORATIVE IMPACT

Collaborative Impact convening brings like-minded people together as a team to work toward a common goal. Through the Alabama Workforce Council Public-Private Partnership Committee (PPPC), the foundation brings together nonprofits focused on addressing and removing barriers to education access and workforce success. By supplying nonprofits with skilled grant writers to attract greater resources for capacity-building efforts, they are able to expand programming, track outcomes and carry out their missions more effectively.

Chris McCauley represents technology start-up Ed Farm, one of 30 Alabama-based nonprofits in the cohort. Serving as cohort facilitator during the group’s formative period, McCauley understands the value of collective impact.

“We started by determining how we could come together with collective impact toward a transformational outcome on a very collaborative fashion,” McCauley says. “We set a goal for the funding we wanted to secure and agreed that requests should involve more than one cohort member. We also aimed to expose the cohort to more national partners.

“My work with the cohort further illustrated for me the value of collaboration and complementing one another, not competing with one another,” he says.

Kerri Pruitt, founder of The Dannon Project, remembers competing with other nonprofits for the same dollars. A member of the PPPC cohort, Pruitt realizes now “that I’m among great peers. This process allows us to see how we can find some commonalities in funding – going for it together or collaborating. I also realize that money is not the only resource a nonprofit needs – you also need partnerships, collaboration and honesty.”

Founded 20 years ago to specialize in second chances, The Dannon Project helps hundreds of people every year transition from prison back to society. “We supply services like short-term training, certifications, job placement, case management and extensive referral networks,” she says.

Pruitt credits the foundation’s technical assistance with helping Dannon win a U.S. Department of Labor grant, “which made a significant difference to us.” The difference came with the foundation providing a grant writer to research the data needed for a strong application while Pruitt prepared the narrative. “Organizations like ours that deal with people who’ve been incarcerated are necessary but not popular. Now with the cohort and the technical assistance, we can continue to grow our mission.”

Likewise, Margaret Morton, executive director of Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement (SAFE), extols the cohort. “It changes our landscape because it brings us into discussion to work through issues – and has led to SAFE being recognized on a national level,” Morton says. “I now think from a perspective that collectively we are so much more powerful than we are individually.”

She credits the foundation’s technical assistance grants toward the hiring of staff to expand programming as crucial to recent SAFE efforts to recruit an architect for the upcoming Rural Training and Technology Center to serve east Alabama. The association with the foundation is “invaluable,” Morton says.

STRATEGIC EFFORTS ALIGNED

By aligning these Impact Investing and Collaborative Impact strategies, the foundation is empowering thought leadership and elevating efforts in Alabama in a powerful way. One organization that has benefited from both programs to realize enormous success is Opportunity Alabama.

“We are building a new investing ecosystem here in Alabama,” says Alex Flachsbart, founder and CEO of Opportunity Alabama (OPAL), a nonprofit working with federal opportunity zone initiatives throughout the state. “If you look at the support Alabama Power Foundation offered us – we were incubated by the foundation and would not exist if not for the foundation. There are only a few foundations anywhere thinking in this space. Speaking from our own experience, this foundation put resources into our nonprofit and our nonprofit has become a national leader on how to do opportunity zones effectively on the state level.”

OPAL is already turning heads and making strides by drawing investors to projects in designated opportunity zones. By putting money into projects in these areas, investors can benefit from deferred or reduced capital gains taxes.

One such project empowered by OPAL is at Birmingham’s long-defunct Woodlawn Theatre, which will return to life as a performing and instructional space under the leadership of Will Mason, whose nonprofit teaches music to low-income and disabled children.

“Investors envisioned that this would make the neighborhood better and deemed it a worthwhile investment,” Flachsbart says. “These are local people actually looking at low-income projects for the good of the community – until now Alabama has lacked access to capital for low-income places in a systematic way.”

Through participation in the PPPC cohort in 2019, OPAL partnered with another nonprofit to pursue federal grant funding using the foundation’s technical assistance offerings. The free grant writing provided by the foundation facilitated a strong partnership between OPAL and Bronze Valley, a peer nonprofit focused on growing minority startups, and has helped both organizations expand their mission and resources.

OPAL is also working with the foundation’s Impact Investing team on a loan that will cover startup costs to launch an opportunity fund in Birmingham. This Impact Investing project will empower OPAL to leverage thought leadership from around the nation and potentially attract millions of dollars in out-of-state investment to a Birmingham opportunity zone.

"My work with the cohort further illustrated for me the value of collaboration and complementing one another, not competing with one another."

CONTINUED GROWTH

With the beginning of a new decade – and a second year of leading the way with Impact Investing and Collaborative Impact – the mission is clear: to grow, connect and enable partners to succeed.

The foundation is already seeing a return on the investments it has made in these new strategies. Its Impact Investing efforts empowered peer funders to commit nearly half a million dollars of additional co-investment on impact projects, while its funds dedicated to its Collaborative Impact work drew more than $6.4 million in out-of-state funding to cohort partners.

“We believe that these efforts can lead to powerful change for our state,” says Myla Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “Our partners are already doing transformational work, so our job in the foundation is to find ways to amplify that.”

By deploying its resources through the strategies of Impact Investing and empowering Collaborative Impact, the foundation is equipping its partners with tools they have not had access to before now.

“We are extremely proud of the work we have done in this first year of using these new strategies,” Calhoun says. “I can’t wait to see what we accomplish next year, and beyond.”

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Location #001

YWCA of Central Alabama

FOCUS AREA Health and Human Services
MISSION To eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all
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At the YWCA of Central Alabama, hugs are the currency of security and happiness, and relieved smiles are the sign of progress. Newfound independence is the key to futures filled with good.

That’s the way it goes, minute to minute, day to day, at this caring place where the mission is evident in a range of services providing shelter and stability from domestic violence to creating encouraging programs to empowering youths and so much more. If there’s an issue that touches women, families, safety, compassion, communication, skill sets, legal issues, social justice or just putting one brave foot in front of the other, the YWCA embraces the need with programs that work.

So many programs, so many people served – in all, some 19,000 a year. Most immediate among them is the YWCA’s domestic violence initiative, says LaRhonda Magras, the new chief executive officer of the program that provides more than 80,000 nights of shelter annually in Birmingham and St. Clair County. “When people come through our doors, we provide the space for them to be safe, heal and plan for their future,” she says. “So that may mean wrap-around services like goal setting, financial planning and job searching to help them get on their feet.”

Most times, children come along, frightened and uncertain. But with child development programs like KIDS (Kids in Distress) Korner and Calico Corner, children find a place that instills confidence, trust and structure and they are able to learn, grow and break the cycle of poverty.

The YWCA’s Child Development Center fills young minds with knowledge and can-do confidence; teachers educate and listen.

“We believe there is definitely a link between education and poverty,” Magras says. “From the very young to teens, these are the people who will go on to change the system.” The YWCA’s Child Development Center fills young minds with knowledge and can-do confidence; teachers educate and listen.

Some 42 AmeriCorps program workers, part of the YWCA’s “Building Communities, Bettering Lives,” provide services. Energetic and willing, they dive in to gain skills and operate on all levels.

During Kenyata Tate’s two years with the national program – a sort of domestic version of the Peace Corps – none of her colleagues knew that she had once lived in the YWCA’s confidential shelter as a victim of domestic violence. “I didn’t tell anybody but I remembered it well,” says the mother, whose three children, ages 3, 2 and 5 months, later lost their father. “It had been a toxic relationship and I used the resources I’d learned at the shelter to start over. I wanted to do things right.”

Single-mothering her family, Tate provided for their needs financially and fulfilled her role with the U.S. Army Reserve. But she felt a lack of purpose. AmeriCorps became the answer and the change.

Tate found her voice and her footing at the YWCA’s Woodlawn Family Resource Center. There she rocketed into action, creating and leading programs that brought the center dance lessons, music lessons, healthy cooking classes, gardening, tutoring, literacy efforts and more for children and families. She also planned CREW (Creating Responsible, Educated, Working) for teens, a life skills and workforce program, and often spoke to the media for AmeriCorps. For two years running, her peers selected her as AmeriCorps Member of the Year.

“The thing I learned was that I want to help people,” Tate says. After completing two years of the AmeriCorps program, she was tapped for the United Way’s Loaned Executive program where she crafted a speech largely drawn from her own positive experiences at the YWCA and delivered it – with initial trepidation that turned bold – to large corporations, where she raised more than $300,000 for agency causes. For her success, Tate received a Team Choice Award. She also returned to the YWCA, this time on the administrative side of the AmeriCorps program.

Over time, the YWCA has provided Tate a safe and nurturing shelter from domestic violence, a place to hone leadership skills and a strong, unwavering family of support. She has also realized her calling. “I’ve been helped and now I want to help, so I’m studying to be a social worker. I’m here to make a difference and that’s what the Y and AmeriCorps have done for me.”

Other women bring different needs, different stories.

Other women bring different needs, different stories. A homeless woman describes herself as feeling desperate before finding a roof, the right words and the path to a solid life course at the YW. Thousands of other desperate women, some on the brink of tragedy, gain encouragement and strength from the 24-hour Crisis Hotline; staff attorneys step in to guide in situations such as divorce or custody; and a bullied child gains skills to stand strong and flourish.

“An important part of our work is to dismantle systemic racism,” Magras says. “We know some of the families who enter our door have multiple issues, one of the factors often being the color of their skin. Under our Social Justice umbrella we work with teenagers, for example, in dealing with discrimination: how to talk about it, how to dialog with others who are different, how to look at individuals one on one. We also offer them a program to help recognize and escape potentially destructive relationships.”

The YWCA, exploring new programs as needs arise, depends on the annual Purse & Passion luncheon to raise $700,000 to cover a variety of needs. The generosity of community leaders like the Alabama Power Foundation also strongly keeps the missions alive. “Ours is a 30-year relationship with the foundation,” Magras says. “We’re over the moon when someone shares our passion and our vision. The foundation wants to keep our community healthy and has a strong commitment to both funding and volunteerism.

“We get up every day, go out and do our work because that’s what we’re called to do,” Magras says. “We’re only as good as the gifts from partners like the Alabama Power Foundation that give and share. That’s how we achieve our goals.”

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Location #002

Alabama Wildlife Federation

FOCUS AREA Environmental Stewardship
MISSION To promote the conservation of Alabama’s wildlife and related natural resources through responsible stewardship
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It may be more difficult than ever to hold a child's attention these days. But what if there's a tadpole to touch? Or a determined box turtle inching his way along? Or a hummingbird whirring just beyond the classroom window?

Game on. Electronics off. Nature wins.

That’s how it is at the Alabama Wildlife Federation, whose programs go from ho-hum to hooray in a blink. That engagement means education. Like that time Winston County Principal Jennifer Barker faced the delightful dilemma of getting her Lynn Elementary students into the lunchroom.

“They’d rather sit and look at the turtles in our turtle habitat or watch the butterflies in our butterfly habitat,” she says of the Outdoor Classroom learning stations, an AWF program brought to life at Lynn and nearly 400 other schools around Alabama. “Then there was the time something had burrowed into our raised vegetable garden, which made the kids so curious about what was going on. Was it a rabbit, maybe a dog? They are thinking!”

This better-than-textbooks approach has the school buzzing. “A fourth-grade student led me out to show me a chrysalis,” Barker says. “Her teacher was able to explain the whole butterfly life cycle based on that finding. Our students are also conducting research in our box turtle habitat. They’re photographing turtles, measuring their shells, taking soil samples and temperature readings, then entering it all onto a website. These student researchers are third graders.”

At Brookwood Forest Elementary in Birmingham, science teacher John Woodard’s students consult with outside experts before making decisions about installing Outdoor Classroom stations. “They met with a landscape designer while planning our songbird habitat,” Woodard says. “They then designed the space and built it with native plants, so they had to research what plants attract both songbirds and pollinators.”

Likewise, the Brookwood Forest students met with “Mrs. April” Waltz, who heads the Alabama Outdoor Classroom program at AWF, to learn how to create a turtle habitat. “This empowered the students. Rather than our building things for them, they make the decisions, so it’s really a leadership program, too. The eastern box turtle habitat is actually the sixth graders’ legacy project, something that will continue after they leave.”

Brookwood Forest’s Outdoor Classroom cross-pollinates across school classes. An art teacher harvests gourds for students to paint and sculpt; special-needs students can access raised beds and touch-feel-taste plantings in the Sensory Garden; the school’s “iClub” cooking group include Outdoor Classroom garden products in recipes. Eagle Scouts improve the grounds with their projects, many along the school’s Nature Trail, complete with interpretative signs.

It’s just plain cool, especially to wide-eyed kids whose only brush with nature may have come from a TV screen.

The Alabama Power Foundation support enables the Alabama Outdoor Classroom program and the impressive experiential activities at the Alabama Nature Center in Millbrook in Elmore County, near Montgomery. “This year, we’ve had roughly 50,000 people – school groups, parents, teachers and other individuals – come to the Nature Center,” says Executive Director Tim Gothard of the sprawling property with 5 miles of boardwalk and nature trails and the NaturePlex’s series of exhibits and classrooms.

It’s just plain cool, especially to wide-eyed kids whose only brush with nature may have come from a TV screen. Suddenly, they’re running their fingers over a nonpoisonous rat snake or carefully studying a coyote skull, just a few of the 70 educational animals on hand. Teachers choose from a wonderland of field trips onto the grounds, where tadpole touching and creek wading happily come into play. The possibilities are many – perhaps an apiary demonstration, dissecting an owl pellet, hiking for edibles, or looking for decomposers on the trail.

The most popular choices are the aquatic roundup/creek hike and the nature hike. “Our naturalists are great about finding whatever’s there – a pileated woodpecker or a honeybee hive to explore,” Gothard says. “Kids get excited about discovering frogs, crawfish and tadpoles or turning over a rotten log to find amazing insects swarming on the other side.”

As “don’t touch” turns to “do touch,” that attention span, that little 5-minute window, stretches as heads fill with facts they won’t forget. Gothard likes what he sees in the NaturePlex and across the grounds. And in the Outdoor Classrooms around Alabama.

“No question I’m biased,” he says. “But I can tell you this is the strongest outdoor classroom program you’ll find anywhere.”

“No question I’m biased,” he says. “But I can tell you this is the strongest outdoor classroom program you’ll find anywhere.” He cites the rich and usable lesson plans that live on the AWF website, the materials that expand the Alabama Course of Study requirements, and the positive reaction from teachers and students. The two building phases of the Alabama Nature Center – headquarters building and grounds, then NaturePlex – opened in 2007 and 2015, respectively.

"These students will become the next stewards of the lad, armed with their experiences in our programs. And as leaders of tomorrow they will make the informed decisions on how we balance use, management and protection of the outdoors."

Much of the success stems from Alabama Power Foundation support. “An early seed grant made development of the Alabama Outdoor Classroom program possible,” Gothard says. “From the beginning and through several phases of development of the Alabama Nature Center, the Foundation has been with us the entire way. Now their support helps us grow the programs and the reach of the Alabama Nature Center.”

The educators express gratitude. “We have Mrs. April from the Wildlife Federation on speed dial. We can ask any question and get the help we need,” Baker says. “I can see this whole thing trending to promote career paths for our students in science, math and engineering.” Woodard adds. “The teacher development workshops are wonderful, and the whole Outdoor Classroom program is great for the teachers to keep thinking and dreaming.”

Gothard looks to the future. “These students will become the next stewards of the land, armed with their experiences in our programs. And as leaders of tomorrow they will make the informed decisions on how we balance use, management and protection of the outdoors.”

Indeed, many students will base those decisions on the outdoors they have come to know and understand, thanks to the Alabama Wildlife Federation and the Alabama Power Foundation.

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Location #003

Ashford Downtown Redevelopment Authority

FOCUS AREA Civic and Community Development
MISSION To encourage sustained growth, expanding the economic base and preserving the historic quality of the city of Ashford
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Brad Kimbro is the kind of volunteer every town needs – the sort of fellow who treats his nonpaying job like a full-time job. He is also a professional who keeps the momentum going as chief operating officer at his official office. In other words, Ashford, Alabama, is getting from-the-heart dedication as Kimbro leads the way toward a revival of spirit and structures.

The attention comes at a good time. Ashford, population about 2,100, isn’t what it used to be. And not what it’s going to be either – yet. So Kimbro, chairman of the Ashford Downtown Redevelopment Authority, along with many energized town residents and an all-in mayor and City Council, are making it their daily business to turn things around.

After two years of plotting and planning, changes are beginning to show.

“You could go anywhere in town and point, and there would be something that needed doing,” Kimbro says. “We’ve already renovated a downtown park with green space and a pergola. And we just purchased a building, which was the biggest eyesore in town. We’re tearing it down and using the lot for much-needed parking – and the downtown is already better.

A bit of history helps. Around the late 1880s, Ashford was a thriving railroad town with a depot now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Turpentine, cotton, fertilizer and sweet potatoes were moved to market by trains until the times and needs changed. Even when the railroad runs ceased, the town continued to forge on.

The downturn culprits were the shopping malls in nearby Dothan and the rerouting of a major highway that turned Ashford into a town of vacant storefronts and quiet streets. “If a building doesn’t have life, it doesn’t have spirit,” Kimbro says. “Add the addition of those shopping malls and big box stores and our town was suddenly different.”

Hugh Deese, florist/owner of The Petal Pusher, has seen it all – and is enthusiastic. “I believe good things are coming,” says the businessman whose family moved to Ashford when he was 8 months old.

“I never once thought about moving,” says Deese, who has been in the same shop location for 44 years. “I remember when Saturday streets were filled with people – you couldn’t find a parking spot – and retailers were here, loving on people and giving them what they wanted. I have to believe, in my lifetime, that people are going to start yearning for the connection they get at the mom and pop stores.

“I want to see things vibrant again. There are folks here rolling up their sleeves and opening their wallets to make it happen, and good people like the Alabama Power Foundation are helping us along. Positive things can happen.”

Kimbrough agrees the town has “a lot of momentum.”

“The Alabama Power Foundation Good Roots grant has given us something tangible, right on Main Street across from City Hall. We’re creating a new green space where we will plant white Southern crape myrtles, using them for beauty as well as to form a ‘fence’ hiding the backdrop behind,” he says. “The Alabama Power Foundation is helping us realize our potential from the start.”

Fast-forward about three years, Kimbro says, and visitors will see not only a revitalized Ashford but a destination, a place for people to flock for the small-town atmosphere, unique restaurants and shops, and a totally normal approach to living.

Fast-forward about three years, Kimbro says, and visitors will see not only a revitalized Ashford but a destination, a place for people to flock for the small-town atmosphere, unique restaurants and shops, and a totally normal approach to living. First up is the need to attract new businesses to fill buildings and revamp facades, a campaign to play up the innate charm of a town that never completely lost its charm and to qualify for the Main Street program.

“Being designated as a Main Street city has many advantages,” Kimbro says of the national program that has helped revitalize about 1,600 downtowns and commercial districts through preservation-based economic development and community revitalization. “They have ideas and resources to guide us. This, to me, is a big deal.”

Another big deal is the recently established clinic that offers internal medicine and pediatric services from the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine in Dothan. “Third-and fourth-year students will train in this facility. Staff includes a nurse practitioner, neuromuscular specialist, and radiology and lab technicians,” Kimbro says.

"I want to bring things to this town where I grew up, something so special that people won't need to go elsewhere to shop."

The time is now. There’s the opportunity to capitalize on being located to the east of Dothan, the development-rich side. And to become an attractive bedroom community to the larger neighbor. And to bring in new businesses that complement quality operations already in place.

Kimbro’s wife, Judith, owner of The Courtyard gift shop in the heart of town, welcomes her future neighbors. “I want to bring things to this town where I grew up, something so special that people won’t need to go elsewhere to shop,” she says. Additions will enhance places like the Broadway Café with its Southern buffet; Wendy Jones Photography, which attracts clients from around the Southeast; and Wiregrass Pharmacy with its old-time soda fountain serving milkshakes and floats.

Brad Kimbro can envision the future clearly. “You’ll see Ashford as a destination town that’s going to add 30% to 40% new residents, a place where families will feel safe and others will want to visit. And thanks to the Alabama Power Foundation’s support and encouragement, this can happen.”

Deese says, “We’ve gone from thriving to sad to hopeful yet never wavered in the product we deliver. I’ve seen Ashford up and I’ve seen it down. I much prefer up. And I do think the good times are ahead.”

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Location #004

Alabama Institute For Deaf and Blind

FOCUS AREA Educational Advancement
MISSION To provide education and service programs to those who are deaf, blind, deafblind and multidisabled and their families
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A young student who is blind grins from atop a horse, feeling for the first time an entirely new rhythm. Elsewhere on the campus of Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, a child who is deaf plays a drum, nodding with the beat, lost in the sensation. And another student, an adult going through vocational rehabilitation, learns the skills to resume his career after the loss of his eyesight.

The unexpected becomes possible at this place where the keyword is “limitless.” People here knock through barriers of doubt; they experience, achieve and grow; they learn to be independent and successful.

AIDB is a world of possibilities, empowering over 26,000 Alabamians each year through its four campuses in Talladega: Alabama School for the Blind, Alabama School for the Deaf, the Helen Keller School for students who are multidisabled and the E.H. Gentry Facility (EHG) for adult vocational rehabilitation. There’s also Alabama Industries for the Blind, the state’s largest employer of adults who are blind or visually impaired, as well as eight regional centers peppering the state from beach to mountains.

Nobody says “can’t do” here. Only “can.” The proof lives all around, on faces beaming with achievement.

For instance, take AIDB’s passion for technology. The assistive technology at EHG is among the top 3% in the nation. For Joey Arnold, an adjunct professor at Troy University who is legally blind, EHG opened up a new world. “My vision will continue to deteriorate, so I decided I needed to learn to utilize all of my resources instead of just relying on audio,” he says.

On the flip side, at the Marianna Greene Henry Special Equestrians (MGH) facility, horses do the teaching. Watching a student who is deaf or blind sitting high on a horse is fun, and the experience serves to hone balance and trust, coordination and strength.

According to one student, Elizabeth, learning about riding and caring for horses also teaches life skills. “The MGH arena helped me become a better person,” she says. “I have learned responsibility, how to work with others and how to focus on learning what you want to know.” A Riders Club, made up of AIDB students from the three K-12 campuses, offers competition; and a new drill team performs choreographed routines. The best riders may even go on to the Special Olympics.

“When I was in the public school, I always wanted to play sports but I was told I was a liability. That’s all I heard: a liability. At AIDB I am limitless.”

Campus life can get even sportier. Each fall, the Alabama School for the Deaf Silent Warriors take to the field as a competitive football team; in recent years the School for the Blind has supplied several players, including one determined student with a visual impairment who worked his way up to starting quarterback.

The drive runs deep here. Geordan Carter, a 2018 graduate of Alabama School for the Blind (ASB) and member of the football and wrestling teams, says, “When I was in the public school, I always wanted to play sports but I was told I was a liability. That’s all I heard: a liability. At AIDB I am limitless.”

All AIDB services are free. The three K-12 schools and adult vocational rehabilitation center provide residential programs for students who live too far away to commute. The regional centers serve all 67 counties through locations in Talladega, Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscumbia, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, Dothan and Mobile. Services extend to students in public schools and seniors, and also include interpreters plus instruction in American Sign Language (ASL). Each center provides an early intervention program for children from newborn to 3 years of age.

Julie Carroll of Birmingham was referred to Birmingham Regional Center’s early intervention program for her newly adopted daughter, Geethika, who had hearing loss. “AIDB became a part of our family,” Carroll says. “And gave our little girl the gift of confidence.”

It all seems … limitless. So does the generosity of sponsors who make each step of the growing program flourish and push the limits. Over the decades, the Alabama Power Foundation’s support has made key things happen here, starting with matching funds to begin the endowment that now covers everything from academic programs to training of staff to many student life options. The endowment sends blind students to Space Camp and Sea Lab, delivers deaf students to math team to competitions in New York and keeps MGH Arena therapy programs thriving.

The Alabama Power Foundation Nursing Clinic, which opened in 2018, sets a new, state-of-the-art standard of care. The one-level facility accommodates wheelchairs, features patient rooms and an isolation room so germs don’t spread. Students in the K-12 schools receive dental and low-vision services (through a partnership the University of Alabama at Birmingham) as well as nursing audiology, psychology and OT/PT services.

“The Alabama Power Foundation makes the biggest difference,” says John Mascia, president of AIDB, who’s already looking ahead. “We’re hoping to build a new accessible playground at the Helen Keller School. And at the Joe Tom Armbrester Agricultural Center, it’s time to put in a pond, orchard and more crops.” Students at Armbrester learn skills to prepare them for agricultural careers through hands-on learning.

“AIDB is Alabama. It’s kind, it’s compassionate, it’s respectful. It has high expectations,” Mascia continues. “The Alabama Power Foundation is one of our largest cumulative donors and believes in the power of people to achieve their goals. They are our ambassadors and help tell our story.”

And there’s always a good story to tell here, where the possibilities are, indeed, limitless.

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Location #005

16th Street Baptist Church

FOCUS AREA Arts and Cultural Enrichment
MISSION To share the story of the church and its role in the battle for civil rights
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The story of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on Sept. 15, 1963, and the tragedy, reconciliation and forgiving that resulted, must be told with reverence and dignity.

Now, the story of that day is being movingly and professionally presented on the Birmingham church’s lower level, just below the sanctuary. It’s a poignant story – the loss of four innocent girls, the hurting and the healing, and an ongoing message from the church to the world.

As Theodore “Ted” Debro Jr. gazes around the spacious room, its walls displaying panels with words, photos, artifacts, Scripture passages and quotes, he reflects on the new telling of the events that touches the hearts of all who enter the church.

“People need to know what happened here, especially the young people who have no vision of segregation or what people sacrificed,” says Debro, chairman of the church’s board of trustees and the man who spearheaded the changes. “Remembering the Sunday school lesson from that very Sunday on ‘A Love that Forgives,’ we hear that Christian message of caring for one another and making it a better world.”

Debro flips back through iPhone photos to find ones that show this space before the Alabama Power Foundation and other caring community organizations made possible the new interpretation. “The building foundation had been shored up but see the openness around the bricks? You could see through the walls to the outside. After the bombing there was some repair work done for obvious reasons and other work happened over the years, but this has been the project that enables us to properly use this space.”

For the visitor, time shifts into reverse here. Each newly created panel draws on photos gathered from church families and put in context by a historian who pulled the story together in a comprehensive telling. The sequenced exhibits focus first on the building of the city, the building of the community, the church itself and the battle for civil rights.

Debro plants himself before the next exhibit, devoted to the four girls: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair. “We’ve placed their memorial in this area, near the bathroom where they were when the explosion went off,” he explains. “A Vacation Bible School snapshot shows smiling images of three of the girls in happy times; their church membership cards hang next to their black-and-white photos.

Other new exhibits provide more detail about the bombing and the aftermath years of battling for place in society, living the Scripture “A Love that Forgives,” and the congregation’s dedication to the Birmingham community.

Stepping into the Experience Room, a small space with red-cushioned pews, visitors are plunged into darkness as a stirring video unfolds with interviews, historic photos, moving music and the reality of the day. It’s told with sight, sound and ever-present disbelief. The sudden vibration of the bomb moment stuns the senses just as it changed history. A clock sitting to the side as lights return is frozen at 10:22, the exact time that ordinary Sunday became synonymous with loss.

clock

Little of this interpretation was here before the foundation’s lead gift. Some 100,000 visitors come here annually as walk-ins or in group tours. Debro guides some himself, when not contemplating possible next steps such as a visitor’s center, spaces – perhaps with food – where people could react and discuss their reactions, and a museum honoring both the original church architect Wallace Rayfield and John Petts, creator of the Wales Window in the sanctuary.

“Most of our guides are retired people who were either part of the movement or experienced events in some way,” says Debro. “They all have different experiences, whether they were here that Sunday or have a relative who recounted the story.” Debro’s tours include his own experience of sitting on the front row of the balcony at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta when he learned the tragic news.

Certain words, certain moments still trigger emotion despite the journey in time. As he reads aloud a portion of Scripture inscribed above the altar that stood in the church that day, Debro’s voice cracks and he whispers the final words, “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”

Such reactions are not unusual. “People do get emotional just walking into this church. Sometimes they sit and meditate and now, with these exhibits and the Experience Room, the story is highlighted even more. I easily get choked up.”

Visitors, Debro says, will continue to come here and be moved by the messages. “Civil rights is actually the No. 1 draw for visitors to Alabama right now and our tourism ministry, as we refer to it, helps us share our role and our history.

“This is good because when someone leaves 16th Street Baptist Church, we want them to have a commitment to go change whatever they can to make the world better,” he says.

“This church is a jewel in Birmingham and rather than try to repress what really happened, we need to share it, open it up, start conversations, start relationships and open peoples’ eyes to the struggles.”

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Location #006

Mission of Hope

FOCUS AREA Health and Human Services
MISSION To provide food and clothing to Jefferson and Walker county residents in financial distress
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Mission of Hope, which lives its name to the fullest, runs on determination and caring… and, with volunteers from groups like the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) and resources from the Alabama Power Foundation.

Twice a month the nonprofit in Dora opens its doors to provide bags of food, inspirational and informational speakers, clothes and all manner of support to people who are living below the poverty line. Between the food giveaway days, Director Lori Abercrombie, her staff and the volunteers respond to whatever needs arise in a community where needs arise constantly.

“Every day is a new day of need, especially in Walker County where many people have no idea where to find their next meal,” says Abercrombie. “Extend that over the Jefferson County line into Graysville and Adamsville and the need grows even stronger.” Alabama, ranked as the second highest food hardship state in the nation, sees an acute need. Mission of Hope responds.

“You need help. And you’ve never asked for help before.”

Abercrombie explains with a story. “You’re sitting at the breakfast table, sipping your coffee, and the phone rings,” she begins. “You’re told your daughter has made a bad choice and because of that bad choice, you must take her children because she’s going to prison for a long time. You were just going about your day and now you’re getting grandchildren to put in school, to clothe and to feed.

“You need help. And you’ve never asked for help before.”

That’s just one scenario in Mission of Hope’s outreach to the sick, the temporarily unemployed, the lost-in-system people and the well-meaning grandparents and even great-grandparents.

So two times a month, qualified clients come to this place where they begin not just by receiving the most-welcome food bags and not just by choosing garments in the Clothes Closet. Those come later.  Before each food and clothing giveaway, the Mission of Hope ensures clients receive the tools they need to create better outcomes in their lives.

Perhaps a puppet show for the kids. Someone from the Housing Authority talking about housing options. Or a speaker helping hone job finding skills. Meanwhile, the volunteers expertly go about organizing the food bags, which soon they’ll deliver to the client cars, or tending to the Clothes Closet where donations have been carefully cultivated to suit all needs, from everyday life to job interviews.

“When I was growing up, we had people helping my family though I didn’t know it at the time. Now I’ve got the opportunity to do the same for others, and that’s a driving force.”

“I got emotional the first time I volunteered,” says Kevin Chappell, president of APSO’s Plant Miller Chapter. “I didn’t realize the poverty level was so high close to the plant where we work. Alabama Power takes care of all of us employees so well, then seeing the need in the community is shocking. We need to help and so many of us do.”

Chappell adds that “When I was growing up, we had people helping my family though I didn’t know it at the time. Now I’ve got the opportunity to do the same for others, and that’s a driving force.”

APSO volunteers often head to Mission of Hope on off days to sort clothing donations, ready food bags and fulfill any other need, like grouping toys for the Christmas Toy Giveaway (that also comes with a new coat, new shoes, toys and a Santa chat). They may stock the mobile library, which Miller APSO provided.

“APSO volunteers have so much management support, which allows us to be available. If there’s a need, we will volunteer even when we’re on the clock. Our managers tell us, ‘Take the time, go help,’ because Alabama Power feels so strongly about serving the community,” Chappell says.

All 10 APSO chapters around the state, made up of Alabama Power employees, spouses and children, have a heart for service. “When Lori calls us and says they’re running low on food, we can respond,” says Chappell.

About those emergencies: the bimonthly food giveaways and Clothes Closet visits do great good, but sometimes life doesn’t fit into a twice-a-month schedule. Again, the Alabama Power Foundation funding is there if a house burns, leaving a family without shelter; or if, as happened just last year, a couple unexpectedly inherits grandchildren on Christmas Eve and has no toys or children’s clothes. Another pressing need arose when an MOH client, having worked her way through nursing school, couldn’t afford the uniform for her first job. Or the man whose broken car prevented him from getting to work. Thanks to MOH’s contacts, a uniform was provided and the car was quickly repaired.

“Those people had jobs,” says Abercrombie, adding, “But so many young people have no idea how to fill out a job application or what to say at an interview so we counsel those needs, too.”

The Alabama Power Foundation has recently awarded an Elevate grant, known to many organizations as a “game changer.” In Mission of Hope’s case, the Elevate grant supports an unimaginable need – how to quickly and effectively prepare for the possibility of an active shooter on the premises. Touching on all foundation focus areas, the Elevate grant enables Mission of Hope to stand strong and ready.

Taking care of people – feeding, clothing, befriending and even protecting them – is what the Mission of Hope is about.

Abercrombie says, “Through this powerful grant, which was created to address pressing needs, we are able to train volunteers, install monitors on the parking lot and throughout our facility, and buy radios so we can all communicate if we lock down the building. In this day and time we must think about that scenario. We are extremely grateful for this necessary assistance to face today’s world.”

Taking care of people – feeding, clothing, befriending and even protecting them – is what the Mission of Hope is about. “We are treating a community that’s suffering,” Abercrombie says. “And we tell our volunteers that we never know when one of us might stand on the other side of the door.”

Thanks to the determination of the Mission of Hope and APSO volunteers, that door will be open.

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Location #007

Freshwater Land Trust

FOCUS AREA Environmental Stewardship
MISSION To conserve, connect and care for lands and waters in Central Alabama
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From the ever-expanding Red Rock Trail System to protecting the habitat of the endangered vermillion darter on Turkey Creek, the Freshwater Land Trust both cares and caretakes.

“We own and manage 7,000 acres of Alabama land,” Executive Director Rusha Smith says. “We visit that land on a regular basis to ensure nothing negative is affecting the water species, the flora, fauna or anything else on the property.” The acres came to the trust through purchase, donation or conservation easements. These conservation and stewardship efforts benefit all Alabamians in a behind-the-scenes, good-for-the-future manner.

Other Freshwater Land Trust programs are more visible every day. The Red Rock Trail System offers dozens of trails running through 120 miles of Jefferson County. Seven “corridors” are each a main thoroughfare made up of dozens and dozens of individual trails.

“Our goal is for every resident of Jefferson County to have access to an outdoor place in a convenient way,” says the trust’s Mary Beth Brown. “To use trails for exercise, to walk or bike to work, to access the library or church, to live healthy lives and be outside in nature where the car isn’t the only option.”

For instance, the new Five Mile Creek Trail in Gardendale connects to Fultondale’s existing trail, providing a 10-mile loop between the two cities. Plans call for extending the Rotary Trail from downtown Birmingham to Avondale and adding nearly 2 more miles to Homewood’s Shades Valley Greenway, so far, the most used of all the trails.

“When we build a new trail the running and cycling groups want to be on it before we even finish.”

As the newest of all, the High Ore Line Trail begins in Midfield, runs 3 miles along an old railroad bed, and connects with Red Mountain Park at its recently opened Venice Road entrance. Closing the 20-mile loop around downtown Birmingham is coming soon. Eventually, every trail on every corridor will connect into a continuous linking of communities and outdoor possibilities, in all 750 miles lacing through the county.

People are already excited. “When we build a new trail the running and cycling groups want to be on it before we even finish,” Brown says.

Runner Tom Bartels, training for his next 50K, rejoices in the many choices. “These trails are in our own backyard,” he says. “You can get nice, long runs. I can easily do a 21-miler on the system. I’ve spent a lot of time running in other cities and, as Red Rock Trail System continues to grow, we’re going to rival some of those larger places. The terrain and beauty we have here is a match made for trails like these.”

Tom Cosby, a downtown enthusiast, agrees. “The system is burnishing Birmingham’s reputation as a truly great city. My wife and I bike from our home to the heart of the city center and throughout Railroad Park, and we hike the Vulcan Trail during winter months to see the breathtaking views of the city below. Of all the great things that have happened in Birmingham in the past 10 years, I would put Red Rock Trail System at the top of my list.”

That’s the idea behind the idea: getting people out, using and enjoying the wonders around them.

A newly announced project in Birmingham’s Parkside District will also draw people to reconfigured land that will include an entertainment venue for movies, music, special events, restaurants, shopping and more.

“The Freshwater Land Trust is going to assist with trail development through that area and even farther into the Titusville neighborhood,” Smith says. “We feel trails are vital to a community. Not only do they improve walkability and promote healthy living, they also attract businesses and residents to our city.” The project is estimated to be completed in the next two to three years.

And, of course, the quiet streams, pastoral lands and vistas protected by the Freshwater Land Trust remain a priority. When Turkey Creek experienced severe bank erosion, Stewardship Director Jeffrey Drummond enabled stabilization and the removal of an old dam in the midst of an 11-mile stretch that serves as habitat for the bright red-yellow, endangered vermilion darter, which is found only in Alabama. After strengthening the stream segment, “we found the fish even farther up the stream than ever before,” Drummond says.

"We feel trails are vital to a community. Not only do they improve walkability and promote healthy living, they also attract businesses and residents to our city."

Now, the Freshwater Land Trust is already looking to the future as it continues to add infrastructure to the ongoing stewardship and conservation of the properties in Bibb, Blount, Dallas, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties.

“We hope to increase the property we own and manage,” Smith says. “And to continue the trails along the connectors of the Red Rock Trail System.”

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Location #008

Distinguished Young Women

FOCUS AREA Educational Advancement
MISSION To positively impact the lives of young women by providing an experience that promotes scholarship, leadership and talent
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Sometimes dreams come true. Especially when the Distinguished Young Women program provides training, empowerment and enough confidence to last a lifetime.

Consider the journey of Kendra Haskins. Like so many girls, the Montgomery native had the dream and the steam to think big yet was just one of many accomplished women knocking at the door. “I had wanted to go to Duke University for as long as I can remember,” she says. “I went into the admissions interview and was told I had 15 minutes. An hour and a half later I walked out with guaranteed admission. I lay that 100% at the feet of this program and its Be Your Best Self message.”

Haskins now serves as executive director of the national DYW organization, which was founded in Mobile in 1957 and is headquartered in the Port City. The experience begins on the local level – 42 programs around Alabama alone – and focuses (for free) on life skills. More than 3,000 girls participate in all 50 states annually.

Through DYW’s many resources, the girls learn public speaking, self-expression, job interview techniques, setting goals, insights into education and healthy lifestyles. Every program culminates in an on-stage showcase, advancing winning representatives to the state level for more training and more competition. One girl from each state travels to the national finals in Mobile the summer following her high school graduation.

At the heart of it – a heart that lives to help – Distinguished Young Women (originally known as America’s Junior Miss) is more about connecting with futures than being frilly and silly.

“We have never been a beauty contest,” Haskins says. “In the 1950s, when we were founded, there were very few scholarship options for girls. This program was progressive for its time and is still just as relevant.” The competition includes a talent component that, unlike pageants, might find a girl conducting a science experiment or a powerlifter demonstrating her abilities.

Whether it’s $500 from a local program or a major scholarship, DYW wants to put each participant in a position to shape her destiny through education. “Last year we made more than a billion dollars – that’s with a ‘B’ – of scholarship money available. It comes through support from organizations such as the Alabama Power Foundation, from donations on state and local levels, and from colleges and universities themselves,” Haskins says.

“One of our biggest scholarships comes from the University of South Alabama, which offers a full ride to all our 50 state representatives each year.” Over 100 collegiate partner schools also offer generous scholarships to participants. “They know the kind of young women who are part of our program.”

Eric Patterson’s involvement started when his wife suggested they host two Distinguished Young Women during the national finals in Mobile. She insisted, he resisted, and now recalls, “We kept Meredith from Missouri and Kim from Pennsylvania and I fell in love with the program. When we said goodbye, these little drops started falling out of my eyes. I was hooked from the get-go.” Patterson went on to serve on the Distinguished Young Women board and its Scholarship Foundation; wife, Pam, served as executive director. At the time, he was an Alabama Power Customer Service manager in the Mobile Division.

“I asked one of the girls what she enjoyed most during her time in Mobile and I distinctly remember her saying, ‘I now have a friend in every state.’ Many of us live our whole lives and can’t say that.”

Beth Thomas, current national president of the DYW board, is smitten with what she sees. “I asked one of the girls what she enjoyed most during her time in Mobile and I distinctly remember her saying, ‘I now have a friend in every state.’ Many of us live our whole lives and can’t say that.”

She revels in the Alabama Power Service Organization’s involvement, too. “We sponsor at least two girls each year, making them feel welcome and writing them letters of support. We are there for their families and friends who travel to Mobile. And our Mobile APSO chapter is on hand in numbers for the annual cookout on the USS Alabama battleship. We make the food and are there to meet the girls and their supporters.”

The success stories are the stuff of legends, and being a participant on any level means success in the world of Distinguished Young Women. Haskins is still moved by a high school student whose parents firmly issued the no-college message. “She found our program and ultimately won the national level and got the opportunity to attend her dream school, Northwestern.” From thinking college was not a possibility, she went on to study as a Rhodes Scholar, earned a master’s at Oxford University and became an educator. “She tells us that Distinguished Young Women leveled the playing field for her.”

For Tara Principe, DYW Communications director, the organization created a playing field and literally changed the direction of her life. “I had no idea what the program was when my aunt suggested I attend a meeting,” says Principe, 22, from Rhode Island. “I was skeptical until they handed me a list of schools and scholarship possibilities. I thought, ‘I really need to do this.'”

She did it well, traveling a 1-hour round-trip to each meeting because her small town didn’t offer a chapter. “Where else can a high school girl put on a business suit and do an interview before a panel of judges?” she says. “I would not have the public speaking and interview skills, and so much else, if not for Distinguished Young Women.” Principe represented Rhode Island in the national finals, receiving scholarships in academics, interview and self-expression.

Her trip to Mobile was itself a life-changer, sparking a love affair with the South, particularly with the University of South Alabama, where she graduated in 2019. A senior year internship with Distinguished Young Women turned into the full-time job. “I will be in Mobile for the rest of my life,” she vows. “And will be associated with DYW for a very long time. I don’t know where I’d be now without this program.”

Obviously, DYW works well. Thomas ticks off the need-to-know items. “This is one of the oldest and largest scholarship programs for young women in the country, and it started right here in Mobile,” she says. “Every year, the best and brightest young women come here. Whether they walk away with college scholarships or with confidence, this program is worthwhile for everyone. I’m lucky to be a part of it.”

It’s evident that DYW was ahead of its time when it was established more than 60 years ago. “These days, empowering young women is a buzzy hot topic. Everybody’s getting on the bandwagon of helping girls be their best,” Haskins says.

And with ongoing community support, DYW is able to continue to provide “hundreds of programs in hundreds of communities impacting thousands of young women every year,” Haskins says. “We are unbelievably grateful. It’s simply amazing.”

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Location #009

Auburn Rural Studio

FOCUS AREA Civic and Community Development
MISSION To give architecture students a hands-on educational experience while assisting local under-resourced communities
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The Auburn University Rural Studio movement started as a brilliant notion by the late Samuel "Sambo" Mockbee and the late D.K. Ruth, with faith and early support from the Alabama Power Foundation. "The truth of the matter is that the foundation pledged a large gift at the beginning and without it we wouldn't be here today," says Professor and Rural Studio Director Andrew Freear.

And are they ever here. What’s ensued over the past 26 years is architectural history and a forever game-changer for the people of Hale County and the Black Belt region. “They took a big chance on us,” Freear says. It’s a chance that changed lives, improved landscapes and landed on pages of journals, papers and awards podiums across the world.

Yet this wasn’t all about the architecture. Mockbee and Ruth did challenge the stuffy, academic do-it-our-way world to take students from drafting tables and blueprints to a real (and needy) world, turning their designs into structures.

But they also took on the mantle of social responsibility, identifying under-the-radar people in tiny Mason’s Bend, Alabama, and creating homes specifically for them. Not just any homes, but miracles of architecture like the now famous “Hay Bale” House (aka Bryant House). “People knew they were getting something unique,” notes Freear of the structures that often employed recycled elements, like the glass chapel created from windshields and a house of carpet tiles.

Every project stems from ideas and dialogue the people themselves bring to Rural Studio.

Mockbee and Ruth and their groundbreaking successor, Freear, have maintained that architecture is not just for the wealthy. Where Mockbee concentrated on houses for the unwealthy, Freear has advanced the program to embrace and enable students to build public structures including a firehouse, a town hall, baseball fields and parks.

Every project stems from ideas and dialogue people bring to Rural Studio. What results is beautiful architecture and usable spaces for the grateful recipients. “I frankly like nothing better than people coming up to us, sharing ideas and giving us the chance to work with them,” Freear says. “We don’t have an agenda beyond that, other than quality.”

Frances Sullivan, Newbern’s former postmaster, wasn’t shy about telling Freear what her town needed. “I pestered him,” she says. “When he came in to get his mail, I’d say ‘What about a library, Andrew?’ I think he was interested from the start, but he had a firehouse and a town hall ahead of this.”

Today, Freear’s voice softens as he talks about the completed Newbern Public Library, sitting like a jewel on Alabama Highway 61. “I’m probably as proud of that project as any one we’ve ever done,” he says of Auburn Rural Studio’s more than 200 projects to date. “It’s very respectful of an old bank that had basically sat vacant since the 1930s. You can’t believe this place. It’s stunning.”

Sullivan believes. And she appreciates every aspect of the building, complete with its statistics: 975 days of construction, 362 sheets of plywood, $63,000 worth of donated materials, more than 7,000 donated books, and a team of four skilled and forward-thinking Auburn architecture students.

“The kids on the team were amazing,” she says. “It was their baby from the beginning. They did so much research, traveling to other libraries to see what worked, learning how to establish a library in Alabama, so much. What commitment they had. Even when they graduated, the students stayed around to complete the construction of this project.”

She and husband, Mike, housed some team members in their home for two years and consider the Rural Studio team family. “We were part of the process and we definitely had a voice,” Sullivan says. “Occasionally we disagreed. Sometimes they won, sometimes we did. I resisted the Children’s Book Nook, they prevailed and now it’s a very popular part of the library.”

Rural Studio is pleased to see the evolution of the library into a community center. “The Knitting Club meets here on Saturdays; two Rural Studio students always come,” says the creative librarian Barbara Williams. “We once had a photography workshop where people went out and shot photos which we exhibited in the library.”

Project Horseshoe Farm fellows conduct weekly programs, mostly for seniors. Summer children’s programs have featured a meteorologist, outreach from Birmingham’s McWane Science Center, a STEM teacher on robotics, and a well-traveled local who brought photos for a worldly show-and-tell. Rural Studio students assisted third graders in researching individuals to portray in a black history school showcase.

There’s no resting on laurels here. There are too many requests to fulfill, so many exciting projects to serve the people. In fact, nine projects are underway, led by architectural students from across the U.S., and a few from Spain, New Zealand and Venezuela.

One group will turn an outdoor courtyard into a therapy park for ongoing physical therapy treatments at Hale County Hospital; a shelter project at Horseshoe Farms is to house women in transition; and at Horseshoe Farms headquarters, the creation of a splendid courtyard provides for youth and senior activities. A Good Roots grant from the Alabama Power Foundation will supply shade trees to accompany walls of climbing vines. Freear adds, “The students’ renderings of that project are beautiful and we think it’s going to be spectacular.”

Spectacular is a word Sullivan applies to the Auburn Rural Studio’s very presence. “They give us amazing gifts,” she says. “Their energy and thoughts are beyond belief. The work they do with us is beyond compare.”

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Location #010

Project Lifesaver

FOCUS AREA Health and Human Services
MISSION To provide timely response to save lives and reduce potential injury for those with the propensity to wander
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An Alzheimer's patient has wandered off. An autistic child goes missing. It happens every day. And as the clock ticks and caregivers worry, chances of recovery can slip away.

The statistics have traditionally been grim. An average search time of 9 hours; 33% of lost loved ones never found or found too late. Taxpayer dollars expended on uncertain outcomes. And families left with a desperate sense of loss and failure.

There’s an answer. And it’s working.

Through Project Lifesaver, a single bracelet, operating on radio frequency, can track a missing person. Time needed: 15 to 20 minutes from the first missing person report to the nearest sheriff’s office. Success rate: 100%. That’s right, perfect score, every time.

Capt. Gene Saunders remembers the very first rescue in 2001. “This system was unproven and untested,” says Project Lifesaver’s founder and CEO, now living in Florida. “We got a call and recovered a gentleman with dementia in 1 1/2 minutes. We had searched for him once before and it took 9 hours and 85 officers. My thinking was to apply the same principle from wildlife tracking to people: Just give them something to wear to allow us to receive a radio signal. Suddenly, word of mouth spread the news and we had sheriff’s offices calling in, wanting the program for their people.”

One of those interested states was Alabama.

And one of the early supporters of that effort was the 1,500-member Energizers retiree group founded through the Alabama Power Foundation. “The Energizers have played such a large role. To this day they remain Project Lifesaver’s largest contributor in the United States. Nobody has surpassed what the Energizers have done and the money they have raised. Isn’t that cool?” says Saunders.

It’s also cool that Alabama was the second state to attain 100% participation in every county. Project Lifesaver is now helping in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, seven Canadian provinces and, soon, Western Australia. After a few years balancing police SWAT rescue work and the new rescue receivers, Saunders opted to run Project Lifesaver full time.

“Ultimately, I feel called to do this. I love serving people. I’ve been a trooper for 18 years and Project Lifesaver has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done over the years.”

In Alabama, Cpl. Kent Smith is handling both his helicopter rescues on rapids, rivers and mountains as a state trooper and his role as state coordinator of Project Lifesaver. “It’s a good day on the job when we can find someone quickly and successfully,” Smith says. “Ultimately, I feel called to do this. I love serving people. I’ve been a trooper for 18 years and Project Lifesaver has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done over the years.”

Here’s another example of how the program works.  Smith recalls a call at 9 p.m. on a pitch-dark evening. An Alzheimer’s patient had wandered off, but to the east, the west, the north or south? Nobody knew. “Listening to the sound of the receiving unit, we were able to pick up the signal and follow the man, deep into the woods where he was simply sitting beside a tree. We never would have found him with traditional methods. Our transmitters can extend over a mile away and our people just walked up and gently took him home.”

Bob O’Daniel, recently retired after 15 years as Energizers state president, will remain Project Lifesaver’s administrator in Elmore County, personally changing batteries in the bracelets every 90 days and tracking the success stories. “I’m now just a concerned citizen who does work in the name of Alabama Power and the Energizers,” he says.

In the line of duty, he witnessed a triumph while visiting Don and Teresa on Lake Jordan a while back. As O’Daniel and Don chatted, Teresa, suffering from dementia, vanished. “Don said, ‘She’s gone! She’s gone again!’ and raced out the door heading toward the lake. He’s so afraid she will go to the water,” O’Daniel says. “I walked to the receiver unit in my car and aimed it the direction we thought she’d gone, and wouldn’t you know she was just five houses up, completely out of sight, visiting. Don had run right past there.”

O’Daniel also remembers an instance where an autistic child wandered from his home and family. “It took some time to find him because he wasn’t yet wearing a bracelet,” O’Daniel recalls. “You can be certain he’s wearing one now. She doesn’t let him out of her sight without it.”

The technology is costly. On average, Lifesaver starter packages run about $4,000, which includes only a few bracelets for distribution. Buying each additional bracelet is just short of $400. Alabama has an estimated 100,000 Alzheimer’s patients, relatively few of them connected to the bracelets. That’s where the funding from the Alabama Power Energizers comes in. “The larger counties often have more resources to buy bracelets and families who can afford them will shoulder that cost willingly,” says Smith. “But it’s the very poor, rural counties that need so much help”

“The larger counties often have more resources to buy bracelets and families who can afford them will shoulder that cost willingly,” says Smith. “But it’s the very poor, rural counties that need so much help.”

Through selling pecan pies, staging bake sales and conducting many an auction, the 11 Energizers chapters have given, over time, around $126,000 to the Project Lifesaver cause. “This is a security blanket for the caregiver,” says O’Daniel, a former Human Resources/Benefits staffer at Alabama Power. “It’s a wonderful thing to know you can find someone.”

With the generosity of groups like the Energizers, the continuing needs will be met. And people whose way home is obscured in the shadows of memory will not lose their path for long. Saunders, who has visited the Alabama Project Lifesavers organizers, says, “I feel that a lot of agencies and states could look at Alabama and see what’s being done to protect our vulnerable citizens.

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Elevate Grant

Our Elevate grant program empowers nonprofits by funding community-centered projects and helping them expand their impact and address some of the community’s most pressing needs. Applications will be available through August 21.