The dreams of the homecoming queen

Rachel Gregory Princess

Homecoming Queen Rachel Gregory with young girl.

After four years at Samford University, Rachel Gregory will graduate with more than just memories – she’ll graduate with a crown.

Crowned homecoming queen for the 2013 to 2014 school year, Gregory was excited and honored, adding the event to her list of favorite Samford memories.

Other moments that made the list include playing on several intramural teams, participating in Step Sing, joining Alpha Delta Pi and leading a small group.

“I lead an incredible group of freshman girls who encourage me and challenge me daily in my walk with Christ,” Gregory said.

Extremely involved on campus, Gregory has not only led a small group but has been the chaplain for her sorority, served as a Rho Gamma and a Connections Leader and was involved with the Student Government Association.  As a freshman, Gregory competed in the SoCon Track and Field Indoor Championship and jumped her personal best in the pole vault.

Although she has accomplished many things in her time at Samford, Gregory has several dreams for the future.

“I dream of being used in supernatural ways to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to this earth,” Gregory said. “Most of my dreams kind of scare me, but maybe that’s because I cannot attain them on my own. I have to trust that God will provide me with opportunities and that He will equip me emotionally, spiritually, and physically to accomplish the dreams He has placed in my heart.”

She has more serious dreams like living overseas or going to seminary for a degree in Christian Education, but she also has dreams of entering a swing dancing competition and working as Belle at Disney World.

As an elementary education major, one of her biggest dreams is to teach in an international school. After graduation she will be certified to teach children in grades PreK – 6 and special education. She hopes to use her teaching degree as a means of ministry and aspires to be like Mrs. Robbins, her fourth grade teacher.

“She loved me so well and inspired me to want to be a teacher just like her. Since fourth grade, I have always had my heart set on being a teacher just like Mrs. Robbins,” Gregory said.

Already making an impact not only on Samford’s campus but in the lives of children, one of Gregory’s most recent favorite Samford memories happened during Homecoming weekend.

“After being crowned Homecoming Queen,” Gregory said, “a little girl asked, ‘Are you a real princess?’ I told her yes and asked if she was a princess, too.” When the little girl responded “Yes,” Gregory asked if she would like to try on the crown. “I gingerly placed it on her head,” she said. “She then ran over to her dad shouting, “Daddy! Daddy! I just met Miss Alabama!”

With a long list of Samford memories and accomplishments, Gregory has enjoyed her years at Samford. She said that her achievements have been by the grace of God and trusts Him to lead her toward her dreams. The recent addition of a crown is just a bonus among many wonderful college memories.

By Kaitlyn Bouchillon

Crestline Village: The Mayberry of Birmingham

Tucked between the peaceful streets of Crestline Heights and the sprawling greens of the Birmingham Country Club is a home away from home — a village of shops, restaurants and city buildings. Crestline Village is its own little town just miles away from the big city.

Nestled in the heart of Mountain Brook the community of Crestline Village is a present-day Mayberry. Crestline offers both residents and visitors a retreat from the busyness of city life and reminds the Birmingham area that neighborly values mean much more than just a friendly face or welcoming smile. The sense of community runs deep through the shop owners, restaurant managers and city workers.

When talking about Crestline Village, the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce says it best: “Welcome to Crestline Village. Welcome to family.”

Every family is unique and Crestline is no different. The old brick buildings bleed history, begging visitors to slow down and enjoy the moment. From the one-of-a-kind boutiques to the modern library and the mom-and-pop pharmacy, the village offers something for everyone.

The warm atmosphere that immediately sets visitors and tourists at ease also provides a respite for locals. It’s common to see local families having a picnic in the grassy area beside the Emmet O’Neal Library, playing a game with the kid-size chess set next to City Hall or enjoying a warm cup of coffee while sitting in Church Street Coffee & Books.

One reason that both locals and visitors feel right at home is because of the camaraderie between Crestline shop and restaurant owners. Instead of trying to beat out one another, the owners speak highly of each other and even plan events together.

Natalie Babington is the manager of Snap Kids, a children’s clothing store that features comfortable and stylish clothing for all ages, from newborn to kid’s sizes to tween. “All of the shop owners and managers get along great. We always are helping each other out. We plan sales together and things like that because we want to make sure we can maximize who we reach with our sales,” Babington said.

Instead of acting as a competitor, Snap Kids often works with their neighbor Snoozy’s Kids, which has everything from toys and baby blankets to jewelry for mom.

The owner of Snoozy’s Kids, George Jones, has owned the store since 1988 and has seen kids as customers come back in years later with their own children.

“I’ve been able to retain my customers as they go through the teen years and graduation gifts. There are grandmothers who came here to buy things for their children and now they’re buying for their grandchildren,” Jones said.

One of Crestline’s unique qualities is that many of the shop owners live close by are neighbors. Jones lives in Crestline and explains that while he has a fenced-in yard, there is a gate on each side of his yard leading to his neighbors’ yards. The sense of community that permeates Crestline Village is direct evidence of the community that surrounds the village.

“We’re made up of small stores, small boutiques and small business people. A lot of us live around here, so you live in your community,” Jones said. “You work in your community, and that can’t help but make even more of a sense of community. When someone comes in and you show them a gift and you know their child, you know who they’re buying for. It’s kind of Mayberry-ish.”

It’s easy to see the plus side of living in such tight-knit community, and it’s understandable that locals don’t feel a need to move anywhere else. “We have everything from a library and city hall to the police station and a grocery store. Children’s clothes, ladies’ clothes, if you’re planning a wedding or need a photograph, drugs, or a bakery, it’s all right here,” Jones said.

Newcomers to Crestline also agree: there’s no place quite like Crestline Village, where everyone knows your name.

Alex Stone grew up in Crestline, but her store, The Pantry, was located in Cahaba Heights until recently. Now that she’s moved “home,” Stone sees a steady stream of regular customers every day. “We love it here; it’s real homely,” Stone said. “Everybody knows everybody.”

The Pantry — a health-conscious, farmstead lifestyle store in Crestline Village — places an extreme importance on the quality of food. The store is also event driven, hosting wine and cheese events and gumbo and beer night every Friday.

While Stone runs The Pantry, her mother, Deborah Stone, runs the farm that provides the restaurant with its fresh products. Deborah Stone grew up on a farm before opening one of the first day spas in America, and she couldn’t be happier to finally be back on the farm. In a way, opening The Pantry has brought both mother and daughter back home.

Because The Pantry has its own farm, many of the items sold in the restaurant are homemade. They offer everything from jams and jellies to 12 different flavors of cheese made from one of their 150 goats. The Pantry restaurant truly begins at the farm.

There’s a grab-and-go section full of soups, casseroles and tomato pies that are perfect for busy parents to pick up and pop in the oven when they get home from work. There are several juices and even cow’s milk straight from the farm — courtesy of Poppy the cow.

Looking to appeal to all generations, The Pantry also has Steel City Pops available and many different health juices. In fact, The Pantry provides the milk for both the caramel and the tomatillo pop. Between the food, pops and juicing, they’ve figured out how to gain a wide customer base.

“The juicing brings in the teenage crowd and the health-conscious moms but then the food brings in a lot of elderly people, “Stone said.

As the restaurant owners get to know their customers, they’re able to personalize the Crestline Village experience. There’s one customer that comes to The Pantry and orders a juice customized just for her. “We make a Julie Juice, and Julie comes in here every day and grabs the same juice, so we have it for her at 12 o’clock,” Stone said.

The Julie Juice, made from two celery sticks, a handful of romaine, a quarter of a lemon, an apple and a handful of spinach, has become popular as more of Julie’s friends find out about it. Stone loves it because she’s gotten to know Julie’s inner circle, figured out what they like and can now invest in them not only as customers but as people too.

Caring about people is what it’s all about for The Pantry. There’s great value in eating farm-to-table, and The Pantry is the face of the farm — a way to bring the farm to everyone in Crestline.

Right past the old drugstore and across the street from the mighty Crestline Clock Tower is another shop that cares greatly about its customers and the Crestline community.

Church Street Coffee & Books moved into an abandoned Starbucks a little more than two years ago. Since then, the store has been selling coffee, pastries and books to customers who have quickly become regulars. The specialty coffees and drinks are delicious, but it’s the cookies that keep customers coming back for more. The best seller is the break-up cookie, which is a chocolate chip cookie with sea salt baked on top.

There’s a loft upstairs perfect for students who need to study and a patio outside with a view of the clock tower as well as ample seating inside. It’s hard to find a time of day when regular customers aren’t visiting with the staff because at Church Street, there’s no such thing as “just a customer.” Everyone is treated like family.

One of the co-owners of Church Street Coffee & Books, Cal Morris, doesn’t have any big dreams for future expansion. Instead, his dream is to be a welcoming place for the community.

“Honestly, I think we are living our dream. Our dream is here,” Morris said.

And that dream of community in Crestline Village seems to be shared by every shop owner. Who doesn’t want to shop, eat and spend their afternoons playing chess or having a picnic in a place that feels like home?

There are more than 50 shops and businesses that attract people to Crestline including ice cream parlors, photography studios, Mexican and Southern cooking restaurants, gas stations, clothing stores and so much more. Crestline Village offers it all!

The brick buildings, delicious food and welcoming stores will surely draw you into this quaint town, but the people of Crestline Village will always be what makes you want to stay.

Bigger and Better

Owl’s Hollow Farm owner Rod Palmer walked out to his Gadsden, Ala., farm in early January 2011 to discover all six of his hydroponic greenhouses collapsed under the weight of nearly eight inches of snow and ice. These special greenhouses housed the majority of the farm’s hydroponic produce, which is grown in nutrient-rich water instead of soil.

“I heard it,” Palmer said. “It was 5:30 a.m., and it shook the house. I knew what it was, but there was nothing I could do.”

The farmer stood in shock at the sight of his destroyed greenhouses and entire lettuce crops lost to the cold. Ten years worth of time and effort lay in messy, snow-covered heaps.

After the shock wore off, Palmer jumped straight into action.

“It was a couple hundred thousand dollars just gone,” Palmer said. “I had to ‘unbuild.’ Crying, kicking and screaming.”

During the process, the stressed farmer occasionally found pockets of perfectly preserved lettuce.

“Sometime we’d find maybe 300 heads of Romaine,” Palmer said. “It was just beautiful.”

Community Gives Back

Destroyed greenhouses

Palmer’s business has become well established in the Birmingham area since opening in May 2001, and throughout the disaster, Palmer said that the community’s support inspired him. People rallied to help the destroyed farm, something Palmer is extremely grateful for.

“I’m so thankful,” Palmer said. “I never knew people depended on local food so much.”

Owl’s Hollow has sold produce to restaurants all over Birmingham, as well as Pepper Place Market in the spring and summer months. Because the vegetables are grown using the hydroponic technique, Palmer is able to grow and sell his produce year round.

Local Homewood restaurant Urban Cookhouse depends on Owl’s Hollow for most of their produce and even held a fundraiser for the farm.

On Feb. 9, the restaurant donated 100 percent of all takeout dinner proceeds to the farm to help buy new greenhouses.

Palmer said that people he did not even know contacted him, wanting to help.

“People started sending me letters and calling saying ‘I’m so sorry’ or ‘I’m praying for you.’ It’s been one of the best bad experiences you can imagine,” he said.

A Better Tomorrow

While waiting for the new greenhouses to go up in March, the farm managed to survive. Palmer and a small team of farm hands salvaged everything possible and focused on rebuilding.

“You’d see all the remains and you’d know it all goes somewhere,” Palmer said.

Radishes growing in mineral solutions

Most importantly, the farm kept growing. Hundreds of heads of lettuce floated on styrofoam in a man-made pond on the farm while makeshift garden beds were filled with mineral solutions and used to grow herbs and smaller produce. A small trailer that sits on the farm held thousands of tiny tomatoes and sprouting basil plants.

Though this disaster caused nothing but stress and shock when it struck, Palmer tried to remain positive. The farmer viewed it as a chance to improve the farm, saying that rebuilding from the ground up would only make everything “bigger and better.”

3 women

The Lovelady Center

Story and photos by Leah Jane Henderson

Starting over and getting back on your feet is anything but simple. The women residing in the Lovelady Center bear first-hand knowledge that the next chapter of their lives entails seeking relief from adversity.
3 women

Despite facing adversities, women at the Lovelady Center still find reasons to smile.

Sitting at the corner of 79th Street and Second Avenue South, the Lovelady Center serves the community by providing shelter and assistance to women and children.

The Foundation

The shelter offers a life-changing program with the goal of providing tools necessary to overcome obstacles and start over. Many of the residents were homeless at one point or have been released from prison and are unable to provide for themselves or their family.

The nine- to 12-month program is designed to rebuild lives and give hope to the 378 women and approximately 100 children currently residing at the shelter.

Basic care includes housing, clothing, medical care and hygienic products. The staff provides nearly 1,200 meals daily. In-house psychologists provide counseling for substance abuse and drug rehabilitation.

Available transportation is provided for work, school and doctor appointments, as well as the in-house KidZone daycare center open to the public.

The center partners with Jefferson State Community College and Tennessee Temple University for women to gain higher education and job skills.

The Workforce Development Program trains them to find sustainable jobs for a more hopeful future.

Jennifer White is one of many graduates that have advanced to working on staff.

“If it weren’t for this place I wouldn’t be nearly as successful as I am now. I thank God every day for showing me this place. It really is amazing,” White said.

In the Beginning

Brenda Spahn possessed determination and a huge heart when she single-handedly began what is now one of the most thriving shelters in Birmingham. Five women inhabited Brenda’s home and quickly became 40 after local press coverage. The shelter opened in 2004 and currently holds a plethora of mothers and aunts, daughters and wives.

Because of a lack of state or federal funding, the center relies predominantly on donations. Bright pink donations bins are planted on the sidewalk. They accept clothing, linens, baby items, and small appliances. Food donations, volunteer work and tutors are also essential segments of the center’s success.

Road to Success

The Lovelady Center is no day camp when it comes to the requirements that serve as the foundation for advancing toward graduation.

Every occupant and visitor must sign in and out at the front desk, residents must complete drug tests upon return from any outing and curfews are stricly enforced.

b miller

Outreach coordinator, Bonnie Miller (middle), oversees rules and regulations that provide an environment for success.

Outreach coordinator Bonnie Miller administers the stern policies that are monitored by all staff members.

“It’s strict. There are mandatory church services and mandatory devotions. You have to take a certain number of classes, no rated R movies or secular music. It is strict, but there is a lot of structure,” Miller said.

The women have an option to participate in work contracts associated with the shelter. Businesses include Dunkin’ Donuts, Piggly Wiggly, the Blackwell House and the Lovelady Thrift Store.

Rent costs $150 per month and covers room and board, transportation, classes and meals. A total of 20 credits are required for graduation and departure. Twenty to 25 women are taken in each week including repeated returns.

“If someone transitions out and they feel they’re about to stumble, or even if they do mess up, they know they can come back. They always have a place to stay,” Miller said.

Numerous volunteer opportunities await any who are willing to help at the center. Opportunities involve group and individual work including prayer warriors groups, room makeovers, mentors, church services, devotionals, teachers and tutors.

For more information about volunteer work and donations contact the Development Department at (205) 833-1064 or The Lovelady Center is located at 7916 Second Ave. S in Birmingham.

2 girls

Nearly 400 women of various ages currently reside at the shelter in Birmingham.

Behind the Bricks

SouthTown muralThe dusty red bricks of Southtown’s community center have seen people come and go for decades. These old bricks are one of few constants in the housing community. Within the last nine years however, another constant emerged.

About Southtown

Located in the community center, the Southtown after school tutoring program runs every Monday through Thursday afternoon. It is open to elementary and middle school students in the housing community, with the goals of mentoring and tutoring these children.

Aside from tutoring, children participate in youth basketball and a dance team for girls.

Volunteer Doug Clapp and Red Mountain Church began the after school program nine years ago. Since then the program has been run by several different groups.

Non-profit organization T.R. McCOY currently operates the Southtown center as well as several centers for the Birmingham Housing Authority.

T.R. McCOY’s link to Southdown, Love Beverly, is a mother of two who grew up in the suburbs. She moved to Southtown nearly two years ago to run all of the programs at the community center.

“I started working here through volunteering,” Beverly said.

Beverly remains a stable figure at the center, but she insists that she is not the most important person involved. The most important person, or rather persons, are the children of the Southtown community.

For the Children

Volunteer Marshall Pollard said the center exists for the children; the programs would not last if not for them.

Pollard, a senior marketing major at Samford University, volunteers every Wednesday afternoon and ran the tutoring program for two years before Beverly took over. He said that in that time, attendance increased from 12 to 25 kids – an encouraging figure.

Samford students tutor children at a Southtown after-school program.

Samford students tutor children at Southtown.

To Pollard, the children at Southtown learn what it means to reach, to want more.

“Children have an idea of what it means to achieve,” Pollard said, “to be invested in for their sake.”

For many, this is the only time they receive help on their homework, and Beverly tries to make learning a fun experience.

When students come in for the afternoon, they sign in and then go to one of the small classrooms for tutoring.

For the students who do not have anything to work on, or those who finish their homework, Beverly generally sets up some type of learning game.

The kids break into teams and compete for small prizes. These games allow the children to show their skills in topics such as spelling or math. Beverly also tries to involve running, basketball or some other activity to get the kids moving.

Always Optimistic

There aren’t enough resources to go around at the community center, and there is never enough community support either. That does not stop volunteers from doing what they can.

“Thank God for students,” Beverly said, as the majority of the after school volunteers attend nearby Samford University or the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Despite the hardships, Beverly said that during her time at Southtown, she has seen definite improvements.

More and more children come to the center consistently, and Southtown is more stable than when Beverly started. She said that attendance in the younger kids has especially increased. The community center is now in the process of growing and finding new partners.

Children have fun on the Southtown playground.

Children have fun on the Southtown playground.

“We’re trying to help make the program grow,” Beverly said.

In the future, Beverly hopes to see further improvements such as more programs and athletics. She also wants to see more academic achievements.

“A big goal is to have every kid who comes here be on the A and B honor roll,” Beverly said. “That would be a great accomplishment.”

It’s small and it’s underfunded, but the Southtown tutoring program has a lot of hope and potential. People like Love Beverly and Marshall Pollard do what they can in the hopes of encouraging these children to reach for more, to set higher expectations.

The kids at Southtown are not just learning math and English; they are learning what it means to value themselves.