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 info@loveladycenter.org. 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.

stacked records

Renaissance Records

Story and photos by Leah Jane Henderson

stacked records

It’s not easy to find a great record store with classic albums or one-of-a-kind finds.

Whether it’s a 33 r.p.m., a 45 or an 8-track, Renaissance Records in Five Points South is a haven for music lovers and collectors alike.

The store specializes in vintage records but has a modest number of new artists and albums. New and used books, CDs, records, and movies are also sold for great prices, as well as posters and art.

Gary Bourgeois (pronounced Boo-schwah) is the middleman between music and the ears of listeners, bringing great taste in records and a love for his store. An English professor at Miles College, Gary finds the time to run his store in the afternoons and weekends.

When you first step through the door, you’ll hear the jangling of a worn doorknob, vintage records crackling over speakers and the rugged sound of vinyl, old French ballads, Jim Morrison’s crooning voice, or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Red walls are plastered with psychedelic album art and classic movie posters, autographs and postcards.

Renaissance Records is a haven for music lovers and collectors alike.

A glossy, gold phonograph sits on one of many bookshelves filled with cassette tapes and jaded, valuable magazines. String lights cloak the huge front window, accompanied by soft, worn-in couches and glowing lamps on piles of thick, musty books. These are the sights and sounds of visiting one of the oldest record stores in Birmingham.

Ambition was running through Gary’s veins in 2003 when he decided to open Renaissance Records located at 2020 11th Ave. South.

“This used to be a bookstore kind of an alternative, new age bookstore. I used to work at Charlemagne (Records) back in the older days and then I started teaching in 2000 at Miles. But after a few years I missed working at Charlemagne and thought this was the perfect place and remodeled it and now we have a little of everything.”

He got the idea to open while visiting Europe after his French professor in college encouraged him to go to France.

Owner Gary Bourgeois holds up one of his favorite records

“That’s where I came up with the idea. In France they have all these shops, and in London and Amsterdam, there are all these cool shops like coffee shops, offbeat shops, bookstores, record stores, everything. That’s when it clicked in my mind, this is perfect, I’m going to make it happen.”

Bourgeois’ favorite part about running the store is meeting people, “There’s a social element when you work in a record store. Of course, I love trading records, it’s really fun and I love playing records. When you put a record on it sounds so great. it sounds 10 times better. But you get to meet all these people.”

Many people visit the store, from a handful of locals who come in every week to browse and catch up on conversation, to musicians and bands, to complete strangers whose fingers itch for the feeling of slick vinyl, to feel the spiral grooves of a 45.

The store specialized in vintage records, but has a modest number of new ones as well.

“In an urban city and area like this you’ve got crazies that come through and really eccentric characters, a real mix with collegestudents, older collectors, younger collectors, and families. It’s like a soap opera. You’ve got the regulars and the skateboard kids coming down, and we’ve even had the guy from KISS, Gene Simmons, standing in here. Who knows who you’re going to meet? From one day to the next, you have no clue.”

He compares his job to the film High Fidelity starring John Cusack, “It’s a must-read and a must-see film. John Cusack is like me, trying to pay the bills, which is my least favorite thing to do. It’s the greatest book and movie. Actually that’s our training manual. Whenever someone wants to work here we make them take the VHS or DVD and watch it, and after they’ve watched it we say okay, now you might be ready.”

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.

A flag flies over the barbed wire fences

Dead Man Walking

Story and Photos by Will Stewart

When the bars at Holman Correctional Facility closed behind Grady Bankhead in 1986, they closed on the self-described “angriest man in the world”, a man facing death for capital murder, and still nursing wounds from a tumultuous childhood.A flag flies over the barbed wire fences

Now, in 2011, Bankhead resides at William E. Donaldson correctional facility, where he runs inmate therapy groups and regularly teaches sessions on Buddhist Vipassana meditational practices. He is excited about life, and thankful for the opportunity to divert others from the paths he was on.

Bankhead was born in Mobile during a trip his mother made from Texas to visit her parents. His birth forced her to stay in Mobile indefinitely.

“I don’t think she ever forgave me for that,” he said, chuckling.

He has good reason to think so. When he was three, his mother disappeared, leaving him and a younger brother in a barn to die. After he was found, Bankhead lived in a home for abused children until his grandmother reclaimed custody. He finished elementary school in Mobile before moving to Sacramento with his grandmother.

Then, during his junior year of high school, Grady’s girlfriend became pregnant.

“I thought that was what you was supposed to do, was get married,” Bankhead said.

The marriage didn’t last long, and soon Bankhead found himself running with a rough crowd. In 1975, during his second marriage, he was arrested for using a stolen credit card and sentenced to four years in prison.

Despite staying out for eight years, he still followed many of the paths that led him to prison in the first place. He burned through another marriage, and continued to surround himself with people who were just as self-destructive as he was.

“I had a lot of abandonment issues, and instead of working through the issues I just tried to put the band-aids over the problem and I kept trying to find people to pull to me,” Bankhead said. “It didn’t have to be necessarily, a woman as a wife, it was friend. Everybody to me was like ‘ok yeah now you’re my family.’”

Grady Bankhead

Everything came to a head on a stormy night in 1986. Grady met with three men to go fishing on some family property, but when fishing got rained out, the four headed to a bar. He knew only one of the men, and just for two weeks, but when the men ran out of money and decided to go rob a man they knew, Bankhead went right along.

The group traveled to Jack McGraw’s house, planning to take a television and sell it for cash, which McGraw would then collect insurance on. Soon, however, a drunken argument broke out between him and two of the men, which ended when they assaulted McGraw with a knife.

When all was said and done, they had stabbed him 59 times in the back, three times in the face, and his throat had been slit 16 times.

The men drove back to Bankhead’s house where he provided them with a change of clothes while he burned their bloody garments in the backyard.

Despite the fact that Bankhead never touched the victim, he received the sentence of death for capital murder. The judge ruled that he was equally responsible for McGraw’s death because he holds a black belt in two different martial arts but did not lift a finger for the defenseless McGraw. But Bankhead doesn’t hold a grudge for his harsh sentence.

“I definitely did wrong,” he said, “I turned into a coward that day, I thought I was going to be left laying there to die too. At the time I made another poor decision and now, here I am.”

During his time on death row, Bankhead took his first step toward changing his life by getting a college degree. Despite graduating high school in Sacramento, he never attended college, and when Holman began offering weekly classes to the regular population inmates, the men on death row asked for the same opportunity. Three years later, at the age of 37, Grady Bankhead earned his Associate of Arts degree.

In addition to getting his college degree, Bankhead also took up painting, which might be what saved his life in the end. His appeal lawyer dropped his appeal in order to work on a personal case, and Grady’s execution was imminent. He moved into the “death cell”, a small room next to the electric chair, where a death row prisoner lives in the two weeks before his execution.

Then, only two days before he was due to die, a new attorney picked up his appeal, and succeeded in commuting his sentence to life without parole. The deciding factor? During the appeal, Bankhead’s wife revealed to the judge that he sold his paintings from within the prison and donated the money to a home for abused children, rather than spending it financing his appeals.

Bankhead's Serial Number

Bankhead’s prison issued serial number

“The judge told me ‘I’m not going to put you back on death row, I’m going to give you life without [parole] because I believe you can still help people from behind bars.’” Bankhead recalled, “And I thought ok, I’ll show you, I’ll help everyone I can find.”

Bankhead decided that before he could help change someone else’s life, he had to overhaul his. He began to take various courses the prison offered and happened upon an experimental class in Vipassana meditation therapy, a non-religious practice of introspection. Grady enrolled and became part of a documentary called The Dhamma Brothers, which followed four violent inmates as they learned this alternative, peace-based lifestyle.

The course changed Grady Bankhead’s life completely.

“It saved my life, and I don’t mean keeping me out of the dirt, I’m talking about it saved my living, how to live.” Bankhead said. “I was walking around dead already inside. I’m not anymore. I love life, I feel great about it.”

That much is clear within the first seconds of speaking with him. His voice carries a warm and charismatic energy, full of drive, his passion overflowing. When you listen to him it is almost impossible to connect him with the man who stood idly by as a defenseless man was savagely murdered. His sense of humor, powerful and ever-present, more closely resembles the attitude of a free man than one condemned to spend his life in prison.

But it isn’t just Bankhead’s attitude towards life and others that demonstrates his change; it is reflected almost more so in his actions. When the judge told Bankhead that he thought Bankhead could help people, he had no idea how right he was.

Bankhead is on the warden’s advisory committee at William E. Donaldson. He works in the head psychologist’s office teaching Reality Therapy and Houses of Healing to over 50 inmates each week. He facilitates 3 group meditations each week with the other “Dhamma brothers” and has worked with 12 more Vipassana courses for inmates. In the late 90’s he helped start an alcohol and drug recovery program that is still going strong. He also coaches a softball team and plays softball and basketball.

“I have a full day,” he said, chuckling when asked how he juggles it all.

A warning at the prison fence

A warning outside of William E. Donaldson’s fences.

But he wouldn’t have it any other way. Most prisoners long for the day when they will be released back into society, but after 25 years in the system, Bankhead has come to terms with the fact that he will likely die behind bars for a life that he has disavowed. But rather than dwell on how unfortunate he is, Bankhead took it upon himself to be a factor of change in the lives of young men who might someday get a chance at freedom. And for Grady Bankhead, helping others first is the most important thing in the world.

“The only thing that has to do with me now is how I get up in the morning and what I do to create something [I can] achieve that day and who I can help,” Bankhead said, “[The reason] I started taking courses and finding work to do that would help me change was to be that better person that I wanted others to become.”

To learn more about Grady Bankhead and his involvement with Vipassana Meditation visit his website, which also contains information about his ongoing legal battle in an attempt for parole.

From Scratch Design

Kelly Housholder's from scratch design for the 2010 Moss Rock Festival.

Kelly Housholder's from scratch design for the 2010 Moss Rock Festival.

Kelly Housholder, Birmingham-native and graphic design extraordinaire, never imagined she would turn her passion and skill for creativity into her dream job, but that’s exactly what she did.

Originally setting out into the world of pre-med, Kelly quickly realized her aspirations were elsewhere while interning at an obstetrics and gynecology clinic.

During her time there, Kelly worked with and drew inspiration from women of all ages, races, and walks of life.  Little did she know, Kelly’s patients were influencing her future in a major way.

“At the end of the internship, I was inspired to make a painting,” Kelly said.“Instead of being inspired to cure ovarian cancer or learn how to deliver a baby, I was inspired to create a painting of a ‘universal woman.’ She was flowing with colors of all races, shapes, and sizes and embodied the heart and soul of each woman I saw during that 3-month internship.”

In the end, Kelly quickly recognized that she was made for the creative world, not the scientific.

After crying the whole way through Chemistry I, she switched majors and devoted herself to something new.

She chose to major in fine art and mixed media at Birmingham-Southern College, while also taking graphic design classes at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Kelly was able to experience a number of internships during college.  One in particular, Scout Branding Company, gave her a job straight out of college.

Kelly and her husband Andrew share a laugh.

Kelly and her husband Andrew share a laugh.

A year later, Kelly moved away and married her husband.

Despite her apprehension, she decided to go forth as a freelance graphic artist.

With her newlywed husband in medical school, she was their sole means of income.

“Looking back, I’m like, ‘I’m crazy!’ ” Kelly said. “I don’t know if I would have done that again, but it worked out.”

After being given a start as a freelancer with various projects from her past job at Scout Branding Company and other contacts, Kelly said every client got her another client, “instead of advertising, it was really customer service and just doing good work.”

By taking on small, minor projects, she was able to build a client-base that later allowed her to tackle substantially bigger ventures.

“What I like to tell a lot of people that are starting out is that ‘you never know,’ don’t not take something, because it seems like a dead end,” Kelly said. “The smallest thing can turn out to be huge.”

As word spread about Kelly’s devotion to her work, her clientele expanded across the United States.

“I did work on a center for eating disorders here in Birmingham, and they had a freelance writer who they knew that lived in Houston,” Kelly said, “So I worked with her and about a year later she sent me this email about the magazine she worked for needing a web site.”

Kelly bid on the project, won it and has been working with the magazine ever since.

Kelly Housholder's from scratch design for the Red Mountain Community School brochure.

Kelly Housholder's from scratch design for the Red Mountain Community School brochure.

She also worked on a project with an account manager here in Birmingham, who later moved to New York.

“All of a sudden, I started doing work for Columbia University, so then I was working there!”

Kelly said about her nationally growing business.  Kelly credits her relationships and connections with clients for her growth.

“There’s just so many things my internships and first job shaped for me,” Kelly said. “When you’re in school you don’t learn how to manage clients, you don’t even learn how to send anything to print, so if I had just tried to do freelance out of college I would have crashed.”

Despite her love for her clients, Kelly said her least favorite part of the graphic design industry is being hired as an expert in visual design and not being trusted.

“It’s hard sometimes,” Kelly said. “It’s kind of like going to the doctor and them saying, ‘you have strep,’ and you’re like ‘actually I think I have the flu.’”

In those kinds of situations, Kelly said that it is ultimately the client’s decision, but she goes down with a fight.  By providing her clients with education on why she does something a certain way and why it works best, clients are usually more willing to relinquish control.

“People really respect that you’re invested and you want the best for them,” Kelly said.  “I think if they know that, believe that, and trust that, then they trust you too.”

Presently, Kelly is the founder of design company, From Scratch Design.

Her portfolio displays a diverse array of clients and businesses, ranging from Columbia University to Birmingham’s own Abbeyluxe Shoe Boutique.

Kelly's Gold Addy Award for her contributions to the Moss Rock Festival campaign and Oikon.

Kelly's Gold Addy Award for her contributions to the Moss Rock Festival campaign and Oikon.

To add to her success, Kelly was honored with two Gold Addy awards at this year’s annual Birmingham Addys, a gala organized by the Birmingham Advertising Federation.

She earned this prestigious honor for her contribution to the Moss Rock Festival campaign, along with her stationary design for Oikon, a company that manages commercial real estate assets and enhances value for small businesses.

Aside from all her achievements, Kelly says the best part about her job is the flexibility, “I love being in control of my schedule.”

With her husband navigating the medical field and her mom fighting an unfortunate encounter with breast cancer last year, she is thankful for a career that allows her to take time off when she needs it.

“It’s not like it’s easier,” Kelly says.  “I might have a day where I’m working 10 hours, but if I feel like going to the grocery store at 3:00 in the afternoon, I can.”

Kelly’s life as a freelance graphic artist has allowed her to not only be fulfilled with an inspiring career, but to also have time for her friends, herself, and her family.

Some Baskits Tenders

The Baskits

Story and photos by Dan Bagwell

The Baskits Exterior

When The Baskits opened in 1999, it was hardly expected to leave a dent in the Birmingham restaurant scene.  Soon after father-son duo Fred and Paul Shunnarah opened the restaurant, however, they began to do just that.

Since its humble beginnings as part of a strip center on Greensprings Highway in Homewood, The Baskits has been a family-owned and operated restaurant aimed at setting the standard for quality food in Birmingham.

Paul’s history with family-oriented restaurants is a long one.  After Fred immigrated to the United States in the 1960’s, he became a successful business owner in the grocery industry.  As a young man, Paul worked in his family’s grocery store alongside his father, learning the tricks of the trade that he would eventually put to use as President of The Baskits.

The restaurant was conceived after Paul graduated college and noted a lack of quality chicken tenders in Birmingham.  Working with his father (now semi-retired), and using knowledge gained from family experience in the meat market and grocery business, Paul proposed creating his own restaurant to rise to the occasion.

Eager to start the new business, father and son spent months experimenting with marinades and dipping sauce for the chicken.  Confident with their final products, Paul and Fred decided to open shop.

For the Shunnarahs, hard work and dedication has paid off.  A decade after opening, The Baskits moved from the strip center to a stand-alone building nearby, which increased the profile of the restaurant substantially.

Some Baskits TendersIn 2009, the restaurant was awarded “Favorite Chicken Tenders” in a contest sponsored by The Birmingham News.  A panel of nine local judges voted The Baskits’ chicken tenders the best of approximately 40 restaurants in the Birmingham area.

The thing that sets The Baskits apart from other local restaurants, Shunnarah said, is extra attention to food quality.  “Everything we do here, we marinate,” Shunnarah said. “Quality control is very important to me, I’m very passionate about it.”

The fact that The Baskits is family-owned gives it a leg up on many mainstream chain establishments through more personal and direct service, Paul said.

As owner, manager and even a cook, Paul is no stranger to hard work.  He finds time to manage the establishment, help out in the kitchen, and mingle with the customers.  “Hands-on service is priority one, whether it’s cooking in the kitchen, overseeing food quality or general customer service.” Paul said.

The Baskits is no ordinary fast-food restaurant, Shunnarah said. “We’re considered fast-casual, which is counter-service,” said Paul.  “You come and order, we make the food right there and bring it to you.”

Although The Baskits has always offered a diverse menu, the chicken tenders have been the most popular item from the beginning.  A slogan on the new building reads “Best Chicken Tenders in Town,” daring customers to put the restaurant’s specialty to the test.

The restaurant also shows off its school spirit by offering free drinks to local college students, another distinguishing feature not shared by many other restaurants in the area.

Despite such a large field of competitors, Shunnarah says that Birmingham is a great location for a place like The Baskits.  “It’s not too big or small of a city,” said Paul.  “It’s got a good, diverse group of people.”

With a new building and a more solid reputation than ever, The Baskits has become a force to be reckoned with among Birmingham restaurants.  If the restaurant’s current track record is any indication, Shunnarah and future customers have much to look forward to.

The Baskits
813 Green Springs Highway
Birmingham, AL 35209
(205) 916-0401

Homewood Toy and Hobby store front

Homewood Toy & Hobby

Tricia McCain remembers working in her family’s toy store since she was 14 years old.

Homewood Toy and Hobby store front

After graduating from high school, McCain left Birmingham to attend Auburn University.

She later transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she majored in marketing.

At 22, she returned to her family’s store and began managing the shop. Today she is the third generation manager and a part owner of Homewood Toy and Hobby.

Though she admits working in a toy store can be challenging sometimes, McCain says that she was always interested in taking over the shop and that she enjoys her work.

“I wanted to do it,” McCain says. One of the reasons she likes her job is because of the flexibility it offers. It makes working more convenient because as a part owner, she can set her own schedule and work when she wants to.

She says that patience is another important factor and that liking children makes working easier. “You have to have a good attitude,” McCain says. “You need to be able to deal with children ­– and parents too.” She also says that having a child of her own has made work more enjoyable for her.

Her son’s birth has also influenced her favorite toys. Since Homewood Toy and Hobby carries many brands for children of all ages, from Legos to collectable Lionel Trains, there are thousands of options. McCain’s favorite brand right now is Playmobile. “The toys give the kids so much creativity,” she says. Every year McCain gets to pick and choose which Playmobile toys and others will fill the shelves of her family’s store when she visits the American International Toy Fair.

Held in New York City, the American International Toy Fair is the largest toy trade show in the western hemisphere, with more than 100,000 products available.

McCain says attending the show is her favorite part of working in a toy store because she does all the buying for Homewood Toy and Hobby there. McCain says that this is exciting because as a buyer, she gets to play with all the toys firsthand. She also sees new toys before they even come out on the market.

In the future, McCain sees her family’s store staying right where it is. “I don’t really want to change,” she says. “I like it the way it is.” She says that she hopes her son will want to take over just as she did. If not she would like another relative to run the store. Homewood Toy and Hobby has been in her family since her grandparents opened it over forty years ago, and McCain does not want that to change anytime soon.

Homewood Toy & Hobby
2830 18th Street South
Homewood, AL 35209
Open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Closed Sunday

NorthStar Soccer

Photos and story by Lauren Womack

soccer ball

Val Kikkert says she never expected to be living in inner-city Birmingham after college graduation.

Kikkert, a 2009 Samford University graduate, grew up in a nice home, with a nice family, in a well-off part of town. With her parents’ support, she was able to play soccer throughout high school and college and had the chance to try almost any activity that sparked her interest.

It wasn’t until Kikkert’s senior year of college that she became aware of the struggles of children growing up in the inner-city, with little opportunity to learn a new sport or develop a talent.

That year, she was introduced to NorthStar Youth Ministries, a program that offers lessons in dance, art, music and soccer for disadvantaged children in the Birmingham area.

“Sharon Young, the assistant soccer coach at Samford, wanted to bring the soccer team outside of the ‘Samford bubble’ and get us to serve in a soccer context,” she says.  “She got in touch with Paul Neville, the director of NorthStar, and he invited us to teach skills sessions for the NorthStar soccer program.”

Kikkert and the rest of the Samford Women’s soccer team worked with the program throughout that school year, teaching soccer skills to elementary school kids one night per week.

“It didn’t matter who you were, those kids wanted to play with you. The Samford soccer team, myself included, all of a sudden had this place in our hearts for NorthStar soccer,” she says. “I didn’t get a lot of playing time on the team, but I really felt like God had me on the Samford soccer team for a purpose.”

Kikkert says she has seen that purpose play out in big ways.

In the spring of 2009, Kikkert was looking to the future and planning her life after graduation.

“I was passionate about ministry and was considering going overseas my first year out of school,” she says.

Her plans changed, however, when she was offered a position as the NorthStar Soccer Club program director.

“While inner-city Birmingham is far different from overseas, it’s practically the same thing as far as being in a different cultural context,” she says. “I committed to NorthStar in March and started as program director in August 2009.”

Now, almost a year and a half later, Kikkert still serves as the NorthStar Soccer program director, leading soccer practices two nights per week, coaching games on Fridays and Saturdays and living alongside her NorthStar children in downtown Birmingham.

“It’s always been my desire to know Christ and to make him known. With that as my focus, it’s like I woke up one day and found myself in inner-city Birmingham,” she says. “I’m getting to live, work and play with my families at NorthStar. I’m getting to do life with them.”

Kikkert says it’s a big job, but working with the kids at NorthStar makes it all worth it.

“I feel like they give me more than I can offer them,” she says. “Sure, I’m doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes work and coordinating, but I’m doing it all for them.”

NorthStar Youth Ministries