Arc Light Stories

The sun had just begun to set over the Birmingham skyline as the doors opened, and the line of people that stretched down the sidewalk in front of Urban Standard snaked inside. Guests paid $5 for admission, a small fee for the rich experience that the evening would provide.

The line, now in front of the register, extended across the entire width of the coffee shop. The hum of the espresso machines mixed with the cacophony of voices and music being played softly in the background as people took their seats.

Taylor Robinson, founder of Arc Light Stories, made his way to the single microphone at the front of the room to introduce the evening’s event: Arc Light Stories. The event is held monthly in downtown Birmingham and is a place where ordinary people come to share, according to Robinson, “true, personal stories told in person.”

“Arc Light is something different from the normal ‘night-out’ fare,” explained Story Coach Erin Moon. “It’s very intimate to tell stories in front of strangers. You never know how a line will hit or where the laughs will come or even if you’ll remember the story the way you practiced it. There’s nothing more vulnerable than performing a story live for strangers, and I think people connect with that.”

Each subsequent story is as engaging as the first. As they share their lives, storytellers captivate not only those in the audience but people walking along the sidewalk outside. Those simply passing by are drawn in, slowing down or even stopping to gaze into the front windows and note the events taking place.

As one of the oldest forms of self-expression, nothing brings people together quite like a good story, so it naturally follows that Arc Light routinely accomplishes a profound sense of community. “As humans, we are naturally drawn to tell stories and to hear stories,” said Robinson.

Arc Light is unique, characterized by more than just great stories. There is a sort of magic that happens during these events. Robinson and Moon both agree that the best part of the event happens while watching someone tell a story for the first time.

Moon describes the single moment when something clicks, and a storyteller’s nerves give way to confidence: “They hit that first beat, they feel the audience react, and there’s this grin, like: I did it, and I’m killing it.”

Robinson firmly believes, “You don’t have to be a professional storyteller to tell a great story.” Each person has something to share, to teach or to leave with the audience, and each new story builds a stronger sense of camaraderie among those in attendance.

“We have such great audience members; no one wants you to succeed more than they do. They are always supportive, always kind, and it makes for such a great room,” said Moon. As Arc Light staff, Robinson and Moon are able to see and appreciate the community that the event creates better than anyone.

“You become a little family unit with the other storytellers from your event: cheering each other on and pumping each other up,” said Moon. “The audience even joins in. They are happy to be there, and they’re ready to share in the experience.”

In the future, Robinson hopes that Arc Light Stories will become an established Birmingham staple. While they will continue the monthly, flagship events, he is also expanding the organization to offer storytelling workshops. Having grown so quickly in the five years since its conception, Arc Light’s future is bright.

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.