In 1983, in the basement of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Birmingham, a group of humanitarians began to take in homeless women and children.
Now two blocks away, First Light Women’s Shelter offers emergency shelter for homeless women and families 24 hours a day. It also offers individualized case management, group sessions, life skills, movie and art therapy, and four permanent and one transitional housing programs.
But the offering that most delights Sherry Webb, director of Social Services, is this: First Light is a place of acceptance where guests can regain dignity, find hope and practice independence.
“First Light’s mission is to provide shelter to homeless women living with children,” Webb said. “We are unique because it is the only 24-hour emergency shelter in the city that takes in women and children any time of the day or night.”
First Light takes in families that can have boys up to age 18, which makes it different from other shelters. The staff at First Light works hard to keep families together, regardless of what they’re going through.
“We see families from all walks of life. We see families who are fleeing domestic violence. We’ve seen families who’ve gotten evicted or had a family member pass away,” Webb said. “One thing that is unique about First Light is that everyone who walks in the door sees a social worker. They also receive any medical services that may be needed.”
“We have so many great success stories of people whose lives were turned around,” Webb said. “Everyone that comes here is in some sort of crisis situation. We had a mother from Georgia with her three children, two of which were teenagers. We were able to move them into another family program where she ended up getting a nursing degree and even wound up purchasing a home. Those are our biggest success stories. When we see someone come off the streets and end up in a home, that’s what makes it worthwhile.”
Webb, who has worked at First Light since 2001, has seen many families come in one shape and leave in another. It never gets old.
“One thing that makes my heart smile is to see a woman who walks in the shelter and works with our social workers to get them to a place where they are functioning in society,” she said. “To see them go from being unstable to someone living their best life, that’s what makes my heart smile.”
For more information, visit www.firstlightshelter.org.
Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected].