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Jimmie Hale Mission Celebrates 75 Years

Behind the Scenes:

      
Jimmie Hale died eight months after the Mission opened, but wife Jessie—a widow at 27 years old and pregnant with their first child—carried on her husband’s dream. In 1954, Leo Shepura joined her at the Mission, and they worked side by side until Tony Cooper became executive director in 1990. Jessie died January 5, 2010.
Jimmie Hale died eight months after the Mission opened, but wife Jessie—a widow at 27 years old and pregnant with their first child—carried on her husband’s dream. In 1954, Leo Shepura joined her at the Mission, and they worked side by side until Tony Cooper became executive director in 1990. Jessie died January 5, 2010.

Once known as the town drunk, Jimmie Hale surrendered his life to the Lord and decided to help others like himself–hopeless, homeless, and in need of a helping hand. He married a school teacher named Miss Jessie, and together they founded The Jimmie Hale Mission at a downtown Birmingham storefront chapel in 1944. Celebrating 75 years of meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the poor and hurting in Jesus’ name, Executive Director Tony Cooper asserts it has truly been a team effort. “It has really become our mission family,” Cooper says of the more than 100 full and part time employees who contribute to the programs and services offered at the Mission. “It takes all of us working together here to accomplish what God has called us to do.” Meet a few of them who serve on the frontlines.

Jessie’s Place, Director LaTonya Melton. Established in 1998 as a branch of The Jimmie Hale Mission, Jessie’s Place is a haven for women and children who are homeless, hurting, and in need of shelter on their journey toward self-sufficiency. Melton’s goal for the women is that they “become independent of man and dependent on God” -to acquire the tools they need to go back into the community as successful women and mothers, to have a home, to have a steady income, and to feel empowered by self love and the love of Christ. “That’s so important when you feel like you’ve been broken,” she explains. “When they come to Jessie’s Place, I am trying to show them that this is just a stepping stone to you moving to all that God has called you to be. This is just a piece of their testimony.”

“God called me and prepared me for this place,” says Tony Cooper, who became executive director at the Mission in 1990 after pastoring a church in Santa Rosa County, Florida and working at Waterfront Rescue Mission in Pensacola.
“God called me and prepared me for this place,” says Tony Cooper, who became executive director at the Mission in 1990 after pastoring a church in Santa Rosa County, Florida and working at Waterfront Rescue Mission in Pensacola.

A licensed professional counseling supervisor and nationally certified counselor, Melton first joined The Jimmie Hale Mission at Jessie’s Place working in case management, counseling and discipleship in 2006. She returned as director in 2014. Melton, her staff, and her student counseling interns maintain a safe refuge where women can focus on life skills training, Bible studies, education remediation, and Stewart Learning Center classes. Children have access to play therapy, and women transitioning off campus still have access to Jessie’s Place services as they try to maintain independence. Volunteers from the community prepare meals to serve on site, host birthday parties for women and children, lead Bible studies, and provide on-site childcare during classes. Melton says the most challenging part of her job is addressing loneliness and hurt: “You have to show more love. The Word of God says love covers a multitude of faults. You have to prove yourself. That can be hard for someone who feels like the people they cared about hurt them.”

Stewart Learning Center, Coordinator Charles Williams. With locations at Shepura Men’s Center, Jessie’s Place and Royal Pines, Stewart Learning Centers help Jimmie Hale Mission clients build confidence and skills for re-entering the workforce. Now in his fourth year, Williams came to the Mission from positions with the Jefferson County Personnel Board and as Chief Financial Officer at another nonprofit. Partnering with the Ready to Work program at Lawson State Community College, Williams guides clients through acquiring entry level hard and soft skills including time management, conflict resolution, computer skills, customer service, and the basics of finance. He also helps clients locate birth certificates and social security cards, create resumes, participate in mock interviews, prepare to take a GED exam, or navigate job openings for positions that fit their skill sets. “The most rewarding part of the position for me is when I see our clients get excited about accomplishing something positive in their lives for the first time, or overcoming the hurdles that they thought they would never overcome,” Williams says, adding that his passion for his work comes from his parents. “My dad always emphasized if you can ever find an opportunity to help someone else, then take that opportunity. He taught me how to give back to the community and to try to better someone’s life if I possibly could.”

The Jimmie Hale Mission will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a concert by Christian artist Steve Green at Gardendale First Baptist Church on March 25 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are free, though donations will be accepted. Visit Eventbrite.com. 
The Jimmie Hale Mission will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a concert by Christian artist Steve Green at Gardendale First Baptist Church on March 15 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are free, though donations will be accepted. Visit Eventbrite.com.

Williams is also the pastor at St. Mark Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Titusville. “I’m a firm believer that true salvation is validated through how you engage others, the difference you make in others’ lives. Because of my faith, what I do in terms of touching others around me is a fulfillment of the Scriptures.” He adds that Stewart Learning Centers could benefit from Birmingham businesses willing to offer a variety of work to men and women rebuilding their lives. “Many of our clients are not blue collar workers. Some of them were professionals, owned their own businesses, were regional directors with large companies, and we need a broader range of potential employers for our clients to have a more selective group of jobs to apply for.”

Discovery Clubs, Director Len Gavin. One afternoon each week, 1,500 children in eight different Birmingham area public school systems meet for Discovery Clubs, a free opportunity to learn about God’s love, make friends, and grow in faith, sponsored by The Jimmie Hale Mission. An ordained Anglican priest, Gavin was friends with Discovery Clubs founder John Glasser who started the ministry at the age of 87. The chaplain at Princeton Baptist Hospital for nearly 15 years, today Gavin carries on Glasser’s vision by training and managing 400 volunteers from 120 local churches who have committed to teach the provided curriculum 23 weeks of the year. “If you’re a Christian, if you’re a church-going person, you’re called to be a missionary disciple,” he says of recruiting volunteers. Gavin looks to Billy Graham, one of his heroes, for inspiration. “I look at his life, and I want to finish the course with joy, faithfulness, and make sure I haven’t had anybody come into my life where I haven’t [spoken] the love of Jesus.” Gavin explains that because their parents do not attend church, many of the children in Discovery Clubs have no other opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ. “The greatest thing is we see is how eager they are to bring Jesus into their life, how quickly they learn things like how to read the Bible and how to maneuver through the Bible. You just see them change,” he says. “Our biggest supporters of Discovery Clubs are principals because principals see what a difference it makes in a kid’s life.”

After 25 years of seeing lives changed at the Jimmie Hale Mission, Dale Cooper (L) is retiring this year.
After 25 years of seeing lives changed at the Jimmie Hale Mission, Dale Cooper (L) is retiring this year.

Business Administration, Director Dale Cooper. Cooper began part time at Jimmie Hale Mission in September 1993, processing donations and maintaining an up-to-date donor file in the business office. Within three months, the Mission needed her full time, and since then she’s acquired responsibilities in accounts receivable and payable as well as human resources. Business administration at The Jimmie Hale Mission includes receiving donations and making sure they are deposited in a timely manner; sending thank you letters to donors; and paying bills for water, electricity, telephone, Internet, gas, and insurance for all four facilities. Working alongside her husband, Executive Director Tony Cooper, for 25 years, Dale Cooper is retiring from her position this year. Cooper prays for every donor as she opens the mail and says some of the most touching moments on the job are seeing envelopes come in from dedicated donors who give a small amount each month throughout the year. “They may send $10 or $15 or even smaller amounts than that. I always think about the widow and what Jesus said. She gave more than what anybody else did because that was all she had. God blesses those who give from their heart, and they give it to help others that are struggling.”

-Camille Smith Platt

 

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