Creating a Safe Haven for Homeless Children in Birmingham

November 21, 2019; By Jasmine E. Crenshaw

When Heather Johnson first met with the Executive Director of Pathways, a Birmingham nonprofit that addresses the needs of homeless women and children, Carrie Leland, she had a different approach for her Fellow project. After her conversation with Ms. Leland, who spoke to her about her vision of creating an emergency care shelter for homeless children, her project idea shifted. Heather was to work on the development of the shelter. She felt that “the childcare center could have more of a meaningful, lasting impact for children and families in the Birmingham area.”

Currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy at the UAB School of Public Health, Heather has been assisting with the development and logistics of bringing the emergency care shelter to life. When speaking to Carrie Leland about the impact she feels Heather has had on her organization, she found that both Heather’s extensive knowledge and ability to coordinate enduring community partnerships have been vital to her project. Since the beginning of her project period, Heather has been coordinating and presiding over stakeholder meetings in relation to the shelter, which have “resulted in meaningful outcomes for the program”, according to Ms. Leland. 

Although the shelter is still in the development stages, Heather envisions that it will give the children who will use it both a moment of “respite” from their everyday struggles and access to top-quality educational services. The most inspiring aspect of her project, Heather says, is the thought of how the shelter will make a difference in the lives of children for years to come. She has noticed the project growth since she joined Pathways’ project, and gets  “excited when thinking about the lives that might be touched by the work”.

Heather has found time management to be the most challenging aspect of her project, between balancing her Fellowship duties, schoolwork, and other responsibilities. Yet she feels that her time at the UAB School of Public Health has well equipped her for this project when it comes to building systems, establishing partnerships, and communicating with stakeholders, which are all essential to building the shelter.
Pathways have great partners in Heather and the UAB School of Public Health for building the emergency care shelter. When asked about the best ways to support Pathways and other shelters like it, Heather suggested making a donation to them, which will benefit both the shelter and the rest of their wonderful programs.