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Birmingham’s Lovelady Center transforms women’s lives, wipes slate cleancomment (0)

December 23, 2010

By John Evans

Bonnie Miller gave one last cry for help.

“God, you have to help me, because if you don’t, I’m going to die like this,” Miller pleaded.

She used to be a paralegal with a home, a family and a hefty bank account. But she prayed that night as a homeless drug addict.

“Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I want to be a junkie and alcoholic, lose my children and live on the street,’” Miller said. “Things happen in their lives.”

Within a year of her third marriage falling apart, she lost her job and faced her mother’s death. Miller sent her two sons to live with their father while she lived out of her car. Then she got hooked on drugs.

“Before, I would look at a woman who didn’t have her children or was on drugs and look down on her,” Miller said. “I thought, ‘There is no reason you should be a junkie or an alcoholic.’ I just couldn’t comprehend that. Then one day, I looked at myself and I was exactly like that. I had nothing.”

She moved from house to house, man to man, enslaved to methamphetamine and cocaine. Drug dealers took her car.

A day after her plea for God’s help, Miller had a run-in with the law that ended with her being sentenced — not to jail but to The Lovelady Center. It would change her life.

The Lovelady Center is a Birmingham nonprofit ministry that welcomes women — be they poor, criminals, drug addicts, abused or homeless — and gives them hope by helping to transform their lives.

The women come from a variety of sources, including prisons, social service referrals and alternative sentencing. About 40 percent come of their own accord, and many stay with their children at the center.

Once the women arrive, they are immersed in a 9–12 month program that provides the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual support they need to lead new lives.

“My personal goal is to see everyone here [come to faith in Christ] and become productive members of society,” said Brenda Spahn, founder and executive director of the center.

The center provides those enrolled in the program with basic necessities, including a room, meals, clothing and hygiene products. The women and children receive medical and dental care, which is often badly needed.

Dr. Bill Powell, a dentist who volunteers at the center, sees firsthand the devastation wrought by drug addiction on many of the women’s mouths.

“I’ve been on 28 short-term mission trips, and the decay matches anything in a Third World country,” he said. “We have 22-, 23- and 24-year-old women whose teeth all have to be pulled. It breaks your heart.”

The program provides a variety of other services to prepare the women to re-enter society, including drug rehabilitation, counseling, legal help, job training and post-educational courses offered through partnerships with Jefferson State Community College in Birmingham and Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga. Child care and transportation also are provided.

But the center doesn’t just provide services; women must earn graduation from the program. They are required to have some kind of job and take biblically based classes on topics including parenting, budgeting and anger management.

The women’s lives are regulated and scheduled to reintroduce discipline and structure many of them lost. They can be dismissed from the program for using drugs, fighting, sexual activity or continual rebellion. Before they leave, the women must have a plan for how they will care for themselves. Spahn said if a woman completes the requirements and graduates, then there is a 91 percent chance she will not return to her former life.

“The program helps you get your life together before you go out, because if you don’t, you’re going to fall again,” Miller said.

But what the women and children need most is love, Spahn said, and that’s what they are shown.

“There was an overwhelming feeling of love and forgiveness that just baffled me,” Miller said of her time in the program.

“They didn’t have to love me, but this program welcomed me with open arms.”

In addition to the love of others, those at the center are shown the love of God. Church services are held three days a week, and the women spend 30 minutes each morning in devotions. Spahn estimated about half of them genuinely receive Christ and He radically transforms their lives.

“I’ve never seen it like this before,” she said. “Even their appearance is changed, the way they talk and walk. … It’s just miraculous.”

Many of the center’s volunteers come from local Baptist churches.

Amy Tosney, a member of Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover, recalls mentoring a 23-year-old woman pregnant with her fifth child. The child’s father was murdered over drugs in front of the woman.

“I would go down and take her lunch, sit, and we would talk,” Tosney said. “It was getting to know her day-to-day struggles and life.”

Members of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, also are involved with the center, teaching classes, renovating rooms and mentoring women.

“It’s a wonderful facility for ladies to hear the Word of God, be able to change and get their lives back on track,” said Andrew Whitehead, the church’s community outreach coordinator.  

Kristin Dutt, high school associate at Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Vestavia Hills, leads groups of students who minister to the children at the center.

“The Lord is at work there,” she said. “He’s doing a lot in these women’s and kids’ lives, and it’s just a blessing for us to get to be a part of it.”

Miller, who graduated from the program and now serves as the center’s outreach coordinator, is thankful God brought her there.

“I’m very appreciative for what God has done for me through this program,” she said. “I can’t say I would be alive otherwise.”

With so many families to care for, the center has many needs, including vehicles for transportation, employment opportunities for the women, used clothes and furniture, money and volunteers, especially in dental work. The Lovelady Thrift Store in Irondale, which helps fund the center and provides some of the women with paying jobs, accepts donations of everything from clothes to electronics.  

As long as the center can stay open, it will continue to give a fresh start to women and children who need it.

“When you come through these doors, it doesn’t matter what you did before,” Spahn said.

“Your slate is wiped clean. It’s a new life.”

For more information, call 205-833-1064 or visit http://lovelady.homestead.com.

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