Tuscaloosa’s One Place, the family resource center
Celebrating 20 years of service, Tuscaloosa’s One Place provides families with the resources they need to grow and develop into strong, functional family units.
By Tanner Ary
One in four Tuscaloosa County children live in poverty. One in three come from single parent households.
Amanda Lightsey believes the solution to these alarming statistics begins with promoting change from within the family unit. The organization she directs, Tuscaloosa’s One Place, strives to be the “one place” that families can come to receive help anytime they are needed.
“Seeing families come into our programs and begin to grow and succeed is what drives us to keep working so hard,” Lightsey said. “We see them begin to gain stability, and that stability allows them to grow together.”
Tuscaloosa’s One Place, which is celebrating 20 years of service this year, is a family resource center that is funded through various grants, United Way of West Alabama and many other public and private contributors from the area.
Throughout her 10 years with the organization, Lightsey has learned many things about working in community service, especially service that involves families and children.
“One of the things I have learned is that good or bad, every situation provides us with an opportunity,” Lightsey said. “Sometimes the worst circumstance gives us the best chance to make the biggest impact on the lives of the people we work with.”
To combat these issues, TOP provides children with services like after school programs in elementary and middle schools around the area, summer academy programs where students receive academic and social enrichment for four weeks in June and an initiative known as Tuscaloosa’s Promise, which helps to ensure that all children have five basic promises fulfilled. These promises are a safe place to be after school, a caring adult, a healthy start, the opportunity to give back and an effective education.
For participating families, TOP has created initiatives such as No Place Like Home and many more, which provides family specific services through monthly home visits to help prevent child abuse and neglect, while teaching parents tactics that increase protective factors and promote higher quality parenting skills. The organization also provides relationship and marriage retreats through its Fuse program that provides healthy relationship classes for adolescents, premarital individuals, couples, co-parents and step families.
“We try our best to promote self-sufficiency and a strong family dynamic,” said Lauren Collier, Workforce Development and Relationship Education Coordinator. “Because we believe that healthy families build healthy communities.”
Although effective, the process can be tough for the many families who enter the organization’s programs each year.
“For many, it is overwhelming to see how much hard work it takes to build a healthy family dynamic,” Collier said. “We try to provide them with everything they need along the way. Sometimes just a simple word of encouragement is all it takes to reassure these families that they can succeed in this journey.”
TOP also caters to at-risk teens in Tuscaloosa who have spent time in the juvenile justice system. Through their Juveniles Supported Through Integrated Community Engagement or JUSTICE initiative and other programs like it, the organization receives juveniles from a court referral and mentors these teens so that they can effectively reintegrate into their community, while also reducing recidivism among the participants.
“This is a slow and tedious process,” said Corey Savage, JUSTICE case manager. “I have to build a relationship with these teens and earn their trust, and only then can we begin to build and mold these kids into active members of a healthy community.”
Savage is confident in the ability of the program to help and shape its participants into adults who no longer participate in criminal activities.
“I tell the kids all the time, ‘You committed a crime, but you are not a criminal,’” Savage said. “You can move past this and start over, and your life does not have to be defined by this one mistake you made as an adolescent.”
Although the organization’s mission is to reach as many families as possible each year, the interactions have just as big of an impact on the workers that mentor and teach these initiatives.
“It gives me such a sense of joy to see these kids and families succeed in our programs and reach goals,” Savage said. “When a kid turns a new leaf and keeps the court system out of their life, it shows that all of our work is paying off.”
Although TOP has made great strides since its development in 1999, the staff realizes that the work for them is nowhere near finished.
“It really takes a village to get this work done effectively,” Collier said. “The more we grow, the more we realize that we have so much more to do in the months and years to come. That is something we welcome and look forward to.”