HUNTSVILLE – Organizers behind First Stop, an advocate for Huntsville’s homeless community, had arrived at a crossroads.
The group, among them Rev. Paul Pradat and Tim Davis, president of the board of directors, gathered for lunch downtown. Decisions were made.
“The conversation really involved two choices,” Pradat, formerly the rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, said to a crowd gathered for a ribbon-cutting to open the new, improved First Stop facility on a chilly but clear blue Thursday afternoon. “The first, most difficult was, ‘Was it time to possibly close First Stop?’ The second choice was, ‘Would we revision First Stop and look to create a new future?’
“We decided, thankfully, for the second choice.”
The group wasn’t finished retooling.
“The next choice that we made was to (eventually) hire Jennifer Geist as the executive director for staffing,” Pradat said. “Obviously, both of those choices were the correct ones and what you see before you here today is part of that vision and part of having those people and passion to make it happen.
“So it is an absolute honor and thrill for me to stand here today and see this, this building, which to me is another example of the reality that, with the right passion, the right people, dreams do come true.”
The building is the new First Stop at 206 Stokes St. The updated digs are near Glenwood Cemetery not far from Huntsville Fire Station No. 1 on Clinton Avenue.
First Stop is a day center providing meals, physical and mental health aid and guidance and assistance in obtaining sustainable housing for Huntsville’s homeless community.
Huntsville City Councilmembers John Meredith and Jennie Robinson, Community Development Manager Shane Erwin, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and donors were among those in attendance.
“We, as a community, saw a need and we fulfilled that need,” Battle said. “We brought this building here – I just went through it and compared to where we were five years ago, wow. I mean we’re light light years ahead.
“It was all of us coming together as a community to make sure that we did the right thing. So to each of you, thank you for what y’all have done. Each one of you has made a big difference. You’ve made our city a better place.”
In its mission statement, First Stop “encounters the homeless where they are, connects them to critical services and support, and empowers them toward independent, sustainable living.”
Reaching those goals is not always easy.
“Of course, we do have some issues,” said a smiling Demara Perry, a First Stop social worker. “But when those situations happen, we do have staff that are trained and very prompt with resolving those issues. It’s not like that every day.
“But I’ve had some days when I came in and it sounded like WWE out there.”
Donors include Debley Foundation, Venturi Brighter Day Employee Fund, Chapman Sisson Architects, Al and Eunice Bellingrath, ThriveAlabama, St. Thomas Episcopal Church and WellStone.
Shower Up and Huntsville Hospital provide services at First Stop.
“There are literally hundreds of people and organizations who are our donors to help us raise the money to build this building and to continue our operation,” Geist said. “So all those folks, to the city, to the community, to the sponsors – thank you very deeply from the bottom of our hearts. This is what made it happen.
“We have this beautiful facility, and now we’ll do even more for the homeless community in this town.”