By Laura Ann Tipps/Staff Writer
In 1977, a shelter opened on Gadsden’s 13th Street as a sister organization to the American Red Cross. Aptly named “Thirteenth Place,” the shelter housed kids who overflowed from the Red Cross during disaster relief efforts.
Fifteen years later, Thirteenth Place became its own entity, licensed by the Alabama Department of Human Resources. Although the shelter is now located on South 12th Street, its mission remains the same: Help kids in crisis.
“We used to take in kids mostly in disaster situations, but now we take in abused or neglected kids who just need a home,” said Kim Payne, Thirteenth Place’s executive director.
With a background in human resources and a heart for helping kids, Payne is the perfect person to oversee the shelter’s operations, write grants, help with intake, develop marketing strategies, and generally do “a little bit of everything.”
Thirteenth Place, a United Way partner, helps kids in a variety of situations, whether they are at risk, in crisis, or have run away from their homes.
Children from 23 states and two countries have made their way to Thirteenth Place through a number of different pathways, including the sheriff’s office, the Gadsden Police Department, their schools, social services, the SafePlace hotline, or simply from the streets.
The shelter provides a safe environment, regular meals, opportunities for community involvement, assistance finding permanent living arrangements, and individual or even family counseling.
“It’s really a typical household, just on a much larger scale,” said Payne.
With as many as 18 kids from ages six to 21 residing at Thirteenth Place, there is plenty of work to go around for its 10 employees.
The kids who are school-age not only attend school, but are also encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities through their schools or other organizations.
Payne and her staff also offer educational programs to Etowah and St. Clair County middle school children. They teach Internet safety and promote anti-bullying campaigns through lessons and movies that show the harmful and lasting impact that bullying of all kinds can have on others.
The program also features special activities for child abuse awareness month each year, while the shelter’s designated peace coordinator continues the other character-building lesson plans throughout the school year.
“I think we have a lot to be proud of,” said Payne.
The majority of the kids at Thirteenth Place maintain at least B/C averages at school, and some have even taken Advanced Placement classes, earning the highest marks.
“Our high school dropout rate is virtually zero—they either graduate or get GEDs. Considering the adverse circumstances they’ve gone through, those are huge accomplishments.”
In Payne’s experience, many of the kids Thirteenth Place helps go on to college and succeed in their workplaces and their homes.
“It’s really rewarding when you see these who have aged out and are living successful lives,” said Payne.
Because of the enormous needs and workload the facility faces, they depend on the kindness of donors and volunteers for time and goods.
Volunteers help with things like cleaning, filing, and answering phones. After the appropriate background checks have been cleared, volunteers can also spend time with the kids and participate in mentoring programs.
Currently, the shelter’s biggest donation needs are for snacks, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, and fresh fruit.
Monetary donations are always useful and appreciated.
There is a list of other important items on Thirteenth Place’s website at www.thirteenthplace.com
For information on getting involved as a volunteer, call Thirteenth Place at (256) 547-8971.