Roseland Community Initiatives Director Spencer Gray (left) joins District 5 Etowah County Commissioner Jeffery Washington (right) to benefit local youth and families through the Swinging For Success golf fundraiser.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
One local event swings into motion Saturday, June 26, with the drive to uplift its community serving as its inspiration.
Roseland Community Initiatives hosts its Swinging For Success golf fundraiser at Briarmeade Golf Club in Glencoe this weekend, with proceeds raised benefitting families and youth throughout Etowah County.
The Swinging For Success golf fundraiser emerges as a partnership between two individuals committed to serving their community – District 5 Etowah County Commissioner Jeffery Washington and Roseland Community Initiatives Director Spencer Gray. As a commissioner, Washington frequently witnesses the needs within his district and the county as a whole. Working alongside his fellow commissioners and elected officials, he strives to develop solutions that enrich the county he and his constituents call home, improving opportunities for growth and positively affecting citizens’ lives.
As a local non-profit director, Gray possesses the same passion as Washington to extending a compassionate hand to those in need. Roseland Community Initiatives derived from a lifelong mission Gray shared with his mother – Julia Smith – a woman rooted in service and benevolence. A generous advocate who earned the trust of her community, Smith doubled as an entrepreneur and business woman, founding the first black hair care business in Gadsden. Gray recalls a childhood filled with individuals visiting his mother, giving to Smith for her to provide for others. Those lessons in charity impacted Gray immensely, spilling over into his adulthood and sparking the non-profit that cradles the same mantra today.
While brainstorming methods of outreach to help their neighbors, Washington and Gray discovered the lack of extracurricular programming for students in District 5 and other areas throughout Etowah County. The pair soon settled on a golf tournament – a 2 man scramble shotgun start where sponsors and volunteers could contribute their efforts to support two valuable resources in their community: Roseland Community Initiatives and the Family Success Center.
Gray shared with Washington Roseland Community Initiatives efforts (which coincided with Washington’s desire to assist local youth) designed to support budding organizations and small businesses.
“Some young people have a dream and they know where they want to go, but they don’t know how to get there,” said Gray. “We want to give them an avenue. [Roseland Community Initiatives] is a facilitator for all these other operations that need a way. You could say we’re a beacon – we want to give you the direction, the light that’s needed and inspire you to get started.”
Gray noted that for those attempting to launch organizations or businesses, possessing the proper structure is essential to create a foundation for success. Roseland Community Initiatives provides organizations with information regarding paperwork and taxes to establish their credibility, while granting a physical space (located at 2600 East Meighan Boulevard. in Gadsden) for individuals to gather to accomplish their goals. In addition, Roseland Community Initiatives houses a storm shelter for the community, facilitates events and offers a collection of programs catered to children and young adults – from fundraisers, to haunted houses and trunk-or-treats to dance group auditions, a free store and everything in between.
While the proceeds raised from the golf tournament nurture future leadership in Etowah County, a portion of the donations will fund programs at the Family Success Center in East Gadsden. Swinging For Success’ partnership with the Family Success Center originated almost a year ago, when Director Emma Hazlewood Clapp attended an Etowah County Commission meeting. Clapp’s ardent representation of such an invaluable resource in the heart of the county inspired Washington to tour the Family Success Center, where he witnessed firsthand the grand impact the center bestows on its community.
“I think [residents are] not aware of this hidden jewel in the heart of the community,” said Washington, speaking of the Family Success Center. “[The Family Success Center] goes above and beyond trying to make families successful. They offer so many programs you can’t name them all, and even if the center doesn’t have it, they will put you in contact with where you need to go or who you need to contact so you can get help. The biggest impact I can see [of the Family Success Center] is that everyone who comes through these doors, the people who work at the center treat them like family. They are so happy to be able to help in that time of need and not to turn anybody away.”
Following the tour, Washington immediately expressed his interest to Clapp in fundraising for the center at a future date, moved by the center’s mission to support the its positive actions throughout the community.
The Family Success Center offers numerous programs developed with families in mind. Financial stability coaching and personalized financial counseling teaches individuals how to create budgets and improve credit scores to better assure self-sufficiency, while aiding victims of domestic and sexual violence in escaping abusive situations. The center also provides free counseling for individuals seeking to better their mental health.
The H.O.M.E. program and Joel Helms Lions Club Eye Clinic are among the programs available, joining the Safe and Successful Child Abuse Prevention Program and PEACE Program serves students from kindergarten through 10th grade, educating an average of 134,000 residents each year.
“Our mission will always be to strengthen families through whatever means necessary,” said Clapp. “We want to make families strong, safe, non-violent and more financially stable. Our doors are open, and anyone can walk in and see what we can do to help them. We are always available to at least walk people through the process of changing their lives. We are there to help guide them to the areas they need [to help them]. We don’t care what it takes to make them be successful – whether it’s us or somebody else. We’ll hold their hand as they’re taking that first step out.”
As a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization and United Way agency that formed as a partnership between the United Way of Etowah County, the City of Gadsden and Gadsden State Community College, the Family Success Center remains grateful for its contributors such as United Way of Etowah County, the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama and The Children’s Trust Fund. While the golf tournament will not fund center programs like the Alabama Healthy Marriage & Relationship Education Initiative through Auburn University, it will assist with funding other resources the center provides.
Golf tournament donations will aid with the Family Success Center’s initiative to battle food insecurity among youth, manifesting in current multiple food pantries at Gadsden City High School and nurturing the center’s plans to establish pantries in all high schools throughout Etowah County. Likewise, the tournament will serve as an opportunity to introduce the public to both the Family Success Center and Roseland Community Initiatives, generating a greater sense of awareness for the organizations and those who need their services most.
“Every non-profit agency wants to bring awareness about what their programs do,” said Clapp. “Roseland Community Initiatives is a fairly new organization, while the Family Success Center has been around a long time, but we’re all facing the same problem: do people know what we are, why we’re here and what we do?”
While supporting the programs Roseland Community Initiatives currently fosters for youth, Washington hopes to further his partnership with Gray and the organization to add a greater collection of opportunities for students to excel. He envisions establishing extracurricular options for youth that are presently sparse, creating a coalition of programs where students can discover their passions in life and potentially earn scholarships to further their education.
Washington and Gray discussed alternative options for students, such as courses in apparel design, culinary arts and various sports that motivate students to develop into productive and successful adults.
“The mission [of Swinging For Success] is to make people aware of the lack of activities for our young people in our neighborhoods,” said Washington. “Not just in District 5, but the lack of participation for younger students throughout Etowah County. There’s a lot to do when our kids are not motivated or don’t have a desire to participate. Hopefully, [the public] can see a need and begin to do some of the same things [as the fundraiser to help].”
“I hope that we bring awareness to our sponsors that we need their help in the community. I find that golfers are very competitive within themselves (not necessarily against each other) but they have the desire to be the best. I hope they [take that same desire and transfer it] to want to take on a leadership role – maybe to coach a team or join a mentoring program, to form a partnership with them where students could excel.”
“It’s thought-provoking, it’s forward-thinking and the root of it is helping those that need a helping hand,” said Gray.
Washington and Gray hope that the golf tournament symbolizes only the beginning of innovative and beneficial projects on the horizon for the county, with the same passion and drive that generated its inception fueling a brighter future and serving as a beacon of hope for all. In expressing their gratitude, Washington, Gray and Clapp noted what they hope sponsors, golfers and volunteers receive from participating in Swinging For Success.
“I would love for anybody who has a heart of compassion to know that this is being used to help students and the community as a whole,” said Washington. “As a county commissioner, I am elected to represent District 5 and I love my district. It is at the top of my priority list for any activities going on. But I do have to look at the other communities to help those as well when the time comes – I am invested in Etowah County as a whole. We are thankful for the community and for those who have given in the past, who are giving in the present and will give in the future. I promise you every effort that goes out of this is truly an effort to serve.”
“I hope they have a great time and want to do it again,” said Gray. “Secondly, I hope they understand their proceeds are going into the community – be it the Family Success Center or through one of Roseland Community Initiatives’ incubator programs we put into action. Those things are going into targeting young people and they are paying forward into the future.”
“While [participants] are out there having a day of fun, enjoying themselves in some type of leisurely activity, they don’t always realize they’re actually feeding families,” said Clapp. “They’re giving families a chance to walk into the Family Success Center and get assistance. They’re also helping the youth discover what their passions are through some of these programs Spencer is offering. While they’re out there having fun and enjoying themselves, they’re changing lives.”