By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
Jamekia Bies has always had an insight into the needs of the senior population which comes in handy as executive director of Help 2 Others (H2O), a nonprofit that pays water and wastewater bills or provides minor plumbing repairs for senior customers who meet income and situational requirements.
“I grew up in a family environment. I always say that I’m my grandmother’s youngest child, although I am her oldest granddaughter…” said Bies, raised in Tuscaloosa, AL. “I have a grandmother who is 81 years old, we often take for granted that our aging population … we think everyone can pay their utility bill, but our aging population may be receiving $1,000 a month and they still have to maintain food and utilities and their basic needs for toiletries, medicines and all of those things.”
That’s where Bies and her foundation come in.
“We understand that there are some communities that have a lot of senior populations and senior neighborhoods, and so do those seniors know that we provide assistance to them? Whether that be minor plumbing repairs, or assistance with their water and sewer bill? Because we don’t just pay water, we also pay the sewer bill,” Bies said.
H2O serves five counties including the greater Birmingham area. The five counties are Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair, Blount and Walker.
“Any senior in the community that is 50 years of age or older, who receives a waterworks bill is our current customer base for those that we provide assistance,” she said.
When she learned about an opening for leadership of the foundation, Bies felt she would be a natural fit.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to be able to use my skill set, and my background in finance, education, and just dealing with families and social services, to be able to move the organization forward,” she said.
Bies, who was featured in the City of Birmingham’s StrongHer campaign during Women’s History Month in March, added the role would allow me “to use my knowledge to create and develop a stable foundation for the organization to be able to serve more people, and provide access to or maintain access to water for individuals in the community, or neighbors in the community.”
For nearly two decades, H2O has monitored how many households it has helped and continues to collect information and ways to provide better service. “We know that maintaining access to water is important, especially for our seniors … those who are on a fixed income, those who need to maintain access to be able to have all the things that they need.”
Asked what measures are in place for customers to know about the foundation, Bies replied, “In 2021, we created a communications plan which meant we hired a public relations firm and that firm was able to assist us with all of our communications in terms of social media. So at that point, we created a website H2obham.org; we have a Facebook page, Instagram page and Twitter account. We are making sure that we’re putting information out there.”
In addition, H2O also partners with Birmingham Water Works to make sure information is on their website that customer may need, such as when they have trouble with their bills.
Bies said the foundation which has nine board of directors — she is the only full time employee — also partners with the Salvation Army, which provides case management as well as oversee payments directly to the utility agency. “Therefore, we don’t provide payments directly to the household,” she said.
Bies fondly remembers growing up in her suburban Tuscaloosa, AL community.
“Being able to really live in that environment, just being able to be in our neighborhood and interact with the other kids in our neighborhood” was rewarding, she said. “One of my best friends lived next door, one lived, around the corner. And so just being able to share in those memories, I guess when I think about Tuscaloosa, I just think it’s home, it shaped me to some degree to be who I am, it allowed me to grow into being a very confident and professional woman and understanding what I wanted out of life.”
Bies’s grandfather passed away in March 2020 from Alzheimer’s. She remembers he used to go fishing on Saturdays and “come back at nine o’clock at night, and he tells everybody to get up because he’s about to fry fish. Those were the memories that will stick with me.
“[My entire childhood], you didn’t understand that you were lacking anything because you had everything that you needed. And so for me, that has always been the stability that I look for … I’ll always cherish those memories and cherish the relationships I made during my early years.”
In 1997, Bies graduated from Central High School in Tuscaloosa then attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. In 2003, she graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in Consumer Science Family Financial Planning and Counseling and has since obtained a master of science degree in Guidance and Counseling and an Education Specialist degree in school counseling from the University of West Alabama.
“I’m also certified through the National Board of Credentialing as an executive coach, career development coach and life coach,” she said.
Stepping Out On Faith
Bies has also relied in faith during her journey. “I am a single mother, I have an 18-year-old and when I moved to Birmingham in 2007, we moved without any family here.
“At that time my son was three. I moved here just for an opportunity to be able to do what I felt was my passion and calling at the time and that was to be a school counselor.”
Working with students “shaped my life,” she said. “It was where God needed me to be at that point in my life. I have relationships with my kids to this day. It doesn’t matter where I go, I see a face. I know it’s my student. And so the impact I was able to make at that stage of my life, because that’s where I needed to be, will never be taken for granted. The students were able to impact me in a way that I know that I was able to return the impact to them. So the impact and the relationships I have with my students did not stop because I stopped being a school counselor, they know that if they see me and need something that I am here to provide. It was everything I needed it to be when I needed it. It was definitely God’s position for my life at that time.”
But it all comes back to growing up in her hometown and fond memories of her grandparents and the senior population.
“Being able to understand what their needs are, and figure out how we can impact them, or how we can make a difference in their lives, so that they’re able to live a sound and stable environment, which also impacts their ability to be able to stay in their homes … we really have to think about our aging population. Not all of them will go to a nursing home, not all of them have family that will take care of them.
“And so in this position [as executive director], I get to witness that from a different lens, and be able to figure out, ‘okay, yes, we help individuals maintain access to water, and help with some minor plumbing repairs’ But what else can we do a how else can we partner in the community to ensure that they are able to live a stable lifestyle and be able to stay in their homes?”
H20 is located at 724 37th Street S, Birmingham, AL 35222 or call 205-244-4390