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“Mama” Lois Coleman, founder of Grace House, dies at 95

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Times staff report

“Mama” Lois Coleman, founder of Grace House Ministries in Fairfield, passed away peacefully on March 31. She was 95.

Ms. Coleman started Grace House Ministries in the Fairfield community near Birmingham in 1992, acting as a mother figure to the young ladies she mentored.

She saw a need to help young girls who were in crisis, or who came from troubled homes and needed the stability, encouragement and life skills while transitioning to an adult. While she initially welcomed them into her personal home, Grace House was created to mentor more young women in need.

Since Grace House began with one home in Fairfield, the campus has expanded to several properties. With increased space, the number of girls helped has also grown and will continue to do so.

In 1923, Ms. Coleman was born into a loving, Christian family. Her father was a minister, and he and her mother instilled Christian values into their young daughter. After living through the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Ms. Coleman developed patterns of distrust and anger towards authority, and was arrested several times for petty crimes. On all accounts, she was an unlikely candidate to start, much less lead, a Christian home for girls.

However, she experienced a radical transformation after attending a luncheon led by a local missionary — an afternoon that changed her life and would someday change the lives of so many more.  She quit her job at the VA Hospital and began doing mission work all over the world with Campus Crusade for Christ and the Wales Goebel Ministry.

Years later, Ms. Coleman returned to Birmingham and found young girls in her neighborhood flocking to her, in need of and in search of guidance. Her home became a favorite after-school hangout for neighborhood children. She had a basketball goal and a jar full of cookies that drew youngsters to her home. She began a Cultivator’s Club that taught the children grace and manners. 

They began calling her “Mama Lois,” and she gained a reputation as a loving, caring adult who would listen to and spend time with children. In addition to being a positive role model, she taught social skills, shared God’s love, and helped with homework. Most importantly she offered patience, affirmation, and love.

 From these neighborhood encounters grew her dream to have homes where the girls she had grown to love could live and flourish. Mama Lois resolved to devote the rest of her life to improving the futures of young women. 

In 1989, Ms. Coleman convinced area churches and concerned community leaders from Birmingham and the surrounding areas to support and expand her efforts to give hope to more girls in the community. She shared the idea of Grace Village with many local volunteers who rallied behind her, and the first home, dubbed “Grace House” was opened in 1992, with room for eight girls.

Her vision, however, was not finished. She dreamed of even more homes for girls–of transforming the area into a village of homes and safe places for girls to learn and play. Over the course of 25 years, one home for eight girls has turned into eight properties with room for 28 girls ages six to 21. Grace House has established a Campus School, Transitional Living Program, and Community Garden, with plans to build an Outreach Center in the next one to two years.

“We are beyond grateful for the vision that Mama Lois had so many years ago,” wrote the staff in a group message. “Mama Lois can often be heard around the office reciting her anthem, ‘God is gracious,’ and those words could not be more true in her life and in the legacy of Grace House Ministries.”

Ms. Coleman is survived by her five children, ten grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, two great- great-grandchildren, and countless friends and admirers.