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Tuscaloosa literacy team finds way to help a community thrive

From left: Quin Kelly Jr., Lori Maxey, and Alexus Cumbie outside The House Tuscaloosa. (Ameera Steward Photo, For The Birmingham Times)

By Ameera Steward

For The Birmingham Times

Two years after establishing an organization that plans to provide education and literacy to the West End community in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the founders are looking to expand.

The House Tuscaloosa (THT), located on Stillman College’s campus, is participating in a fundraising campaign called “A Community Thrives”, a nationwide grantmaking and crowdfunding initiative that focuses on organizations serving community needs. Through the initiative, the organizations that raise over $3,000 before Friday, Aug. 13, are granted the opportunity to double their donations and be selected for more grant opportunities.

THT, which provides spiritual, educational, and musical literacy to individuals in Tuscaloosa’s West End community, has a personal goal of raising at least $5,000.

Donations will first be used to open the center fulltime, which involves buying kitchen appliances, furniture, and more. After the center is open, the money will help with programs, operational costs, books, and more – making THT a home away from home.

“We [the three founders] just noticed a gap…of books and literacy and people being able to access [certain] services in this community,” said Lori Maxey, founder and executive director.

Since establishing the organization, the founders have spent two years building community connections, crafting their vision, building their team, and executing campaigns. In addition, the president of Stillman, Dr. Cynthia Warrick gifted THT the former presidential mansion on Stillman’s campus.

“Stillman is the anchor of [the] community that we want to serve … [the location is] perfect,” said THT board member, Quin Kelly Jr. “The last president who lived here, Dr. Cordell Wynn, was a huge advocate for education and reading so it’s just full circle for us, and plus it’s a really nice place.”

The house will provide the community with a used bookstore where people can purchase or acquire books at a reduced rate or for free and provide a space for students and residents. “Our hope ultimately is that it becomes this intergenerational networking space for different community members,” said Alexus Cumbie, THT board member.

“We have, for example, a teenage room where teenagers in the community can gather and have specific tutoring resources; we also have a music room where anyone from a three-year-old that’s learning how to play the drums to a seasoned opera singer, can come,” she continued. “The idea is that we really target different members of the community and [ask] what is a need that exists, and how can we [help]?”

But to make their new location a community haven, they need their community’s help.

The House Tuscaloosa, located on Stillman College’s campus. (Ameera Steward Photo, For The Birmingham Times)

The Home Stretch

In addition to A Community Thrives, the THT organization also has its own fundraiser that runs year-round called “The Home Stretch.” After August 13, the amount they raise through the A Community Thrives fundraising campaign will go toward The Home Stretch fundraising goal of $55,000.

Although they have their space, their grand opening not only depends on what’s happening with the Delta variant (of the coronavirus), but also whether they’re able to reach their financial goals.

“The goal is by December to have a grand opening,” Maxey said. “I’m looking forward to when we can get people in here and I can help them figure out what they’re good at and where they can serve the community so that this has exponential impact…This isn’t about any of us, it’s about equipping through literacy, but also equipping people to serve…and make an impact on this community.”

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Maxey added that they don’t want to be confined to the walls of their Stillman home. THT wants to help and collaborate with other programs and organizations as well.

“This will be one of the only brick and mortar bookstores, especially on the west end of town,” Kelly said. “Me being born and raised in this community, I can see how it will impact older generations [and] younger generations…I’m really looking forward to that ten-year impact of The House Tuscaloosa.”

“Your first space is where you live so that’s where you spend most of your time, your second space is where you work or go to school, but your third space is where you find community,” Maxey explained. “We want to provide a third space for people to feel comfortable, where they just come…and hang out…develop a community where they feel like they belong, and they can figure out who they are and how they want to contribute to society.”

To donate, visit https://acommunitythrives.mightycause.com/organization/House-Tuscaloosa

For more information on The House Tuscaloosa, visit https://thehousetuscaloosa.org/