By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson
The Birmingham Times
While looking for resources to help clients at a non-profit where she worked change their lives, little did Charisse Rupert know her own life would be changed.
Rupert came across the East Lake Initiative (ELI), which teaches financial and home ownership keys through hands-on coaching principles. It also provides other resources through its partners and acts as a faithful supporter through the life coaching process with its participants.
Rupert has been a faithful participant in the program and will soon move into a brand-new home.
Recently, ground was broken last month on the first three of these brand-new residences in East Lake with support of community and business partners. Rupert will own one of these residences. It is expected she will move in by early 2024.
Regions Foundation donated $400,000 for the project.
It’s not just about building houses, but the work of ELI and its partners is a movement that will benefit many, said Rupert.
“They’re investing in East Lake Initiative, and East Lake Initiative is investing in us and we are investing back in this community.”
Rupert continues working through the financial and home ownership coaching at ELI. She speaks highly of her housing coach Macy Brittain.
“It’s generational wealth that we are building,” said Brittain. “And it’s also important that we build trust.”
Marta Self, Executive Director of the Regions Foundation, said her organization is giving hope by being a good community partner. “East Lake is our neighbor, and we can’t have success if our neighbor isn’t successful,” said Self. “The way to do that is work with people that want to be empowered. You have help available, but you must have people empowered to make the right decision.”
Rupert’s journey to home ownership was anything but typical.
The 46-year-old Jackson, Alabama native, mother of five and grandmother of two, said she has come a long way from drug addiction with the help of a Higher Power. Not only has she received a recent promotion on her job overseeing staff, but she also very recently married.
She married Willie Rupert on July 29 of this year and said her husband captivated her by how he treated her when they met and how he still treats her to this day. She said there wasn’t anything she couldn’t ask him to do.
They met at her church at True Vine Evangelical Outreach Ministries, where she and her husband are over the Young Adult Ministry.
She credits her pastor and his wife Kathleen with helping her find new meaning in life and ministry.
New Home, New Life
After starting off on the wrong path (started smoking marijuana and drinking as a teenager and was addicted to crack cocaine by age 29), Rupert turned her life around by making good decisions and her life story now reads like an awe-inspiring movie.
She is currently Acting Executive Director of Wings Across Alabama, and formerly the Director of the Alabama Warm Line. Rupert uses her personal experience to help those in crisis by helping others find hope in their struggle.
It’s a struggle Rupert intimately understands. When she moved to Birmingham, she admittedly “had a way of finding trouble,” she said.
She started running away from home as a teenager. Rupert said her mother was a wonderful parent, but Rupert said she struggled with mental health challenges.
“I was raised in Vestavia Hills, but I would run away to the brickyard in Ensley”, said Rupert. So you can see that just doesn’t add up. And I was addicted to crack cocaine.”
But her mother didn’t give up on her. “My mother had the confidence in me even when I was running away. Her faith in God never wavered.”
Myron Thomas is the Chief Operating Officer of ELI. “The word that comes to mind is a transformed and restored family,” said Thomas. “It takes more than just bricks and sticks. We have seen the community of East Lake get better and better and I am just thankful we get a chance to do life with Charisse and Willie. I see great things happening.”
Said Rupert, “It’s not me, it’s God.”