Starting in the 1930s, Lewis Elementary School and Slossfield Community Center off 25th Street North were the center of life in that North Birmingham community. Babies were born in the health clinic at Slossfield, raised in the neighborhood and educated across the street.
Fast forward to eighty years- the clinic is closed. Houses are abandoned and Birmingham City Schools is consolidating Lewis and Norwood Elementary Schools. Lewis becomes another vacant building.
In 2016, the Salvation Army purchased and started renovating Lewis for its Birmingham headquarters and a new community education center. Nearby abandoned houses were torn down for parking and possibly a future community garden. Two adjacent buildings were constructed to serve as emergency shelters and transitional housing for men, women, children and veterans.
Life is returning to this block of Slossfield.
“They [neighbors] see this as an investment in the community, and they are excited,” said Salvation Army Development Director Brandy Crumly.
Brandy recently took the IPC Grant Making Team on a tour of the new headquarters to show how the IPC Foundation's $17,000 grant will change lives.
“When we approached ya’ll, this was just on paper,” said Brandy.
Walking through the hallways is to stroll through the neighborhood’s history. The brick walls stamped with the date and name of the brick foundry remain. Original hardwood floors are now uncovered and restored. The original school plaque still remains on the outside of the building. But inside, there are offices, a food pantry designed to resemble a market with fresh produce and a clothing closet resembling a retail store. The idea is to honor the past and help restore dignity to their clients' lives.
Classes and students will return to the second floor where a new Education and Workforce Center will help meet Birmingham’s demand for a trained medical and IT workforce. People receiving assistance from the Salvation Army, as well as neighbors, will be able to earn high school diplomas, learn to read, take financial literacy classes, and gain other skills to help them succeed in life and advance in the workplace.
“The purpose of this floor is to provide resources, not reinvent the wheel, to help our clients increase their living wage,” explained Carla Daniel Turner, the Regional Resource Development Director for the Salvation Army.
“If they feel safe here and succeed here, they’re more than likely to step on Lawson State’s campus. The intimidation is gone,” added Brandy.
Administrative offices are now occupied. But the housing will open in September where some families will find new homes in the 34 transitional apartments.
The work is just the beginning of a 15-year dream coming to realization and restoring life to Slossfield. The campaign surpassed its goal of $15.1 million. Now, the Salvation Army hopes to purchase the old community center to provide services to seniors living in the neighborhood.