Birmingham family on path to financial stability thanks to city’s BOLD partnerships


Birmingham, Ala. — Jessica Parkman and her family struggled to make ends meet even in the best of times. Between rent, groceries, utilities and daycare, she and her boyfriend barely made it from one paycheck to the next.

“Neither one of us makes a ton of money, even though we work full-time,” said Ms. Parkman, a billing specialist at a dermatology office. “We make too much to qualify for a lot of assistance, but not enough to get by.”

Worse yet, they and their five children were barely getting by in a badly maintained house — with collapsing ceilings and visible mold — that added to their financial strain. The East Lake house had no central air or heat, and when the one heater unit stopped working, they warmed the house with the kitchen stove, driving up gas bills. A bathtub leaked so badly that the family ended up turning off the water at the meter and turning it on only when they needed to wash dishes, take a bath or flush a toilet. But by then, the water bills were out of control.

A key turning point occurred when they received notice they were going to be evicted.

The COVID moratorium on evictions offered protection. But Ms. Parkman didn’t know how long that would last, and her family was in no position to be forced to move. They’d have to contend with past-due balances to transfer utility services. They’d have to pay a first month’s rent and security deposit. It was money they didn’t have.

Afraid for her family, Ms. Parkman did something she’d never done. She shared her personal problem with her supervisor at work. Looking for answers, Ms. Parkman’s supervisor shared the story with some colleagues. One of those colleagues had volunteered with Serving You Ministries and recommended it as a place for the family to go.

That advice made all the difference — creating a path for the family to bridge from a crisis to a more secure future.

Serving You Ministries and East Lake Initiative work together as Thrive Together Jefferson County, a formal collaboration fostered by The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and BOLD funds provided by the City of Birmingham.

BOLD — short for Building Opportunities for Lasting Development — was created by the city’s Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity to provide economic opportunity for Birmingham businesses and residents. The city has distributed $2.5 million in BOLD funds over three years, using a competitive process that favors organizations that work together and achieve real results.

As a BOLD partner, The Women’s Fund invests targeted city dollars to support community organizations that strengthen families by integrating services for women and their children together.

“As the region’s only public women’s foundation, our goal in creating and funding collaborative models like Thrive Together was to directly attack the fragmented system that holds back so many women and their families by aligning often-isolated services in ways that lead to accelerated progress for parents and children together,” said Melanie R. Bridgeforth, President & CEO of The Women’s Fund. “The results from East Lake are proof that we are on to something impactful. When we strengthen partnerships between organizations with the ultimate vision of better outcomes for women and their families, we strengthen entire communities and our state as a whole.”

Since December 2020, Thrive Together Jefferson County has served 87 families in the Birmingham area.

For Ms. Parkman, the biggest impact came from a financial course that brought her in touch with other struggling families and helped her overcome a sense of shame in experiencing hardship. “Just that alone kind of helped to relieve that burden,” she said. “You don’t have to feel that you are doing something wrong.”

But the course also taught her for the first time how to build a household budget and how to be more strategic about money, which proved priceless when COVID stimulus money arrived. Thanks to their new perspective, Ms. Parkman and her family sorted through a long list of neglected needs and wants — and used the stimulus money to put themselves on better long-term financial footing.

The first priority was to pay off utilities and get the family into a safer home. The second was to purchase equipment so that her boyfriend, who has painting experience, can develop a side business to supplement his income from Target. The family is also getting pointers about the painting business through a BOLD-supported East Lake Initiative program called “Hustle,” which helps local families turn hobbies and interests into income.

Ms. Parkman knows that spending $500 to start a business might not seem like much to some people. “For us,” she said, “that was a ton of money. That’s money we don’t normally have.”

If not for the assistance her family received to sort out its financial issues, Ms. Parkman said the stimulus money might well have gone to worthy causes — clothes for the kids, other debts, a rare indulgence or dinner out — but it wouldn’t have left the family in a better place. As it stands, the family’s investment has already paid for itself — through painting jobs her boyfriend lined up within a matter of weeks.

“To make this happen, this was a completely different thought process,” she said. “We’ve actually been very proud of ourselves.”

Thanks to the city’s BOLD program, and community organizations like The Women’s Fund whose work it supports, Ms. Parkman’s family emerged from a crisis with renewed hope for the future. “It has been absolutely invaluable to us,” she said.