For UAB student Camilla Gaines, graduating with a degree in criminal justice Dec. 18, 2010, is a dream come true. But rather than celebrate her own victory, she chose to help two women who need a hand.
Gaines, 32, of Columbus, Miss., refused a graduation celebration or gifts for herself; instead she recruited her friends and family to renovate a room at The Lovelady Center, a transition home in Birmingham for women leaving prison and for those trying to avoid it. The center houses more than 400 women and their children in a 60-year-old former hospital building. Gaines heard a classmate's presentation on the center in the spring, and when the opportunity arose she chose it as her project, specifically Room 315.
Gaines first visited with the women sharing that room to get to know them and assess their needs. After planning, she and her crew of volunteers sanded and painted the small room. They outfitted it with new bedding, storage spaces and containers, artwork and more purchased from a registry she set up at area department stores.
"I've had the privilege of having great spaces to live in, study in and to dream the biggest dreams ever, and graduating is a dream come true. So I want to create a space for the women to have the same opportunity," Gaines says.
Harriette Woods and Brenda McCray are beyond excited about their room upgrade.
"I just feel like it is such a blessing. Camilla doing what she's doing - she makes me feel so, I don't know, just overjoyed at times. She always has a smile on her face. She's excited; I'm excited. It's just nice, really nice," says Woods. "For somebody to want to put their time and effort into something when they're not asking you for anything, you just feel chosen. It's giving so much back to the community. You just don't know what a difference that you make in someone's life in just that short amount of time. It just makes my heart sing."
Gaines hopes others in the community will be inspired to ensure that more women at The Lovelady Center have comfortable rooms in which to live, learn and find wings for their dreams.