Alumna helps underresourced communities

Photo of Toni Vines

By Hunter Carter

Many people search far and wide for ways to help others in need, but for UAB School of Nursing alumna Toni Vines (BSN 1996), all it took was a missed flight, an unexpected trip to Hawaii and letting her faith guide her in the right direction.

In June 2019, Vines and her family were on their way to the airport for a vacation but missed their flight. They redirected to Hawaii, where her experience and inspiration on the flight home led to a new path in life.

“For years I had all these ideas to help the community and to give back to others, but I did not know where those ideas were going or how they were going to come together,” she said. “But on the plane ride home, God told me I would be returning to Hawaii for medical missions and that is when everything started coming together for me.”

Vines hit the ground running and in September 2019 started a non-profit organization called Mercy Deliverance Ministries. Inspired by her ties to Alabama and a calling to help those in Hawaii, she chose to pursue ways that could assist both underresourced and marginalized communities in both areas.

“These communities faced similar challenges,” she said. “Access to affordable housing, health care and fresh food were common social problems shared by each state. God’s solution was clear—provide health care and food via mobile vehicles—as a way to bring these services to these communities.”

As of Summer 2021, MDM converted its first school bus into a mobile grocery vehicle to provide healthy food options at pop-up markets in Alabama. Plans are being finalized to offer financial classes as well as mobile health clinics for preventative health care services. MDM also aims to foster community through vacation bible school and youth sports camps throughout the year.

While building MDM’s initiatives in Birmingham and across Alabama, Vines also learned more about native Hawaiians and Compacts of Free Association migrants, who could not access adequate resources.

“There are about 15,000 Micronesian people in Hawaii that are without proper access to health care, housing and federal benefits,” said Vines. “They shouldn’t be so easy to ignore, but somehow hardly anyone had been talking about or advocating for them, and I knew it was my destiny to help them.”

In 2020, Vines’ plan to return to Hawaii to continue discussions and build relationships with community leaders and government officials was delayed due to pandemic travel restrictions. However, she continues to build toward her ultimate goal—to return to Hawaii with mobile health initiatives similar to those MDM is building in Alabama.

As those projects come underway, MDM has partnered with HomeAid Hawaii and sponsored the new construction of a tiny home to end the homeless experience for a Hawaiian veteran.

Vines’ passion and faith helped guide her journey, and more than 20 years of experience helped form her advocacy for improved health and wellness across both states.

Before earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the UAB School of Nursing, she served four years as an army personnel actions specialist for the United States Army Reserve until being honorably discharged in July 1994. After graduating from UAB, Vines worked as a neonatal intensive care unit nurse supervisor at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham and an HIV/AIDS and infectious disease clinic nurse at the UAB 1917 Clinic. In February 2001, she stepped away from direct care nursing in order to focus on raising her three daughters and supporting her husband, Timothy.

With one daughter married, one daughter in college, one daughter in high school, and two grandchildren, Vines has taken the opportunity to invest time and action into MDM. She and Timothy enjoy spending time with their growing family and look forward to what is in store for them next.

“Through MDM, I look forward to making a difference in the lives of these communities—both near my home in Alabama, and in Hawaii, where I am so drawn,” she said.

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