C.H.O.I.C.E. Uniontown: Bridging the Gap of Communication and Transportation

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By Mikala McCurry

Choosing to Help Others in Our Community Excel, or C.H.O.I.C.E, is a resource-based organization that provides charitable educational resources in sensitive areas. These resources are encompassed in six key service areas: education, workforce development, health and wellness, cultural arts, mentoring, and athletics and recreation.

Emefa Butler, Founder and CEO of C.H.O.I.C.E and a native of Uniontown, founded the organization in March of 2009 after serving at an after-school program in Birmingham.

“It was really an opportunity to connect my son to where I’m from. Even though I was here when he was born, I moved away when he was two to afford him a better lifestyle and education. It was also to help me personally and professionally,” Emefa said.

“While serving those kids, I saw that they were getting everything they needed, from educational tools to food bags and other resources like clothes, bookbags, and supplies for school. So, I would ask, ‘Who’s doing this back home in Uniontown?’ As the speakers and resources in the Birmingham area would come speak to and service the youth, I asked them if they served Uniontown. They said “where is that?’.”

This inspired Emefa to envision how she could take those resources back home to Uniontown.

“This is a dream realized. I always wanted to give back to the community, so I figured this was the way,” Emefa said.

Along the course of establishing C.H.O.I.C.E as a nonprofit organization, she realized that the resources existed, but people didn’t know about the resources. Communication and transportation were identified as major barriers to accessing resources in Uniontown and Perry County. From then on, the C.H.O.I.C.E team positioned themselves with the posture of bridging the gap between communication and transportation.

“We are that vehicle. We want to be that hub where people can come and say what they need, and we go out and find it if it’s out there. If it’s not out there, we’re challenged to create it. So that’s why we provide charitable resources and have people who partner with us to serve the community,” Emefa said.

C.H.O.I.C.E also strives to educate the community to look at a charitable resource as a “hand up”, not a “hand out”.

“We don’t want you to stay stuck in your situation because when you stay stuck, you don’t grow, therefore the community does not grow,” she said.

Rather than creating programs, C.H.O.I.C.E provides resources. They partner with organizations that provide the programs to connect people and satisfy their needs. The C.H.O.I.C.E team believes that a resource will sustain itself as long as the human capital is there. C.H.O.I.C.E does not partner with organizations solely for research purposes if there is no action plan in place.

Some of the current resources and partnerships C.H.O.I.C.E is involved in include an after school  program for 3rd-6th graders; twice a month food distribution; a fellows program for college students to check on senior citizens and take them meals; and a monthly Lunch and Learn with senior citizens.

C.H.O.I.C.E also currently partners with ARCH, Alabama Rural Coalition for the Homeless, on House 507, which is an emergency solution grant to identify homeless individuals and connect them with safe and reliable housing. In that, as a subgrantee, C.H.O.I.C.E serves Perry County as a whole.

“It’s multi-faceted for us,” Emefa said. “It allows us to identify homelessness in our community, but it also shows how an organization can work for multiple towns. This is an opportunity for Uniontown to serve other surrounding areas. The grant also allows us to hire development professionals to assist with housing the homeless. It shows that there are gifted people in this town; it’s just about bringing the opportunity to them.”

Tekideious Wallaby, a case manager with C.H.O.I.C.E, supports the housing project  with ARCH and provides outreach services for the project to bring awareness to the community.

“C.H.O.I.C.E allows me to learn about different growth opportunities, both personally and professionally,” she said.

Shirley Turner, another gifted individual on the C.H.O.I.C.E team, assists with activities such as food distribution, fitness and wellness activity classes, and the annual Breast Cancer Walk. For Shirley, C.H.O.I.C.E gives her the chance to learn and experience.

 “C.H.O.I.C.E gives you a chance to work with the community in your town and in other surrounding areas,” she said. “Ms. Butler is a very helpful person who believes in reaching out to everyone. That motivates me to be that type of person who reaches out to help people in any way I can. We’re always reaching out and helping everyone from the youth to the elders.”

When it comes to attaining resources, the C.H.O.I.C.E team believes that there is availability, accessibility, and affordability.

“These resources are available, but sometimes our community cannot access them because they don’t know how. Once they can access it, can they afford it?” Emefa said. “When people are discussing making resources broadband available, they need to also assess if it can be made more affordable than it is now. The conversation should not stop at making resources available and accessible. We’re on the ground advocating for the kids who don’t have internet because their parents can’t afford it on their income. That’s where organizations like ours come in to fund resources for the Board of Education to put wifi buses in more than one community. We seek resources to help bridge that gap.”

While C.H.O.I.C.E has been serving Uniontown and surrounding areas for over 12 years, the organization does face its fair share of challenges. One of those challenges is community participation and awareness.

“We do a lot, and sometimes we can miss an opportunity to help a person because we do so much. Our strategic challenge in this upcoming year is to identify the needs and reach an individual rather than the community as a whole. We’ve reached the needs of the community as a majority, but there are some individual needs that have not been met because we have not accessed them,” Emefa said.

Another challenge that C.H.O.I.C.E faces is funding as they plan to expand.

“We plan to build a C.H.O.I.C.E center in several locations to encompass our six key service areas. In the past 12 years, we’ve focused on volunteering and in-kind donations, so asking for investments or large amounts of funding to build centers could be a challenge if people don’t understand the work. We already have people willing to donate land to us, however, after learning about what we do,” she said.

Ultimately, C.H.O.I.C.E’s mission is to create collaborative partnerships to provide charitable and educational resources.

“Without partnerships, we cannot exist. We don’t look for the money, we look for the human capital. We want you to bring you into our community. Having you speak to our youth, provide art resources, and donate essentials is more impactful than writing a check,” Emefa said. “It creates relationships beyond C.H.O.I.C.E. Partnerships creating relationships is more important than financial contributions to us.”

Since the need for resources will always be in existence, Emefa Butler hopes that the legacy of C.H.O.I.C.E will continue long after her stint as CEO.

“C.H.O.I.C.E has to outlive me; this is an opportunity to serve. I want the legacy to continue. The need for resources is always going to be there.”

To learn more about C.H.O.I.C.E Uniontown and how you can support this organization, visit www.Choiceuniontown.org or on Facebook at Choice Uniontown.

All rights reserved, Gumptown Magazine. Copyright 2021.

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