We Need a “Program” for the Good Guys

“Hey, get your program.  Hey, programs here.  How you gonna know the players without a program?”

I can recall that refrain echoing across the bleachers at Rickwood Field in those not-so-long-ago days when true baseball giants to-be were just the ordinary guys in the Birmingham line-up.  They were the A’s then.  Pitchers like Raleigh Fingers, “Catfish” Hunter and “Blue Moon” Odom; an outstanding catcher by the name of Gene Tenace; did Reggie Jackson really play here?  The possibility of an autograph always lingered in the warm summer air, mixed with the smell of those hot dogs and the little diced onions at the Rickwood Field concesion stands.

And so the point about the programs was well-made by the vendor.  In any sport, how are you going to know the names of the players unless you have a program?  Perhaps we could take something from that and apply it here, today, on 20th Street.  Of course, some players routinely get their names in “the program” (for purposes of this exercise, we’ll call it the newspaper) and the news isn’t always good.  Former Governors, former CEOs and former local elected officials – all get their names in the program and we are left to follow the game – discouraged.

Today I’m offering up the names of a few additional players who really need to be in the Birmingham line-up.  These are leaders who are doing amazing things every day for our community and region – positive things that don’t get “in the program” nearly often enough.  Three are veterans and one is a rookie.  Two have been around the ballpark for a good while.  One was just traded back to the team.  A fourth (really two players in one, but I’ll explain that in a minute) have been here for a couple of years but still aren’t that well know.

First the rookie.

Drew Langloh is the newly-appointed CEO at United Way of Central Alabama.  And while certainly not a “rookie” to his position, he’s nonetheless new (again) in Birmingham.  You don’t get to be the CEO of one of the largest and most successful/effective United Way organizations in the country by being a rookie.  But to us, Drew is still somewhat new.  He was here several years before in a staff position, then moved away, learned the charitable giving business from the inside out and now he’s back and the community stands ready to help him help the agency succeed.  He’s an exciting new, young leader in our community.

His organization helps address the financial and programatic needs of more than 80 social service organizations every day.  This is a volunteer-based agency of agencies that operates on 9-cents out of every dollar they take in from donors.  Don’t you wish your balance sheet looked like that?  When you combine the effectiveness of United Way of Central Alabama with the heart of giving in this community, success is predictable.  That doesn’t mean the work is easy.  But it is part of the reason why United Way of Central Alabama has never missed a campaign goal – not even in the toughest years of the Great Depression.  It’s also why Drew Langloh is a player who deserves a spot in the community’s line-up and more than occasional mention in the program.

A new team in our region is the husband-wife combo of Bill and Michelle Heintz.  If you’ve not met this dynamic couple and you want to change your life, take a drive to downtown Bessemer and (after you’ve eaten lunch at the Bright Star) wander down 18th Street to between 7th and 6th Avenues North.  You’ll be in the epicenter of Bill and Michelle’s world – which is becoming more well-known with each passing day.  The operation is called The Foundry – a relatively new name, but one that is making a difference.  Bill and Michelle are players because they have a heart for men and women who need help recovering from destructive lifestyles – particularly from drug or alcohol abuse.  The Foundry now includes a food service center and dining hall, dorms for men and women residents who are in some phase of the usual 12-to-18-month recovery program, an auto repair and restoration center, a church chapel, administrative buildings.  Parts of four city blocks in downtown Bessemer have been revitalized because of this outreach and every day they field a team of their own residents to work in the community and to give back to the folks who first gave to them.  There’s a case to be made for getting this two-person team in the program a lot more.

As a veteran in social service to the community, you’d be hard pressed to find someone with more “game time” than Tony Cooper.  As the Executive Director of the Jimmie Hale Mission and Jessie’s Place, Tony administers the operations of one of the better-recognized brands in Birmingham.  The mission has a wonderful history (dating to 1944) of helping men and women recover the pieces of their broken lives and make them useful again.  In the past year, Tony has engineered a move of the mission’s Shepura Men’s Center from the old location across from the 25th Street Post Office to new/restored quarters just across the tracks at 2nd Avenue North and 35th Street.  So what qualifies Tony Cooper to be in the program more?  Lots of things really – too many to mention here in fact, but one stat puts it all into perspective.  They serve nearly 9,000 meals a month to people who, for wahtever reason, need a meal.  And their programs are based on helping people stablize their lives.

And finally, a very familiar name in a new job.  As Chairman and CEO of Energen, Mike Warren had already achieved star player status.  His other contributions to our state, such as chairing the Business Council of Alabama, Leadership Alabama and Leadership Birmingham, and twice successfully leading the local United Way campaign, gave him well-deserved entre to exposure in the “good guy” program.  But at the peak of his career, Mike took on another job and he’s knocking home runs again.

Founded in 1911, Children’s Hospital of Alabama (part of the Children’s Health System) is one of the ten businest pediatric medical centers in the United States and it is the only free-standing hospital in Alabama dedicated solely to the care and treatment of children.  When he was named CEO of Children’s Hospital on January 1, 2008, Mike was asked to maintain and build upon the foundational high standards of excellence laid down over twenty years by former CEO Dr. Jim Dearth.  Then, on the heels of the announcement of his new assignment, Mike joined with the City of Birmingham in launching a massive expansion project for the Children’s Health System, including a new hospital facility in the block immediately north of the current hospital.

Over the coming months and years, hundreds of millions of dollars will be raised for this project – and all the while, our Children’s Hospital will go on making miracles every day, saving and healing the children of Birmingham, Alabama, the nation and the world.  I’m pretty sure Mike Warren’s days of being featured in the program are far from over.

So there’s the concept – a program for the good guys, for the players you really do need to know.  I’ll bet there are hundreds more out there and if you know one, and would like them profiled here, drop a comment in the electronic box that’s a part of this blog.

I hope I’ll see you later on “Positively 20th Street.”



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