Changed Lives

The Jimmie Hale Mission has been changing lives for the better for 75 years.

Tony Copper is relaxed yet passionate, talking about the philosophy that underpins his many years of work at the Jimmie Hale Mission and the organization’s three-quarters of a century of service to the community.

“It’s worthy to feed the hungry and house the homeless and help the street people and dress those who need it… Those are great things. But for me it’s got to go deeper than that. We’re looking at transforming people’s lives. We’re looking at changing people’s hearts then so that they can leave different than when they came,” Cooper says.

And so being a Christian ministry, it all fits together. “There’s a verse in the Bible, Second Corinthians 5:17 says, ‘If any man or woman is in Christ, they’re a new creature. The old things are passed away; the new things have come.’ And that’s really the foundation of what we do.”

Tony Cooper

Cooper, who is set to retire from Jimmie Hale, was introduced to missions work as a teenager. Cooper’s dad was a recovered alcoholic. “He got sober through AA. He found Christ through the church. Again, back to that changed life, his life was transformed, and he’s in Heaven with Jesus today because there was a change in his life. And if you don’t change… A lot of the people that we see, if they don’t change, then their future’s not too bright, you know?” Cooper says.

What began as a storefront chapel in 1944, after 75 years has grown into today’s Jimmie Hale Mission, an organization that includes a homeless shelter for men, a shelter for women and children, after-school Bible clubs, recovery programs, and three learning centers. Cooper has been executive director since 1990.

The Shepura Men’s Center is the oldest ministry of the Jimmie Hale Mission. The facility has a 160-bed men’s dormitory, a dining hall that serves over 300 meals a day, a clothes closet, chapel services and a learning center. Jessie’s Place is a safe haven for women and children that offers Christ-centered support and counseling. Royal Pines is a 16-week, in-resident recovery center for men. Stewart Learning Centers is a place where men and women can earn the education, skills and attitudes crucial to entering back into the workforce and to gaining self-sufficiency. Discovery Clubs is an after-school Bible club that offer fun, safe and inspirational activities that help children.

Cooper says the various programs have been added to the organization’s portfolio over the years to enhance the mission that began so many years ago. “Our values are that we’re client-focused. We’re here for them. We’re Christ-centered, and we’re careful stewards of God’s resources,” Cooper says.

Jimmie Hale died eight months after founding the mission.

“Jimmie Hale, back in the late ‘30s, early ‘40s, was known as the town drunk. And so he went over four years without drawing a sober breath. He knew what it was like to struggle with addiction, to be homeless, to be on the street, to have those unmet needs and spend all of his energy and effort trying to find a better way and just not discovering that. He discovered it one Sunday night in the Gospel Tabernacle, which is the name of the church in Woodlawn not too far from where we are right now. On a Sunday night, he really didn’t go there to worship; he went there to get out of the cold, and he was about half drunk when he went in. And he disrupted services there before, so they were getting ready to escort him out.

The pastor was already into his Sunday sermon, he stopped, and he looked. He knew Jimmie. So he looked at Jimmie, and he said, “Jimmie, you’re going to behave yourself!” And Jimmie says, “Yeah, Preacher, I just want to get in out of the cold. And so later when the invitation of the Gospel that we’ve been talking about was given to receive Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, James William Hale walked forward,” Cooper says.

“That changed Jimmie Hale’s life. He became a new person. He never went back to the streets, drinking, addiction, any of that.”

Jimmie married Jessie Davis, a school teacher from Moundville, and the two of them founded the Mission in March of 1944. Ironically, that first location was the same building where Jimmie sold his last drink as a bartender. Unfortunately in November of that same year, Jimmie passed away due to health complications. He was only 39 years old. Jessie, now a widow, was only 27 years old, and pregnant with their first child. Jessie took up the challenge though to continue her husband’s dream. For the next 10 years, she labored through to keep the mission going.

The Jimmie Hale team: Anthony Cooper, director of programs; Sharon Fussell, director of human resources; Tony Cooper, executive director; Bonnie Hendrix, director of advancement; Wayne Buckley,director of finance.

It has kept going for almost a century now, adding programs as needs arise. “We’re client-focused, Christ-centered, and careful stewards,” says Cooper.

So what is next? “Well, right now, we aren’t sure completely what’s going to be next, but we certainly have several options that we have considered for a number of years. But you have to wait until there’s a need; you don’t duplicate services just because you want to do it,” Cooper says. •

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