By Alice Elmore

What were you doing 10 years ago?

That would be hard to answer for most people, but some Dawson members can recall the early days of a ministry that began to take shape a decade ago. When Dr. Gary Fenton tasked Ben Hale, Dawson's Evangelism and Missions Pastor, with creating a ministry to serve local needs, Ben, along with Tom Thompson, former Minister of Stewardship, discovered that there were few resources for children.
So the work began on a new ministry which aimed to fill a gap in the physical needs of Birmingham-area children— known today as Kids Connection.

In the 10 years since, God has worked through the connections made, allowing the ministry and its volunteers to meet needs, voice prayers, and experience blessings in ways that could not be foreseen in 2011. During that year, a building was secured and renovated, a leadership team was gathered, volunteers were recruited, and donations began coming in. Dawson committed one percent of its annual operating budget to the ministry.

In spring 2012, Kids Connection opened to families who shopped with a retail volunteer, gathering clothes, shoes, books, and toys for each child, all at no cost to them. Then each parent or caregiver spent time with a volunteer who provided spiritual support, prayed with them, learned more about their families’ needs, and simply served as a listening ear.

Retail and spiritual support helpers are still the faces clients see today. But behind the scenes, many others put their gifts and willing hands to work. They collect donations, prepare them for display, and keep track of inventory needs. The recordkeeping team gathers family information and tracks the number of children served. A small team of people purchase new items to supplement donations. Families from all over the community give the items that fill the Kids Connection shop.

Many groups and organizations have shared resources with Kids Connection in the past decade. Consignment sales donate unsold inventory. Children attending KidLife bring school supplies. DNow students collect donations. Dawson Life Groups stuff Christmas stockings. Others help fill school supply bags, sort donated consignment inventory, or give the shop
a deep cleaning.

Starting in 2015, a number of Kids Connection families began attending KidLife at Dawson. Volunteers provide breakfast, transport children from the shop to and from the church, and give them lunch before their families pick them up.

As Dawson increased its efforts to support foster families, Kids Connection began hosting “foster family days” in 2017, which were extra shopping opportunities for these special families. Many foster families now return to Kids Connection each time they are blessed with the chance to help another child.

Offsite storage held extra inventory for several years, but in 2018, Dawson acquired space next to Kids Connection, allowing all inventory to be moved to the shop. This made it easier for volunteers to restock shelves and swap out seasonal items. The addition also gave more room for spiritual support meeting areas and provided space for groups to work on special projects like filling Christmas stockings or school supply bags.

Like most things in 2020, activity at Kids Connection paused as the pandemic unfolded. In fall of 2020, clients shopped one day a week, with care taken to keep shoppers and volunteers safe. As life moves back to a more familiar routine, Kids Connection continues to provide opportunities for clients and volunteers to interact safely at the shop.

Looking back, God has clearly worked through Kids Connection, allowing the ministry and its volunteers to serve thousands of children in the Birmingham area. The needs are still great, especially as families work through the challenges of the pandemic in addition to obstacles already in their lives.

Looking forward, Kids Connection runs on the energy and compassion of its volunteers. You can make a difference in the lives of children who live just a few miles from you, but who have needs that may be hard to imagine. If you have a few hours to spare, you are needed!

VOLUNTEER TESTIMONIES

RETAIL
Jeannie Rice
I was so blessed to be a Kids Connection volunteer since the doors opened.
I never imagined the Lord would use my fashion merchandising degree and experience as a retail buyer in a ministry! It’s such a blessing to help make the shopping experience for our clients welcoming and enjoyable. We want them to know we love them by providing beautiful merchandise in a well-organized shop and volunteers who are happy to help them shop for their children.

Laura Hunter
During one of my client’s visits, cold weather was coming. When we came to the rack of coats, I said, “Each of your children will be able to go home with a new winter coat today, so let’s pick one out for them!” She was overcome with emotion. She looked at the coats, then at me with tears in her eyes and said “I am overwhelmed. Thank you
so much.”

SPIRITUAL SUPPORT
Betty Sands
It is very humbling to visit with and pray with our clients. One lady in particular comes to mind—her son had committed suicide, her parents had died, and she was raising several grandchildren. As I prayed with her, I was moved by her faith and her thankfulness for Kids Connection. She asked for strength as she grieved the loss of family members and then for wisdom and strength in raising her grandchildren. What a humbling moment.

Karmin Lytle
It has been a blessing to be a part of what God is doing at Kids Connection. One encounter I recall is with a woman who lost almost all of her possessions in a fire. She and her children escaped, but the fire took their home. As she shared all that had happened, she said this was the first time she could let her guard down and tell someone her story. Kids Connection provided clothes and toys but also a safe place for her to talk and someone to pray with her. Like this woman, our clients are often walking through serious hardship.

Mike Hathorne
So many times, a mother, grandmother, or foster mother would come in and be burdened with responsibilities. As we would ask how we could pray for them, a smile would often appear. The mother’s heavy heart had been uplifted for a few minutes by volunteers who showed her the love of Christ. A humble moment of experiencing God’s love.

DONATION PROCESSING
Diane Orso
Our Monday team—we talk a lot! We’re in different Life Groups but we laugh together, and pray for each other, Kids Connection, and our clients. We want the kids to be excited about the clothes they get. We want our clients to feel like they are shopping in a store. It’s very satisfying to know we are serving people who need our help.

Thom McInnis
After I retired, I was looking for something to do that was purposeful and meaningful to others. Even though I don’t see the families, it’s rewarding to walk through the shop at the end of the day when it’s replenished. I’m moved by the work and dedication of the donation processing volunteers and how wonderful the shop looks. The transformation makes me proud of what the donation folks have done and what Kids Connection is accomplishing.

OTHER
Ed Phillips, director
One of our first clients was a single mother. For 5 to 6 years, she shopped regularly, often with her two boys. When the older son became an Eagle Scout, he asked if he could organize his “management project” at Kids Connection. Over several Saturdays, he and his group members sorted clothing and helped clients. I felt privileged to know this family and see the boys grow up. I’m thankful Kids Connection could help them during some difficult years.

Don Steen, former executive pastor
I am thankful I was a part of the preparation of the Kids Connection facility. During renovations, I was able to visualize and pray for how this ministry would meet the needs of children and families. I was excited that Dawson would not only meet the physical needs of people in the community, but also show the love
of Christ.

Alice Elmore has been a member of Dawson for more than 20 years, along with her husband, Greg, who grew up attending Dawson, and their daughters, Molly and Charlotte. Alice teaches a 1st Grade Life Group.