A new partnership will ensure warmth and security for those in need when temperatures become frigid.
The City of Jasper, Jasper Area Family Services Center (JAFSC) and Capstone Rural Health have partnered to open a warming center in Jasper when temperatures drop below 32 degrees for two or more consecutive nights.
The warming center is set to open later this week in the gymnasium of the old West Jasper Elementary School.
"I'm very optimistic that this is going to be a success," Jasper Mayor David O'Mary said in a meeting with JAFSC Executive Director Donna Kilgore Tuesday. "We won't get it perfect the first pass, but we are going to put something in place that we can tweak, and we'll have a model going forward so this city can have a warming center."
O'Mary admitted that the city was unsure how to tackle opening a warming center, but after talking to Kilgore, a plan was put in place to make their aspiration a reality — at no cost to the family services center. Capstone Rural Health also came on board by agreeing to provide a couple of employees to help monitor the warming center when it is open.
David Jones, executive director for Capstone Rural Health, said he is happy Capstone could partner with the city and JAFSC to create a warming center.
"We look forward to helping with that and dedicating staff to have there as needed," Jones said.
Wanda Spears, the Fatherhood/Motherhood coordinator for JAFSC, will serve as a coordinator for the warming center.
The Jasper Police Department has donated 22 cots and blankets to get the warming center started. Kilgore said there will be a partition to separate men and women, and there will be a JPD officer on site for the safety of those utilizing the warming center. A medical consultant will also be available when needed.
All partners involved with the warming center will announce on social media when the center will be open, and people may call the JAFSC at (205) 302-0801 to confirm operation times.
Kilgore said they have communicated with the City of Birmingham and have modeled their methods of operation. If temperatures drop below freezing for two consecutive nights, the center will open its doors at 5 p.m. and close at 7 a.m. each day. Placement at the warming center will be on a first come, first serve basis.
Those who visit the warming center are asked to enter and exit at the west side of the gym building.
In addition to having a place to rest, snacks and bottled water will be available. No pets will be allowed.
A brief registration will also be required.
"We do want to emphasize it's a warming site, not a shelter. It will be a place for people to get in the warmth for a period of time and connect to some resources that maybe will help them," Kilgore said.
O'Mary said he is grateful to everyone who has partnered with the city to make the warming center a reality, and he hopes the center will be able to serve even more people in the years to come.
"It's everybody coming to the table with a contribution to do something good for this city. We need a lot more of this in our city, because it pays big dividends," O'Mary said.
Anyone who would like to donate items for the warming center may call JAFSC.
The gym that will serve as the warming center connects to the old West Jasper school, which now houses the family services center and many of its programs. An open house for the facility is scheduled for this Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m.
"We encourage everybody to come visit," Kilgore said.
JAFSC started moving in to the old school last August. Dale Cottle, executive director of Northwest Alabama Mental Health Center, said he's happy the building will be used in a positive way for the community.
"We saw what had happened to two other schools that had closed in Walker County and didn't want that same thing to happen in this neighborhood," he said in the meeting with O'Mary and Kilgore. "We wanted to see if we could have an impact on the community as a whole and this neighborhood."
"Our other facilities had served us well, but we were out of room," Kilgore added. "We have much more space here, and we predict that we will increase service by about 15 percent this first year."
The JAFSC and adjoining warming center is located at 1400 19th St. W. in Jasper. The family services center is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m. to noon, and the warming center will open as needed.
"We're very grateful to the city schools and City of Jasper and all they've done to make this happen, because schools are an integral part of a community and this building sits on a hill right here in this community," Kilgore said. "We just think it's a great place for us to be."
DAILY MOUNTAIN EAGLE - NICOLE SMITH