Behind the scenes with some of Tuscaloosa’s nonprofit organizations 

Even with a dedicated team and nonprofit leaders, if the community is unaware of its services, it’s easy for nonprofits to fizzle.  

Augustus Barnette, Staff Reporter

Nonprofit organizations are widely misunderstood; from believing employees work for free to thinking that overhead is low, the general public has a warped understanding of the place of a nonprofit in the Tuscaloosa community.  

Charles Scribner, executive director of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a branch of the Waterkeeper Alliance that aims to protect the Black Warrior watershed, agrees that nonprofits are misunderstood. 

“It can be said that nonprofits have to focus on not one, but two ‘bottom lines’ as an organization. Like for-profit businesses, they must focus on the financial bottom line: to bring in more money than they spend, or else they will cease to exist,” Scribner said. “On the other hand, [nonprofits] must simultaneously ensure that they are fulfilling their mission, or else they will lose the trust and support of people in their service area.” 

Avery Rhodes, a University of Alabama alum and executive director of Community on the Rise, said that running a nonprofit must come from the heart. 

Community on the Rise is a nonprofit based in Birmingham, Alabama with the goal of empowering the community through the four tenets of housing, education, healing and employment. With these, Community on the Rise aims to lift people out of poverty, and recover identity documents, as well as provide other services to those impoverished.  

“On the hard days, the days that are not joy-filled, the passion that you have for the work can be the gas you need to keep moving forward. That passion can sustain you,” Rhodes said. “If you love the work, the climb is worth it, and you know there is a breathtaking view waiting for you at the top of the mountain.” 

Whereas Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Community on the Rise have become established nonprofit organizations, recognition is not something that comes overnight, and in the case of the West Alabama Women’s Center, located on Jack Warner Parkway in Tuscaloosa, it’s very fresh.  

Robin Marty, the director of operations at the West Alabama Women’s Center, said she wants people to know the struggles of a newly minted nonprofit.   

“One thing that I think people don’t understand when it comes to transferring over to a nonprofit, but especially when you’re a medical center that goes from what was essentially a task-based operation to now doing everything and based either on grants or on insurance, is that the big danger of this is that you have a period of time where there is no income,” Marty said. “It doesn’t matter how much work you do, there is going to be no income because you’re waiting for grants to come in, or you’re waiting for insurance to happen, and you’re waiting for reimbursements to happen.” 

Once an abortion clinic before the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, the West Alabama Women’s Center now aims to provide gynecological care, access to contraception and more to the people of West Alabama as an alternative to going to the state health department.   

“At this point, we have transitioned over services away from elective abortion, and the clinic currently is focused primarily on a few different forms of healthcare,” Marty said. “We actually launched a ‘Pay What You Can’ emergency contraception program, which is a prescription only brand of emergency contraception, and have just received a large donation of that which we will also be offering up and that will be for free… our job is to get as much contraception into people’s hands as possible, because we know that that’s really how you stop abortion.” 

While the West Alabama Women’s Center leaves a noticeable mark on Tuscaloosa, it may be hard to notice these other organizations’ marks on the Druid City. However, these nonprofits are still invested in the wellbeing of Tuscaloosa even behind the scenes.  

As for Black Warrior Riverkeeper, it’s best for Tuscaloosa not to get high-and-mighty, as it’s county is only one of 17 which the organization keeps under its radar. 

“Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s patrol area is the entire Black Warrior River watershed: all the land area that drains to the Black Warrior River. This service area includes parts of 17 counties in Alabama, including not only the river itself in Tuscaloosa, but also Lake Tuscaloosa, which is the Tuscaloosa-area’s drinking water source,” Scribner said. “Our organization is increasingly active in and around Tuscaloosa, patrolling for pollution, engaging volunteers, and making educational presentations to schools, businesses, religious organizations and civic groups.” 

Like Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Community on the Rise is based in Birmingham, but its reach extends into Tuscaloosa.  

“While we are based in Birmingham, we accept clients from all over Alabama. If you are struggling to obtain your identity documents due to poverty, we welcome you,” Rhodes said.  

Community on the Rise employs survivors of homelessness through their Wellness & Housing Opportunity Linked to Employment program. Workers gain access to a clean-living space and earn a salary through creating artisanal goods out of recycled #5 plastics, which are the most common household plastics and includes items like pill bottles and storage bins. 

Rhodes said she noticed that Tuscaloosa generates #5 plastic waste during football games, but the city only recycles #1 & #2 plastics. In addition to helping those in need from all over the state, Community on the Rise is open to a partnership to reduce plastic waste and educate. 

“We’d also welcome partnership with Tuscaloosa organizations and schools like UA to collect those #5 plastics… We’d love to come on campus and educate about #5s and how we recycle, as well as talk about homelessness and poverty in our state,” Rhodes said. 

Even with a dedicated team of nonprofit leaders, if the community is unaware of the services, it’s easy for nonprofits to fizzle out.  

Marty said that other than financial contributions, the best thing citizens can do to help the West Alabama Women’s Center is to take advantage of their services.  

“It’s really important that we let the community know that we are here and we’re still open… I believe that a lot of people tend to go to Birmingham when it comes to getting gynecological care and they don’t need to, there’s a doctor right here. There’s someone right here who can help,” Marty said.  

As for Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Scribner added that volunteering for a nonprofit is beneficial to both parties.  

“Volunteering at nonprofits is a great way to support good causes while also building your resume and experience. Black Warrior Riverkeeper continually offers a wide variety of volunteer projects for people of all ages, backgrounds, and locations,” Scribner said. “When students volunteer for different nonprofits, they can get a better sense of the type of work they might want to do upon graduating.” 

Rhodes shares a similar view to Scribner, in that working with a nonprofit can be a great way to gauge your own interest, as well as change lives.  

“Nonprofits often offer internships and hands-on opportunities to delve more deeply into the work – a great way to gauge how interested you truly are in a subject,” Rhodes said. “Nonprofit work is beautiful, demanding, life-giving, hard, joyful – all these things on any given day of the week.”