“Go to the people. Live among them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build on what they have. But of the best leaders, when their task is done, the people will comment, ‘We did it ourselves.’“
Ancient Chinese Proverb
What we are doing to end generational poverty?
Huntsville is a growing city that is full of opportunities. Many wonder why people continue to struggle in generational poverty when so many jobs exist and educational choices are plentiful. The answer is often as simple as one word – hope. Poverty has been aptly defined as “the absence of hope.” An individual who has lived in the culture of poverty for generations, often comes to accept that culture as their fate. It becomes all they have ever known and any hope or dream for a better life seems totally out of reach.
Cornerstone Initiative seeks to build relationships among people in the low income neighborhoods in Huntsville’s Westside who have lost hope. We work to build trust and eventually friendships with our neighbors there. As we listen to them and grow to care deeply about the issues that affect their lives, we don’t just jump right in and try to solve all of their problems. Instead, we “walk with” our friends, seeking to empower them to find solutions to their problems that utilize the gifts, skills and resources that God has already given them.
It is amazing to see how God can use a simple friendship to remind someone that they are not alone and that He has given them infinite value and worth, regardless of where they live or how much education they have had. Building on these friendships within the community, CornerStone seeks to awaken this gift of hope that allows a person to recognize that he or she was created with a beautiful purpose and the opportunities that exist around him or her are attainable.
Once hope is awakened, CornerStone works to promote opportunities that will lead to flourishing lives and a flourishing community. We never want to reinvent the wheel and often collaborate with multiple organizations around Huntsville to provide amazing resources. It is our goal to see that no duplication of effort exists and that maximum impact can be achieved. Finally, CornerStone builds “Initiatives” focused in the areas of Education, Enrichment and Employment that address many of the issues we have seen affecting our friends living in generational poverty.
How Can You Help?
What people are saying?
The story of CSI began in 2010 when a group of faith leaders from Westside Community Church (Previously 100X Church) realized God’s call to become more involved in under-resourced communities. Rather than start yet another non-profit to provide food and clothes in the community, the founders discerned that the best way to engage in the plight of the poor was through collaboration with existing organizations. After much prayer, a specific focus area within the 35805 zip-code was mapped out, community conversations began, and non-profit status was granted in May, 2013. It was around that same time that those closely connected with CSI became involved with the national organization known as CCDA (Christian Community Development Association). This deeper growing understanding of how to serve under-resourced communities in a way that honored God, honored the people of the Community, and made a lasting and sustainable difference for the Kingdom, became the basis on which CSI now builds its mission and its methods.
Debbi Akers is the Executive Director of The CornerStone Initiative, has been a team member since 2013 and E.D. since September of 2016.
Debbi comes to CornerStone after 19 years of investing in the lives of her children as a stay at home mom. With the oldest two of their three children now in college, Debbi and her husband Tony felt it was time for her dust off her Social Work degree from The University of Kentucky and respond in a deeper way to her lifelong call of serving within the under-resourced and often forgotten communities of Huntsville. She brings to CornerStone years of experience of serving with Compassion International as well as other global and local mission efforts. Most of all she brings a love for the people of Westside and a desire to see them flourish. She seeks the Kingdom of God in the neighborhoods of 35805 and is excited about bringing others along on her journey.
Debbi holds the following degree: Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), University of Kentucky
Email: [email protected] 256.694.5393
Director of Employment and Education Initiatives
Melonie Gurley is the Director of Support Services at The CornerStone Iniatitive.
Melonie is a native of Huntsville, Alabama. Her professional experience spans 15 years in the public and private sectors, non-profit organizations, and higher education. Melonie envisions a world where work matters. She comes to CornerStone with a passion for equipping and empowering unemployed, underemployed, and under-resourced populations to succeed in the workplace and in life. Melonie resides in Huntsville with her 12-year old son, Noah.
Melonie holds the following degrees:
Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Human Resource Management, Athens State University and a Master of Science Degree in Organizational Development and Strategic Human Resources, Johns Hopkins University
Email: [email protected] 256.694.5393
Timothy Howard, MD.
Chairman of the Board
Family Practice Physician in Huntsville, Alabama
Director, Software Engineering Divison at Cepeda Systems & Software Analysis, Inc.
“To serve the under served and to be a small part of God’s kingdom here on earth.” – Helen Housch
Board Member and Neighborhood Liaison
Route Supervisor for Secure Destruction, Huntsville, Al
“God has given me a strong desire to give and I’m always looking for ways to give back. Cornerstone Initiative gave me a way to serve the Community and build relationships with Gods people. I’m blessed to be a part of a work that God is in.” – Crissy Long
Board Member/ JFL Business Network
Owner and CEO of Rocket City Drywall a business in the Westside Community.
“CornerStone is faithfully committed to my core values- compassionate social and economic development of the community. I serve on it’s board as a voice for the business community, and as a servant to the mission of the organization.” – Alana Parker
Systems Engineer/Network Integrator at Integration Innovation, Inc.
“I serve at Cornerstone to share God’s love with the neighborhood community and to be in relationship with people as a friend, helper & partner. ” – Valerie Davis
Board Secretary and Spiritual Guide
“God has given me a love for the neighbors of 35805. It is an absolute joy to be in relationship with precious people of the neighborhood, who have taught me so much! Together we pray, seek God, and explore the plan that God has for our lives, to bring us out of our own spiritual, emotional and sometimes material poverty.” – Donna Lehman
Board Member and Neighborhood Liaison
Resident and homeowner in the Westside Community
“I love God and I love people. God has drawn me specifically to live among those who are under-resourced and marginalized. The heartbeat of CornerStone Initiative allows me to join with others with a similar passion and experience the beauty of all of our lives flourishing as we walk together. “- Joy Martin
Board Member/ Director of JFL Business Network
Sr. Systems Engineer at Hill Technical Solutions Inc. ” I have a strong desire to help people achieve more of what they desire for their life. My goal with Cornerstone is to connect individuals in the community we serve to businesses that need their skills.”
Fred Whitlow II
Youth and Family Services Coord. Huntsville Housing Authority.
Founder and Director No More Dirty, Inc.
“To intentionally tranform lives through my example and actions in communities; serve the least of these in our society in love, dignity and with respect. That’s Kingdom Business. “- Fred Whitlow II