Ashley Wolf serves as a prime example of why several Dothan-area residents formed the first family resource center in Alabama, the Alfred Saliba Family Services Center, 25 years ago.
“I had a 16-year-old mother and a 17-year-old father who both dropped out (of high school),” she said Friday. “My husband left me with three kids and no job. I didn’t have a support system.”
Despite the major life challenges, Alfred Saliba Family Services programs helped Wolf find stability. She developed a career there after completing some of the programs and now is a homeowner.
“This place has given me that support system, that hope and that future,” she said. “Thank you for your support. You’re providing our children with a future.”
Several community members gathered Friday at the center’s location on West Lafayette Street to celebrate the center’s 25th year. Credited with being the first family resource center in Alabama, the staffers there provide an array of services like General Educational Development classes, a parenting course and a job bank.
From October 2018 to September 2019, the center assisted almost 12,000 people and about 8,500 families. The estimated economic impact of the assistance is $11.3 million, according to the center.
The center’s focus on providing training opportunities to those who desire them fuels the impact. Executive Director Belinda Mitchell noted the center helped 450 people obtain employment in the past year, and the center carries a 74 percent job retention rate.
“The thing that made me want to help is we’re teaching people how to fish, not just handing out fish,” said Wesley Crowley, president of the center’s board of directors. “Another big thing is the return on the investment. When a person earns a GED, think about what we’re doing for their grandchildren.”
Marian Loftin, who has assisted the center since its infancy, said it exists thanks to people like the late Rebekah Troutman and the late Alfred Saliba, a real estate developer and former Dothan mayor.
“In the beginning, there was Rebekah. She was a Head Start director,” Loftin said. “She said, ‘You cannot help a child unless you help their families, and you cannot help their families without services to support them’.”
Troutman obtained a list of programs available to assist families, and then sought a “champion” to support the idea for the center, Loftin said. That champion was Saliba.
“Alfred’s heart and his spirit was his biggest asset,” Loftin said. “He said, ‘We will make this happen.’”
Current Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba said his father understood the importance of families thanks to the great support he received from his own parents and siblings. Mark added his father always supported the center despite health challenges.
“About a year after my father died, my brother and I finally got the gumption to clean up his desk,” Mark Saliba said. “There was a stack of papers on the corner of his desk. They were papers he worked on while he was sick. They were all about the family services center.”
While all who spoke at the ceremony regaled the center’s accomplishments in the first 25 years, several said the journey has just begun. Mitchell announced the center will soon be the site of welding classes through Wallace Community College and provide office space for other nonprofits like Wiregrass Hope Group in order to provide clients a “one-stop shop” for services.
Banners at the event promoted the slogan “25 Years and Counting,” as well.
“What (Alfred Saliba) left behind was a legacy of hope,” Mark Saliba said. “The challenge now is this: let us continue to build on that legacy of hope for the next 25 years.”