Pamela Reed Phipps has dedicated her life’s work to being an advocate for girls. At first, she’d thought she’d do this by being a voice for the voiceless in the courtroom. But in 1993 she started volunteering as a mentor at Grace House Ministries, just one year after the Fairfield-based program was founded by Mama Lois Coleman. Grace House offers a home, education and around-the-clock care for Alabama girls in foster care. When the organization needed a new executive director, Pamela’s experience in law and human resources, the time she’d spent working at Girls, Inc., and her longtime dedication to Grace House made her the perfect candidate.
She’s been Executive Director of Grace House since 2010, and during this time Grace House has expanded to serve more girls, established a home school for residents, and started a Grace House Community Garden. Pamela has also shepherded the ministry through tough times including the death of Mama Lois in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. We are honored to introduce this week’s FACE of Birmingham, Pamela Reed Phipps.
What drew you to Grace House, and what has kept you dedicated to the mission all these years?
I was introduced to Grace House through one of my mentors and I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with Mama Lois and the vision, and I really developed a heart and passion for helping girls. It’s a remarkable and beautiful story of how God did a full circle for me, taking me from being a mentor to being the executive director. And I count it a complete honor and privilege that I get to go to bat for these girls to help improve every aspect of their lives – whether it’s academic, spiritual, or their self-esteem. I couldn’t have mapped out this plan, and I think it’s far better than arguing a case in a courtroom.
Are there any lessons you learned from Mama Lois Coleman that have helped you in your role at Grace House?
One of the scriptures that she would tell me is, “Faithful is He who called you, and He will also bring it to pass,” and she would say, “You have to thrust your cares into the Lord.” I would tend to be a worrier, trying to figure out everything, and in ministry, while it is a business, she taught me how to be centered on what God has called me to do.
Do what you know to do, and the rest will come.
I can’t tell you how many times we had financial goals or fundraising goals – especially during the pandemic — and I had no idea how we were going to meet those goals. But God would give us a thought, give us a plan, and that’s all we would do, and the next thing we knew, the checks would start rolling in.
She taught me how to be centered in myself and how to identify people with a heart for the ministry. And she taught me to always put the girls first. By putting them first and letting them be the heartbeat of the ministry, all the things – the staff, the money, the property acquisition — will come, because people will be invested in the girls.
How did the pandemic impact Grace House and the work that you do?
It was really hard on us because, unlike other nonprofits, there is no Plan B. We can’t go to a virtual way of raising girls. It was very difficult for us because we couldn’t accept any new girls. We had to quarantine to protect the girls that were here. That was heartbreaking.
And from a financial standpoint, we had to totally reimagine how we were going to do fundraising for the remainder of the year. Most of our fundraisers are in person; they involved one-on-one contact. Thankfully, I have a ton of donors that believe in what we’re doing, and they just invested in us, no questions asked. They stepped up, and I couldn’t be more grateful to those donors who are just so faithful to Grace House and our mission and our programs.
How do you hope to see Grace House expand over the next 10 years?
The vision is us acquiring 15 more homes and converting them into homes for girls, especially girls who are 16 to 19 years old. A lot of people want the young girls. That’s who’s in the foster homes; that’s who’s getting adopted. My girls who are 16 to 19 are left homeless, left to drop out of high school, and left to fall back into that cycle. So, I want to be able to expand our program to serve 60 more girls to serve a total of 100 girls on our campus.
That’s such a big vision, but when you serve a big God, nothing is unimaginable or unattainable, because we’re not doing this by ourselves, and I can sense Mama Lois pushing me on saying, “You can do this, girl. Just keep pushing forward.”
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love spending time with my family. It’s funny that I have a heart for girls, but I have three boys. Even our dog Einstein is a boy! I go from one extreme to the other! I like journaling, and I do enjoy Pilates. That helps to center me and gives me the exercise that I need. I do enjoy shopping. One of my favorite places to shop is Anthropologie. I don’t cook, so we eat out or order in a lot. Our weekly picks are Salvatore’s, Firebirds, Taziki’s, Niki’s, and Taco Mama.
What was your last best meal at a Birmingham area restaurant?
French toast and fruit with powdered sugar at the Village Tavern.
What’s the best advice you have to give?
Your past is not your fault, but your future is your responsibility. That’s what I always tell the girls at Grace House. They come from such broken backgrounds, but I tell them by God’s grace you’re here at Grace House now, so you’ve been given an opportunity to turn that tide, to change things. There’s no more abandonment, no more neglect, no more abuse. You’re a part of a family now, so your life begins anew.
Other than faith, family, and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Massages, shoes, and coffee.
Thank you, Pamela!
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