By LAURA CANTERBURY
No one in the state of Alabama could have predicted the outcome of the April 27 tornadoes that ripped through so many communities in our area. Many people were moved to help the cities that were affected, but not too many people I know quit their regular job to truly make a difference in the lives of people who they didn’t even know. Alex Sokol did just that.
“On the afternoon of April 27, I had no idea my life was about to change,” he said. “As I watched James Spann report on the outbreak of tornadoes in our state, I realized something bigger than the state of Alabama was happening.”
He went along to help a friend the next morning in Tuscaloosa clear debris, and he couldn’t believe what he saw.
“No pictures, emails, videos, or newscasts can properly explain what I saw, total and complete destruction,” Sokol said. “However, even in the midst of total destruction, I saw a scene of extraordinary beauty: Everyone was helping everyone in any way they could. Neighbors helped neighbors, friends helped friends and strangers helped strangers.”
Over the next two days with the help of Sokol’s employer, The Pants Store and friends, Sokol organized a supply drive and gathered diapers, bottled water, canned goods and more.
“People immediately began to eat, drink, and change dirty diapers with the goods we brought,” he said. “They came with only the clothes on their backs, and left with much more, a sense that somebody cared. During the ride home, I was so moved by what I saw. The little guy had no advocate to help. For them to quickly piece their lives back together, I knew I had to become the little guy. That is how I conceived Alabama Forever.”
Sokol felt like another nonprofit was needed in our area to help all those little guys out there without a voice. “We saw needs that were not being met, so we decided instead of sitting around and waiting on things, that we would simply put our feet on the ground and take action into our own hands,” he said.
He joined forces with friends Chris Nix and Ed Welden, and Alabama Forever became a reality.
The Pants Store happily let him conduct Alabama Forever business during work hours and collect donations outside their store. However, in the back of his mind, he knew Alabama Forever would consume 100 percent of his time, so he began a new career with the support of family and friends.
Alabama Forever’s mission is simple: to reconnect and revive communities in our great state. They also seek to fulfill a dream where our state is an unmatched place to live and work. Through relationship capital, in-kind partnerships and charitable investments, they help create and rebuild civic and athletic facilities, eco-friendly environments, and other public areas.
“It’s a mission that resonates among those who truly love our state,” Sokel said. “Because Alabama Forever is a way we can remake the heart, soul, and purpose of our state. Together, we’re better.”
He hopes in five years the nonprofit will have helped the places impacted by the tornadoes to be in much better shape. “The focus of Alabama Forever will simply be helping Alabamians in need through projects that impact the communities as a whole. But also, you never know when the next Joplin, Mo., or Katrina or Gulf Oil Spill will occur, so we want to have a turnkey system in place that we can use for those kind of needs as well,” he adds.
Recently, Alabama Forever hosted a basketball camp at the Levite Jewish Community Center. Ronald Steele, former University of Alabama basketball player, helped facilitate the clinic. Half of the children were from the over the mountain area and the other half from the areas hit by the tornados.
Another recent project was equipping Pleasant Grove students with shoulder pads and helmets for the football season. Their equipment shed was blown away during the storms, and all of the equipment was lost. “Structure after school is important,” said Sokol. “We wanted to keep their life as normal as possible, and not have them miss this year’s football season.”
The biggest challenge so far has been financial challenges, but Sokol knows that with any startup that is the case and says that they are gaining momentum. You can help by visiting alabamaforever.org and spreading the word about Alabama Forever to family and friends. They are also offering volunteer opportunities each month. The first Sunday of the month will be a volunteer day. The projects and locations will be listed on their website and facebook page closer to time. Anyone is welcome to participate.
As a Mountain Brook resident, please be sure to “like” Alabama Forever on Facebook and buy their necklaces at The Pants Store and Laura Kathryn or donate online.
“I would encourage them to come by our office in Crestline and ride with me out to Pratt City or Cordova,” he said. “Everyone thought I was crazy for quitting my job, but when I take them in those communities they understand.’
Ours is a state that is going to rebuild and Sokol considers himself very lucky to be a part of that. “I am very lucky to have so many friends and family that I can count on, but most of all, I consider myself luckiest of all because I call the state of Alabama home,” he concludes.