Pam Bates, executive director with East Lake Initiative, has always had a heart for the city.

“When I came back from Houston 11 years ago, I fell in love with Birmingham and wanted to better our community, so I started East Lake Initiative,” Bates said. “We have a holistic community development operation. We work within four pillars: workforce development, education, housing, and health and nutrition. We just want to see our community transformed one family at a time.”

East Lake Initiative helps families attain affordable and safe housing, as well as find sustainable employment. At schools in the area, the initiative staff members tutor and mentor students, and teach them about eating healthy. The initiative operates a community garden near the schools to provide fruit and vegetables.

“In order for families to thrive, everything including housing, finances, education and work have to work in unison. We at East Lake Initiative lay out the resources available, and we encourage families to participate,” Bates said.

Pam Bates of the East Lake Initiative is an Alabama Bright Light from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, the staff at East Lake Initiative worked hard to handle the changes they had to make. Bates and her social workers used to meet face to face with people in the area and hold events. Now they are operating via Zoom and online.

“Even though we don’t meet in person anymore, the online aspect of our work has led to more families attaining more resources. So, in a way, some good came out of COVID-19,” Bates said.

The social justice movement sweeping across the country has also affected the operations at East Lake Initiative.

“When we started East Lake Initiative eleven years ago, we spent two years listening to the community. We never came in saying we have the answers, we just wanted to be a resource. That was to our advantage when the social unrest hit 18 months ago. Families already knew us and they reached out to us and welcomed us into their neighborhood,” Bates said.

Pam Bates is founder and executive director of the East Lake Initiative. (contributed)

East Lake Initiative takes a holistic approach to aiding others in the Birmingham community. (contributed)

East Lake Initiative takes a holistic approach to aiding others in the Birmingham community. (contributed)

East Lake Initiative takes a holistic approach to aiding others in the Birmingham community. (contributed)

East Lake Initiative takes a holistic approach to aiding others in the Birmingham community. (contributed)

East Lake Initiative takes a holistic approach to aiding others in the Birmingham community. (contributed)

East Lake Initiative takes a holistic approach to aiding others in the Birmingham community. (contributed)

Paige Jordan, director of development at East Lake Initiative added, “We are a safe place for people of all color.”

Bates and Jordan said East Lake Initiative is sustained through donations from foundations and individuals. This includes grants from the Alabama Power Foundation.

“We have received funding from Alabama Power Foundation for the last four years. This year, we received the Elevate Grant for a COVID program called Hussle. It helps families starting a business of their own during the pandemic,” Jordan said.

Bates sums up why she founded and still works at East Lake Initiative.

“Last week, a mom showed me it was all worth it,” Bate said. “She was able to come out of government housing in Gate City after three years of participating in our program. She got her degree, moved to a home in Calera and enrolled her kids in a good school. She said to me, ‘For the first time in my life, I have options. I choose where to live, work and send my kids to school.’ It made me feel incredible, absolutely incredible.”

Pam Bates may have a heart for the city of Birmingham, but she also has a heart for its people.

For more information or to donate, visit, www.eastlakeinitiative.com.

Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected].



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