An accountant’s contributions help improve life in an Alabama town

This story is part of a partnership between the Montgomery Advertiser and Auburn University’s Living Democracy program. Now in its thirteenth year, the program spreads students across rural Alabama to spend 10 weeks learning about the inner workings of the community and writing about what they observe.

ELBA − When Melissa Wood, an accountant and entrepreneur, opened her accounting firm in Elba nine years ago, she didn’t realize how much she would add to the city she describes as a close-knit and genuine community.

Since then, Wood expanded beyond her business and opened a Christian bookstore, Son Exposure, and a coffee shop, Waymaker Cafe, in downtown Elba. Wood’s businesses helped reduce the number of vacant buildings downtown to single digits in a concerted community effort to revitalize Elba, a place she described as “where I want to be.”

But she doesn’t stop here.

More recently, Wood began an effort to help foster families in Elba and surrounding areas because she saw an unmet need. A relationship she developed with a foster parent and child opened her eyes to the need for support foster families have for things like clothing, food, bedding and school supplies.

To meet that need, she founded Fostering Angels. She applied for nonprofit status in January, with an official ribbon cutting on May 18 at the former Bradley Florist space at 1951 Hickman Ave.

Fostering Angels couldn’t open fast enough to help those in need. Before the ribbon was cut, they had already started supplying families.

The need has only continued since opening.

“We’ve already served 35 to 40 kids in the short time we’ve been open,” Wood said.

She added that Fostering Angels will also keep donations available for families who are not actively participating in the foster system but may be at risk. She noted that the struggle many families go through to keep children out of the foster system is similar to those within the foster system.

Fostering Angels knew they needed funding to open their doors and keep them open. The Elba community was quick to provide assistance, as churches provided funding and citizens signed up as volunteers.

Early support for the nonprofit caused them to briefly suspend clothing donations, but Wood lists other needs. Wood said she wants Fostering Angels to be able to provide “everything a child needs to thrive,” including items like toiletries, toys, pajamas and school supplies.

Wood’s simple goal is to “continue to bless.”

She noted that Fostering Angels is exploring expanding with future projects, such as providing space for a human resources department where social workers can talk to children in a more welcoming space, as well as a food pantry for families to use.

Sandy Williams, the executive director of the Elba Chamber of Commerce, described her old friend this way: “There are people in the world who, wherever they are, will try to make where they are a better place to live. are.

“On Elba, Melissa is a person with a heart for change who wants to make the community better.”

She noted that Wood is the type of person who, once something is on her mind and heart, tries to be a “way-maker.”

Williams added that some may look to the community’s official leaders for leadership, but she sees people like Wood as the “quiet people behind the scenes making a difference without getting all the credit.”

Elisa Oyolaa Living democracy student at Auburn University, is living and learning this summer in Elba, Alabama, as a Jean O’Connor Snyder intern at the David Mathews Center for Civic Life. The nonprofit program, coordinated by the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts, prepares students for civilian life through summer living learning experiences.