Gerrel Jones had a troubled childhood. He got involved with the wrong crowd, committed a series of crimes and eventually spent 20 years in prison. Now, he is using his experiences and lessons learned to benefit other people in his community in Birmingham, Alabama.
Jones has counseled young people, particularly those with a high risk of gun violence, and recently founded an organization called Pneuma Gallery, whose mission is to "reduce violence, recidivism and dysfunction while building community."
During a speaking engagement at a neighborhood meeting, Jones met Kelleigh Gamble, CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services of Birmingham. Gamble told him about the LIFT down payment assistance program, a collaboration between NeighborWorks America and Wells Fargo.
Jones purchased a home through the program, intentionally settling in a troubled neighborhood. He sees great value in helping his neighbors become more familiar with each other.
"When I bought my house, the first thing I did was introduce myself to all my neighbors," he says. "Now we're going to get all the neighbors to introduce themselves to each other."
Jones believes people are less likely to commit crimes against people they know and that familiarity encourages accountability and responsibility to each other. "I want to put the 'neighbor' back in 'neighborhood.'"
Jones also says buying a home in this community shows his ongoing commitment to the individuals who live there. "Homeownership gives you a stake in the community. I want people to know I'm invested in Birmingham."
Jones purchased a home to live in, as well as provide a safe haven to young people who have no place to go. He says buying a home in the community shows his ongoing commitment to these individuals.
"Homeownership gives you a stake in the community," he says. "I want people to know I’m invested in Birmingham."