Oasis Counseling for Women and Children

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“A Healing Home” Oasis in the Feb/Mar Issue of Portico


“A Healing Home – Restored to its former glory, Oasis now offers hope to those in need.”

By Cathy C. Adams
Photos by: Jeff Wales

Portico Feb/Mar 2009


“The gracious new home at 1900 Fourteenth Avenue South represented a dream house to the young married William G. Robinsons when they moved here in 1892. Mrs. Robinson remained in the home for 60 years before selling it to Dr. Walter McCoy, who modified the original exterior and practiced medicine in the home until 1993.

A year later, and more than a century after its construction, 1900 Fourteenth Avenue again embodied a dream when Anne Bruno LaRussa bought and restored the house, along with neighboring 1908 Fourteenth, as home bases for Oasis Women’s Counseling Center, providing low cost mental health services to Biringham’s underserved women and children.

“I wanted Oasis to be near the heart of Southside and in a home setting of a safe and peaceful environment,” Anne remembers. “I was on my way to a shoe sale at Rich’s when i got a call about two Victorian houses for sale on Fourteenth Avenue. By 9 a.m. I had bought them.” She subsequently purchased but has not yet restored 1912 Fourteenth, the third in a trio of historic properties that make up the Oasis campus.

oasis4Anne and husband Benny had built eight new homes but had no experience with restoration when she began the tedious process of bringing the 1900 home back to its original “painted lady” beauty, acting as her own contractor and engaging the services of historic preservation consultant Linda Nelson to meet National Register guidelines. Restoration took about six months and included replacing asbestos shingles with copies of original double tear drop wood siding, milled on site.

“I wanted the house to provide a service to the community, and I wanted the city to be proud of it,” Anne explains, “We found old pictures, covered with soot from an apparent fire, in the attic, a great help in restoring the exterior back to exactly the way it was when built.” Original columns found in the basement were used in the restoration of the porch, the west end of which had been enclosed. Numerous architectural details, including intricate moldings and paneling, a huge stone fireplace, leaded and stained glass, and hardware remained in the home. Anne was delighted to find original light fixtures when dropped ceilings were removed.

“While most of the fireplaces in the Robinson house has been plastered over, the house next door retains beautiful fireplaces throughout,” she says. “You truly find treasures in these old houses. The fireplace surround in our board room has two tiles with profiles of women, a sign to me that this was meant to be.”

Founded in 1995 as an outgrowth of Anne’s graduate work in counseling, Oasis’ mission is to help women and children heal, grow and overcome difficult life challenges by providing affordable mental health counseling and innovative educational programs in a respectful and nurturing environment. Services are provided on a sliding fee schedule based on household income for individual, group, family and play therapy sessions.

“Last year we served almost 1500 women and children in 4,000 – 5,000 therapy sessions,” says Kathryn Bowden, Executive Director for Oasis. Kathryn holds degrees in both law and counseling. “The average household income represented was $17,000 or less, although we see clients from all socioeconomic groups. The lowest fee for an initial intake session is $12, and counseling sessions range from $2 to a full payment of $75 per hour.” Studies have shown that women with reduced household incomes are more than twice as likely to have a mental disorder as individuals of higher socioeconomic status.

oasis2Most referrals to Oasis come from former clients, friends, family members and agencies such as the YWCA. Those seeking help face challenging circumstances or normal life transitions, leading to depression, anxiety disorders, or post-traumatic stress. “healing from Rape” group allow women to work through experiences by sharing. Typically within two weeks of contacting Oasis potential clients are evaluated by an intake counselor and referred to other agencies when appropriate.

“The presenting issue may not be the compelling issue,” Kathryn continues. “It takes a lot of courage to make the first phone call. It’s never too late to reflect on life, and sometimes you need professional help as you ponder. Good mental health means more than just the absence of mental illness and involves spiritual, emotional and physical well being.”

The twelve member staff includes a clinical psychologist, licensed professional counselors, a social worker, a registered play therapist and a bilingual therapist.

Oasis increasingly reaches beyond home base to serve targeted populations and pursue the educational mission of reducing the stigma of mental illness and counseling. The group works with Jenny’s Light to raise awareness of perinatal (the weeks before and after birth) disorders with Grace Clinic at UAB, HICA, the YWCA and UAB’s HIV Clinic. Educational outreach classes at Piztiz Middle School focus on body image issues of young adolescents. Clinical Director Dr. Julianne Venable conducts “wise Women” focus groups at area retirement homes, offing support for aging positively.

Birmingham’s growing Hispanic community represents unique needs that Oasis addresses through partnerships with the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) and the Multi Cultural Center. Oasis counselor Consuelo Viteri is trilingual and trained in cultural acclimation.

In a cheerful play room filled with toys from costumes to a sand box, children aged from three to 12 (with issues as widespread as sexual abuse or bed-wetting) engage in theraputic good0time play.

“Anger management, domestic violence, and depression are preventable and/or treatable,” kathryn says. “talking with a counselor, weather it’s about having better relationships with your kids, dealing with stress, or adjusting to a new baby, can make you feel more in control of your life so that you can do the things you want to do.”

“there are not many models for this unique service envisioned by Anne LaRussa,” Kathryn adds. “We receive about 10 per cent of our $765,000 annual budget from United Way and depend on individuals, other foundaitons, and corporations for the balance. We have a strong board. We are here to stay.”



Oasis has a fresh new look!

Our clients’ lives are transformed through their commitment to counseling sessions with our trained staff of professional, licensed counselors at Oasis. Like many of our clients here at Oasis, we’ve recently experienced a re-birth, a transformation. And, thanks to Paul Crawford and his talented team at Scout Branding, Oasis has a fresh, new logo – the butterfly – and a name change to Oasis Counseling for Women and Children, which better reflects a major part of our mission, to serve children as well as women.

Oasis Annual Luncheon 2009

What: Oasis Help and Hope Luncheon
The annual fundraising luncheon raises awareness of the benefits of mental health counseling and highlights the counseling services for women and children offered by Oasis. This year’s luncheon honors the Hill Crest Foundation, Inc. for their philanthropic contributions to Oasis and the community.

When: Tuesday, March 10 from 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Where: The Club – 1 Robert S Smith Dr, Birmingham, AL
Who: Tickets are $125. To purchase tickets, please contact Susie Abbott at 933-0338, ext. 112

Oasis Counseling for Women and Children’s annual Help & Hope luncheon has no affiliation, sponsorship or relationship of any kind with other “Help & Hope” branded charity luncheons.

New Leadership in 2008 at Oasis Women’s Counseling Center

BirminghamJanuary 16, 2008 – Oasis, a 501 (c) 3 organization providing mental health counseling and resources to underserved women and children in the Birmingham metro area, has announced its new officers and new board of directors members for 2008. Its officers include: President, Benny LaRussa, Jr., Sterling Capital Management; Vice President, Lessie Brady, First Commercial Bank; Secretary, Jim Sisson, Vantage Associates; and Treasurer, Melanie Nichols, Canterbury Trust Corporation.

New board members include Patty McDonald, Community Volunteer; Brooke Tanner Battle, Managing Director, Foundation Fund Management Co.; Marvell “Chip” Bivins, Vice President Audit and Compliance, Energen Corporation; Judi Favor, M.D., Sparks and Favor, P.C.; and Dale Turnbough, Assistant Vice President Public Relations and Marketing, University of Alabama.


In July, 2003 Oasis received its first-ever grant from a national foundation: a four-year $720,000 matching grant from the Local Initiative Funding Partners Program of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Over 300 organizations from across the country competed for awards under this program. Only 18 organizations – just 6% of those who applied – were funded.

The grant funded the creation of a 48-month program called WholeHealth which is now in its fourth year. Oasis received a $360,000 grant award from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for the program, and local matching funds have been provided by grants from The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, The Hugh Kaul Foundation, the Robert R. Meyer Foundation, Protective Life Corporation, Alabama Power Company, the Caring Foundation of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, the Tenet Group (Brookwood Medical Center) and The Samuelson Fund for the Promotion of Public Health.

Oasis of Hope Luncheon 2010

What: Oasis Help and Hope Luncheon
The annual fundraising luncheon raises awareness of the benefits of mental health counseling and highlights the counseling services for women and children offered by Oasis.

When: Tuesday, March 9 from 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Where: The Club – 1 Robert S Smith Dr, Birmingham, AL

Oasis Counseling for Women and Children’s annual Help & Hope luncheon has no affiliation, sponsorship or relationship of any kind with other “Help & Hope” branded charity luncheons.