In high school, Alex Coleman stole materials from construction sites and used them to build doghouses to sell. But one day, he was caught.
“The owner of the construction site drove by one day and saw what I was doing,” he said, “and instead of turning me in, he bought the doghouse from me and took me under his wing, becoming my mentor as well as teaching me all the skills of a construction worker.”
They were life lessons that stuck with the Arkansas native, who later created a nonprofit called Operation Life Vision through which he works with kids from broken homes that range from elementary school age to college level offering a doorway out of poverty.
“I remember growing up in poverty, and how hard it was for me to see a future for myself,” he said. “I remember wanting to help make sure that no kids felt as stuck as I did. I decided that in high school, I would start to help the kids younger than me by loving and caring for them in hopes that they would see a brighter future for themselves.”
Coleman started small because he didn’t have much. “I would hold Bible studies at the park and offer food in return for attendance,” he said. “Most of the kids would just come for the food, but it got them to start hearing the word of God and helped them form a relationship with me.
“I wanted to show these kids that God and the church could make them feel loved and just as at home as a gang could. Oftentimes, young kids join gangs because the kids don’t have a lot of love at home, so they search for the first thing willing to care for them and love them.
“Oftentimes, it’s the gangs that make them feel like they are part of a family. I want to show these kids that there is another family they can join and be loved – one that encourages them to thrive through love and educational success rather than violence.”
After high school, Coleman moved to Oxford to play football for Ole Miss. He only played one year, then decided to quit because his wanted to help people rather than play sports. Eventually, he decided his purpose on Earth did not include a college degree. He wanted to start a non-profit.
“I dropped out of school and decided that I would use my skills of being a electrician, plumber and contractor to make money,” he said. “I made business cards and put them on everyone’s doorstep I could find. I started to gain a huge clientele in the community, whom I still work with today.”
While trying to accumulate money to open an organization in Oxford, Coleman formed a relationships with kids in Oxford.
“I went to the lower income community of Oxford and knocked on all the doors, letting people know that me and a couple friends would be offering free tutoring with chalk on the sidewalk across the street,” he said.
This became a daily activity for Coleman until one day wanted a bigger place with more resources to help children. He said he went to several local churches seeking help until he found Grace Bible Church. They took in him and the kids and offered resources.
“I also decided to get a 501c1 for this organization, which is a title that enables this to be considered an official non-profit and receive money from the state in order to help these children,” Coleman said.
Operation Life Vision helps provide food, clothes, school supplies, and counseling for children. Coleman also uses the money to help college kids he once tutored buy food and books.
Isaac Jenkins, leader of another non-profit within Grace Bible Church, said Alex inspires him and other leaders. “Alex is amazing,” he said. “When he came to us 2016, we knew immediately that we wanted to work with him. He is one of the most genuine guys I have met. He gives everything he has to his organization and the kids, and I respect him for that a lot.”
One of the most memorable things that has happened to Coleman throughout his community work is learning there are homeless kids in Oxford.
“I knew that not every kid here could possibly have a home,” he said, “so I started going out and sitting outside these communities known for poverty to see if I found any kids walking around.
“The first time, I found a 15-year-old boy sleeping in a park. I approached him and figured out that his mom was addicted to drugs and left him. He had been expelled from school for rumors by other kids and didn’t know what his next step would be.
“I took him in to my house to live with me and helped him get his GED so that he could attend college. That was eight years ago . . . He now has graduated college and has a job in Hattiesburg working in sales with medical equipment.”
He also recently met a girl and boy, ages 7 and 8 after finding them walking to Kroger late at night to buy food.
“I stopped them and offered to double whatever money they had,” he said. “They confessed to me they had no money and were planning to steal.
“I took them into the store and told them to pick out whatever they want. I then took them back to where they said they lived, which I found out was a very broken trailer home and mother who was addicted to drugs
“After spending multiple months with these kids, a situation came up where they needed a temporary home until their mom got back on her feet. I took them in for nine months until their mom got a house and got back on her feet.”
Coleman said he has since learned the mother became unstable again, and the children need a new home, so he has volunteered to let them stay with him again. He said he plans to one day open his own center to host Operation Life Vision and wants to create multiple programs in the center including tutoring.
“I want to create a center in the community of Oxford, which includes counseling, tutoring, a kitchen to feed the kids as well as several other things to help the kids,” he said. “Although the coolest thing this center would offer is housing for kids who don’t have a home or young adults who have struggled in the workforce and need some help getting back on their feet.”
Coleman said he’s always looking for volunteers to help tutor or create activities for children. Volunteers are welcome every Tuesday and Thursday at 5 p.m. at Grace Bible Church at 222 Bramlett Blvd. in Oxford.
“These kids need as many mentors and positive people in their life as they can get,” he said. “If you have a talent, then come use that talent in some way to volunteer and interact with the kids.”