Our History


Helping families and children in need… For more than 125 years, that’s what we've been doing here at Gateway. Whether with family counseling, foster care, credit advice or transitional living programs, we've helped thousands of Alabamians – children and adults – put their lives back together and face the future with a new sense of hope.

Founded in 1891 by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Gateway was originally called The Mercy Home and provided basic social services to Birmingham-area women and children. As the agency evolved, so did the name…to Gateway…to Family & Child Services…and back to Gateway.

We've gone by several different names over the past 125 years. But regardless of what we call ourselves, our mission has always been the same: helping families and children rebuild their lives and plan for promising futures. And that’s exactly what we plan to keep doing for many years to come.

Please take a tour of our history through the photos found here. 

Gateway's original board

In 1891, the Mercy Home was established by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union as a “foundling home, an orphanage, an industrial school, a rescue home, and a home for aged women.” Maintained in a rented building during its first eight (8) years by private donations, the Home undertook to provide services, which are met by at least a dozen organizations and agencies today. First Mercy Home BuildingIt gave refuge to unwed mothers and their babies, to abandoned babies and deserted or abused children, and to problem children; it was a temporary home for children whose mothers were ill or had domestic emergencies; it was a “day care” center for working mothers, a home for destitute women; and it provided a job search and training service for women in need of employment.

In 1899, the Home erected its first building at 11th Avenue and 22nd Street North, with funds from city, county, and private donors. By 1906, the Mercy Home Board recognized the need for a state-wide organization to protect children who were neglected and dependent. As a result of the Board’s initiatives and through the Alabama Legislature, a statewide supervisor for children’s affairs was appointed and the first industrial school for girls was established. These actions provided the momentum of the establishment in 1919 of the Alabama State Child Welfare Office.

When the Community Chest (United Way) was organized in 1923, the financial burden of the Mercy Home, which had been borne by its Board for twenty-two (22) years, was largely transferred to the Chest.

Old Honors’ Cottage

In 1929, the Mercy Home moved to its present location at 5201 Airport Highway, constructing a permanent residential campus with buildings that are today noteworthy examples of period architecture.

1950's Mercy HomeIn 1954, a group of leading citizens under the auspices of the Jefferson County Coordinating Council of Social Forces undertook a countywide Survey of Health, Welfare and Recreation. The survey committee employed professional advisors from around the country and conducted a thorough appraisal of the county’s social service needs. One of its three (3) major recommendations was for the establishment of a comprehensive family service agency. A twelve (12) member steering committee was appointed by the coordinating Council in August 1955, to study and plan the details on organizing such an agency. In January 1956, the committee was awarded a $90,000 grant by the Robert Meyer Foundation to finance a new agency for two years. A Board of Directors was chosen, organization was completed, and the offices of the Family Counseling Association of Jefferson County opened for service on August 15, 1956. The agency provided a six-point program of casework services, community leadership in the betterment of social services, group education, professional education, research, and some emergency case relief. At the completion of the two-year demonstration period, the agency became a member of the United Appeal of Jefferson County (formerly called the Community Chest).

Ten years after the Family Counseling Association joined the United Appeal, the old Mercy Home changed its name and program service area in the first of a series of actions that were to result in a merger between the two agencies.

Gateway's Board in 1960 

Gateway was established as the Mercy Home by a group of 12 women in 1891 and was governed exclusively by women for more than half of its existence.

The Mercy Home changed its name to Gateway on April 30, 1968.

Cameron Vowell & Rick Baston cut the ribbon to open the new residential cottages.In response to the changing needs and services in the community, Gateway changed to a residential treatment program July 1973, and was converted from an agency serving small children to one for teenagers, ages 12 to 18, of both sexes. Several local agencies were providing the other services Mercy Home had initiated, but there was no service for teenagers who could not live at home for emotional, behavioral or other reasons. It was this important gap in social service delivery that the renamed Gateway stepped in to fill.

The United Appeal remained the principle source of funding for Gateway until 1975. In 1974, newly appropriated federal funds for social services were granted to the states under a program known as Title XX. The Title XX appropriation for Alabama in 1975 was $42.2 million, and the state agency mandated by law to administer the funds was the Alabama Department of Pensions and Security. In 1975, Gateway was selected by DPS as the recipient of a half million dollar grant for the state’s Title XX appropriation. This additional money enabled Gateway to increase its services, residential facilities and staff substantially.

Gateway's Historic ArchesBy 1972, Gateway and Family Counseling had recognized the need for a cooperative effort between the two agencies, since the problems of families and the problems of children were usually indelibly intertwined. After a four (4) year working alliance, the Board of Directors of Gateway and the Family Counseling Association voted to merge in April 1977. The Merger was accomplished under the new name Family and Child Services, and the united board of the new agency held its first meeting on April 19, 1977. The merger represented a giant step towards the improvement of services and increased cooperation between agencies. Its broad goal was to understand and use the influence of family relationships in the development and adjustment of all family members through advocacy, increased capacity, provision for a continuum of service in all phases of family life, increased direct services, and a broadly based future planning effort.

Since January 1999, the agency has been operating as Gateway once again, linking all of its programs under that one name while maintaining a link to the agency’s rich history.

Gateway's Administrative Building in Southside

By 2002, Gateway had developed a number of programs to provide services to families and individuals in the greater Birmingham community and had outgrown its existing space. This building on 20th Street South was purchased in order to provide mental health counseling, violence intervention, and consumer credit counseling to clients in a centralized location. This building also houses the agency’s administrative functions and the offices of several other programs.

Mary Edna PorterMary Edna Porter (1924 – 2000) – Mary Edna Porter served as Executive Director of Gateway for nineteen years, but her service to this community extends much further than Gateway. She served as President of the Alabama Residential Child Care Association, the Council of United Way Executive Directors, and the Board of Big Brothers/Big Sisters. She also served on the boards of the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources and Glenwood Mental Health. She was Acting Director of Birmingham AIDS Outreach, a Senior Fellow for the Child Welfare League of America, and Program Management Consultant for the James Rushton I Foundation.

1401 20th Street South
Birmingham, AL 35205
Gateway Family Resource Center
Fax: 205-510-2621
Gateway Residential / Day Treatment Center
5201 Messer Airport Highway
Birmingham, AL 35212