Elizabeth Chiepalich’s professional life reflects that of a woman who has been called to her mission in life, a career that spans 10 years of service to marginalized communities. As the administrator of Homeless in Mobile Facebook group, which comprises approximately 5000 members, Elizabeth advocates and provides needed social services for the poor, the homeless, and those with mental illness and disabilities. Her personal endeavors don’t veer far from this noble career path either, and outside of her daily work-related activities, she dedicates her time and energy to helping these same communities. She lives with her husband on Alabama’s Fowl River and is proud that her three grown children have all chosen careers in public service.
Tell us why you chose your profession, the value it brings to you and/or the community:
Due to an on-the-job brain injury and subsequent disability of my father, I learned as a young child the difficulties facing those who suffer from a family member’s catastrophic injury/mental illness and the subsequent financial crisis. I witnessed the struggles of a mother trying to provide for her children while caring for a disabled husband. I want to do everything I can to help those in our community who are dealing with similar issues.
Are you involved with the community, any non-profits, etc. and why is that important?
I am involved in providing social and spiritual guidance to the homeless and impoverished. My service to the homeless, impoverished, and mentally ill is a unique and radical passion. It is often not fruitful nor pleasant. However, as a follower of Jesus, I am called by his teachings to serve the poor and disadvantaged. Additionally, when the poor receive a “hand up” our entire community benefits.
What is your vision or hope for women in the Mobile and Gulf Coast communities?
My hope for the women of Mobile County is that they, especially women of faith, will be intent on fulfilling the true calling of their faith in serving the homeless and impoverished people who live a life of suffering all around us.
Are there any specific policies and/or laws you would like to see changed to advance women?
I would like to see current public funding that is earmarked for the shelter and care of the homeless and impoverished of our community used to fund more social services for the women of these communities. In addition, Mobile County needs to create mental health courts to humanely adjudicate criminal matters related to mentally ill citizens.
What advice or suggestions can you give to women walking the path of empowerment or struggling with self doubt?
Follow and mold your actions after those older and wiser women who have learned from experience. Let your passion guide you. Never let the criticism of the uninformed deter your mission.
Was there a moment for you that was a game changer?
Yes. In 2010, I was called to assist a homeless, schizophrenic, and pregnant woman who had been walking the streets of Mobile for months. I jumped in and secured her a hotel room. Days later, she went into labor and delivered a healthy baby boy. Due to her severe mental illness, she was incapable of caring for her infant. Her family could not be located. I was with her when DHR removed the baby from her custody in the hospital. I petitioned the Probate Court to commit her to a mental health facility for stabilization. Once she was treated, her mental condition stabilized. After many months of working with her, I was able to locate her family and assist them in securing a guardianship over her. My efforts resulted in reuniting this woman with her family. She became, and to date remains, both mentally stable and housing secure. This experience taught me that with long-term dedication, one person can make a huge difference in a homeless and mentally ill person’s life.
“The light of equality and justice needs to be shone on the Gulf Coast professional community to continue to open doors for women, especially women of color. The darkness of injustice can only be overcome by light.”
How important has education and/or continuing education been to you?
My paralegal education from Spring Hill College has proven to be extremely important in my mission to serve the homeless and mentally ill of Mobile. My paralegal research skills have enabled me to locate the social services that are imperative for the homeless, impoverished, and mentally ill to rise above their circumstances. These research skills have also enabled me to search, locate, and reunite the homeless with lost family members and friends.
Do you have a mentor? Who are they and how have they helped you?
My deceased mother, Nancy White of Madison, Alabama, showed me how extreme hardship and suffering can lead to a life of service and compassion for those experiencing catastrophic financial hardship and mental illness.
How do you think professional environments need to change to support and/or be more welcoming to women?
The light of equality and justice needs to be shone on the Gulf Coast professional community to continue to open doors for women, especially women of color. The darkness of injustice can only be overcome by light.
Who/what inspires me?
The teachings of Jesus Christ and open-minded people.
How do you take care of yourself everyday so that you stay balanced and centered?
I set unbreakable boundaries. I make sure I am home by 3:00 pm every day. I take a nap and relax by milling in my garden with my cats and chickens. I turn my phone off at 5:00 p.m. Friday is a day I spend alone at home with my husband. This is an unbreakable appointment.
What does an average day look like for you?
Every day is different. When you serve the homeless and the poor, you expect the unexpected daily. Generally, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. Coffee and reading until 7:00 a.m. Out the door around 9:00 a.m. I drive into Mobile to serve, which entails transporting those in need to social services, medical appointments, Urgent Care, employment centers, job interviews, etc. I’m constantly on the phone networking to help those in need. I am home by 3:00. I tend to my garden, unwind with my cats and chickens, and cook dinner. I’m in bed by 8:00 p.m. and read until 9:00 p.m. But I also have insomnia so I am constantly on my phone during the night monitoring, posting, and responding to the Homeless in Mobile Facebook group.