FLORENCE — When Lee Mayhall and Sky Stewart look into the eyes of the children they work with, they see God looking back.

"God teaches us the riches of people are in places where you have poverty," Stewart said. "We are supposed to love each other the way God loves us. We want to be a bridge for the rest of the community to be welcomed into this love."

Three years ago, the two former University of North Alabama football teammates joined forces to form Common Ground Shoals to help children who are in disadvantaged situations.

“The mission of Common Ground Shoals is to see a unified, flourishing Shoals community that cares for the underserved and disadvantaged and becomes an incubator for transformation in the Shoals and beyond," Stewart said.

Last year, the organization assisted 95 youths through an after-school leadership program, and an eight-week summer camp, organizers said.

This summer, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Common Ground has not been able to do that, but still has joined with Ekklesia Missionary Baptist for a food program for youths.

The agency received a boost Thursday when local State Farm agents presented a $7,250 check.

"When we get the opportunity to partner with Common Ground, it's really our honor," said Jeremy Bruss, State Farm sales leader for north Alabama. "When things get back to normal we want to do more than help financially."

Mayhall had interned with Common Ground Montgomery and returned to the Shoals wanting to create a similar program here. He joined forces with his former football teammate to create the local program in 2017.

Mayhall said those who work with the program learn valuable lessons about what is important, just from being around the children.

"God uses those that the world says are in the margins," he said. "The riches of faith and love I've seen here have impacted me."

Stewart said he grew up in a situation similar to the one many of the children in the program are experiencing. Initially, he was wary about returning to that atmosphere.

He quickly learned his decision to partner with Mayhall was a good one.

"To find the golden richness that is here, it makes me happy to see that," he said. "Just in three years it's been fun to see them go through life and grow and develop. We can help them grow into people who help others grow and develop in the future."

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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