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Meet ‘Mama B,’ one of Alabama’s biggest hearts

Joann Bashinsky has had one of the biggest hearts in Alabama, but most just know her as “Mama B.”

Her long history of being one of the state’s most generous philanthropists has been documented by Yellowhammer News before, and now she and the folks with the Auxiliary of Big Oak Ranch are at it again.

On September 25, they unveiled a brand new boutique store made to look like a castle, which Bashinsky calls the “granddaddy of them all.”

Big Oak Ranch is an Alabama-based “Christian home for children needing a chance,” founded 44 years ago by John Croyle. Over 2,000 children have called Big Oak home, and the organization takes no state or federal money. Therefore, it relies solely upon the generosity of individuals like Bashinsky.

In 2006, she began personally planning and designing a boutique for the girls at the home, so that they could shop for clothing, make-up and accessories just like any other young child. In a short matter of time, the old Big Oak warehouse was revamped and converted into a shop.

“There’s not a place in Birmingham that you can find anything like it. It has everything: clothes, makeup, shoes, records, you name it,” she said.

The original store even includes a section for even younger girls, known as “Boutique Too.”

But there is a catch – the girls do not just get to go into the store just because they are a Big Oak resident. Bashinsky instituted a points system, wherein the children had to acquire points from good grades, good deeds and memorizing Bible verses to make their purchases with.

After the opening of the girls boutique, the boys immediately wanted one for themselves, so Bashinsky got right back to work. The boys got their own shop, which is called “Outfitters” and designed in the style of a Bass Pro Shop. There, the kids can use their points to buy toys, games and even outdoor items like Kayak boats.

Now, the new boutique is ready to shine.

Watch:

“This is the third boutique, and this is the grandaddy of them all, because I don’t think I’ll be here to build any more,” Bashinsky said.

She added, with a laugh, “I don’t mean I’ll be dead, I just won’t be building.”

Once a month Mama B and the Auxiliary open the boutique so the girls can come and spend their points on everything from shoes and clothes to toys and everything in between — really anything girls could want, the new store has it.

Brodie Croyle, the founder’s son and now Big Oak’s executive director himself, told Yellowhammer News that he is “very excited” about the new boutique and “pumped up” for the girls that will get to enjoy it.

“How it works is our girls earn points by getting good grades, doing chores, helping Mama with stuff that maybe she didn’t ask them to do, come in here learning bible verses, or doing the different things they have to do to earn these points,” Croyle said. “There is never money that swaps hands in here.”

This system teaches the girls that you only buy what you can afford, that you must earn the privilege of having it, and how to budget and save money.

Croyle praised the beloved Bashinsky for her longtime, genuine love of the kids at Big Oak.

“She’s been around so long, and she’s been a part of our family – and I don’t say that lightly – for such a long time,” he emphasized. “This is her heart, this is what she loves and she loves our kids just like she loves her own.”

Many people have supported Big Oak Ranch in various ways since it was founded in 1974, yet Mama B has reached a legendary stratosphere. In August 2006, Bashinsky and Phyllis DePiano felt God was calling them to organize a support mechanism for the home. After much planning, the Auxiliary of Big Oak Ranch was formed and became a public 501(c)(3) non-profit. This means that the Auxiliary functions as a fundraising and volunteer service group for Big Oak, promoting and furthering its mission of helping children needing a chance.

At the end of the day, Big Oak exists to meet the needs of abused, neglected and abandoned children by giving them a solid, Christian home and a chance to realize and fulfill God’s plan for their lives. Their motto: “Our children are not bad kids, they just come from bad circumstances.”

Their cornerstone has remained fundamentally rooted in Isaiah 61:3 –

“And they shall be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that He may be glorified.”

Bashinsky pointed to the importance of the religious pillar of the organization as crucial to its success and the wellbeing of the kids.

“One thing that I’m proud of is Big Oak Ranch takes no federal or state money and operates debt free. So they can’t tell us what we can and can’t do,” Bashinsky added.

Big Oak currently serves 140 children. For more information about Big Oak Ranch Auxiliary, click here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn.
This report was compiled with the help of Yellowhammer Radio’s Ford Brown, who also produced the video content.
Listen to the Ford Faction on Yellowhammer Radio every day from noon to 3:00 p.m. on WYDE 101.1 FM.