May 17, 2016


Communications staff transition

Laurel Akin (left), who is assuming the role of Communications VISTA in late May, replacing Heather Allen (right).

From the desk of Heather Allen -  

If we haven’t met, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Heather Allen, and I have been serving this past year as the Communications VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) for Communities of Transformation. It has been a long year for me. My husband Jack was appointed to FUMC Montgomery and completed his second year of seminary at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, our first child was born in August, and I began my year as a VISTA serving Communities of Transformation.
This ministry has seen so much growth – new Communities, rebranding, Robert Lupton’s speaking engagements, new staff members, and so much more! I too have seen tremendous growth. I have enjoyed this work. I have enjoyed interviewing and writing for this newsletter. I have enjoyed hearing so many amazing, impactful stories. I have enjoyed seeing transformation in the lives of those involved with this ministry. But most of all, I have enjoyed the relationships I myself have built over the past year, specifically with the women on staff with COT. They have been encouragers, pseudo-moms to me, pseudo-grandmothers to my son, and friends. They have poured into my family and into me in more ways than I could have asked for. I will miss them dearly, but I know I am answering a call God has placed on my life – to be at home, focusing on my family and enjoying every minute I can with my child. I am so thankful for the love and support of COT. I am grateful for the ways my work with this ministry has opened my eyes and softened my heart. I am better for the people I have come into contact with, as well as the work experience I have gained. I will dearly miss my time as a VISTA.
However, I leave this work in very capable hands. Laurel Akin, the newly selected Communications VISTA, will do a wonderful job promoting Communities of Transformation! She will bring a special set of gifts and skills that will grow the Communications VISTA position and COT as a whole in ways I cannot imagine.
Laurel Akin lives in Enterprise Alabama, with her husband Bob. The two have three children and six grandchildren. Laurel graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Photojournalism from Troy University in 2012. She has been a volunteer with COT at the Dothan site since it’s beginning in July 2013. Some of her photos are featured on the COT Facebook page, website, and in print materials.
Laurel is also a deaconess candidate of the United Methodist Church and will be completing the necessary coursework later this month. The role of deaconess is for those who feel called by God to serve in full-time ministry, offering love, justice, and service to all they come into contact with. “My calling as a deaconess is to use photography and writing to work with people, [enabling] them to tell their stories and ‘be all they can be’ as children of God. Serving as Communications VISTA for COT ties in beautifully with that calling!” Laurel also volunteers as the Communications Coordinator for the United Methodist Women of the Alabama-West Florida Conference. With her background in journalism and photojournalism and her experience with the UMW, I have no doubt Laurel Akin will be a superb fit for this position!

COT Conference Coordinator Laurel Blackwell has these words to say about the Communications transition: "We will certainly miss Heather! She has provided excellent leadership, and was responsible for the creation of our COT newsletter and our COT website. Also, her knowledge of social media and her development of our COT Facebook page made a great impact. I am so grateful that she shared her gifts and talents with us this past year. As she passes these duties to Laurel Akin, we eagerly anticipate the abilities that Laurel brings to the Communications role. We are grateful for God’s hand in selecting them both to share our COT story throughout the Conference.”

Welcome, Janet!

Janet Wooten, the Administrative Assistant, stands with her husband Ralph Wooten, pastor of Phenix City First UMC. 

“The month of March was a baptism by fire.” These are the words of Janet Wooten, the administrative assistant for Communities of Transformation. Janet joined our staff at the beginning of March, serving her first week by helping with the preparations for the Robert Lupton speaking engagements in Daphne and Montgomery. Janet joined COT at a whirlwind of a time, spending her first week organizing registrations, creating nametags, and much more! And Janet didn’t get a break after Robert Lupton. Instead, she spent the next weeks balancing the COT Professional Development retreat, annual VISTA federal report, the recruitment of new VISTA members, and the VISTA site-monitoring visit – on top of the regular day-to-day tasks of an administrative assistant. Since her busy first month as the administrative assistant, things have calmed down some. However, Janet still has plenty on her plate between her work with COT, her volunteerism, and helping plan her daughter’s wedding. “I've worked more hours, been more stressed and worked harder than I can ever remember in any job I've ever had. I miss dear friends that I used to see every day. But I must say that I feel more blessed by God than I can ever remember.”
Janet is the wife of Phenix City First UMC pastor Ralph Wooten, who was appointed in 2015. The two met at the University of Georgia and later married. Janet describes her 32 years of marriage to Ralph as “blissful.” They now have two grown children, their son Michael and daughter Rebekah, and a granddog named Savi.
Though Janet’s degree is in Criminal Justice, she only worked in the field for two years before serving in varying social services positions, eventually finding her calling in the administrative field while working for a law firm in Birmingham. “The law firm experience started as just a good job to earn money while Ralph was in seminary but ended up equipping me with a variety of skills that I continue to use today.”

Upon moving to Eufaula in 1999, Ralph became the pastor of a Baptist church and Janet the financial secretary and administrative assistant at First United Methodist Church. Ralph changed career fields in 2004, becoming a full-time English teacher at Eufaula High School. The two joined a local United Methodist church. “We were ‘loved’ into the Methodist denomination,” remembers Janet. Not long after, Ralph started the process to become a United Methodist pastor, later being appointed to two local congregations. Ralph was working as a full-time teacher, cross country coach, varsity soccer coach, and a part-time United Methodist pastor. As Janet and Ralph’s children grew up and moved away, the two felt the call back into full-time ministry. Their friend and Janet’s former boss, Dr. Robbins Sims (now the District Superintendent of the Montgomery-Opelika District) knew Ralph would be retiring from teaching. So when the Bishop and the cabinet met for appointment season for the Alabama-West Florida Conference, Ralph was appointed as the full-time pastor of Phenix City First United Methodist Church.
Fifteen years (and five pastors later for Janet), the Wootens have left their home in Eufaula, answering God’s call to ministry in Phenix City. Janet was familiar with COT as she had met Laurel Blackwell, COT Coordinator, many times and had heard about the ministry while working at FUMC Eufaula. FUMC Eufaula is the sponsor church for COT Eufaula and houses the office of Eufaula VISTA Suzann Tibbs. “I heard from a little bird about the plan Laurel had to expand COT and add an administrative assistant position . . . I had a casual conversation with Laurel about the possibility of this position . . . Laurel received her preliminary approval in December and we had a more serious telephone interview.” Janet was offered the job and excitedly accepted. Because she had seen the impact this initiative could have on the lives of those involved in COT Eufaula, Janet sensed that this was God’s plan for her. “I knew that the skills I had used and honed while working for 15 years as a financial secretary/administrative assistant/office manager for a church would be perfect for my new role with COT.”

“Janet has an exceptional skill set, a tremendous work ethic, and a tender heart for those we serve,” Laurel Blackwell shares. Both Janet and Ralph have been attending Phenix City weekly meetings since March. Because of the relationships they are already forming with Volunteers and Participants, they have decided to join the upcoming Volunteer training to eventually become matched Volunteers. 

John Fergus: How COT strengthens his faith

John Fergus, pictured with wife, Betty.

It is no secret that the heart of COT is the sense of community, of belonging, that one feels in the weekly meetings. It is a feeling that Participants and Volunteers alike carry with them throughout their weeks. It fuels them. It energizes them. It gives them comfort that no matter what happens that week, there are people nearby that love and support them throughout life’s ups and downs.
John Fergus is no exception. He is a Volunteer for Communities of Transformation Dothan, and what he loves most about COT is the uniqueness of the relationships he has formed through weekly meetings. “Many of us have other small groups, such as social clubs and Sunday School [classes], where we have relationships with others, but those usually revolve around some shared interest . . . In COT, we’re brought together with Volunteers and Participants whom we would never have met in our ordinary activities.” It is these diverse relationships that, to John, make COT so special.
John is no stranger to forming relationships with others wanting to better their future. He served Wallace Community College as the Dean of Academic Affairs and Health Sciences for 10 years. In his role as Dean, John had many students referred to him because of their academic problems. After meeting with these students, John would often learn that their difficulties stemmed from problems with relationships, child care, transportation, money, etc. “They weren’t really bad students – they were just trapped in bad circumstances by a number of bad decisions, sometimes made on their behalf by others.”
When he retired, John wanted to continue helping students and others who were seeking to get out of bad circumstances. He was invited to a COT Taste and See event by Ruth Penton. At the Taste and See, John experienced what a weekly COT meeting looked like – a meal together, gathering in a circle to share Good News, learning more about the ministry, and then returning to the circle to close the night with Affirmations. John says he was instantly “hooked” because “COT relationships allow me to work directly with Participants who are sincerely trying to get out of some challenging life situations.” John also enjoys that many of the Participants are students at Wallace Community College, thanks to the referrals of Kelly Osmond, the Career Coach at the Center for Economic and Workforce Development at WCC. For John, this gives him the opportunity to serve as an unofficial advisor to students.
The relationships John has formed through COT have not changed him so much as they have reaffirmed and strengthened his faith. These relationships have given him a sense of accountability within his circle of support. “As I look forward to each Tuesday night’s meeting or when I have telephone, text, or email conversations with those Participants I’m matched with or other Volunteers, I’m thankful for them and how being involved with them helps me grow personally.” Specifically, these relationships have challenged him to live out his faith: “I’m a life-long Methodist and constantly remind myself of how we promise to serve our local church and the global Church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.” Being involved with COT has given him the opportunity to live out that Methodist commitment: “I have a new reason to be at a particular place on Tuesday nights; I have a new circle of friends to pray for; I have a new cause to which I can offer my gifts; I have a new place to serve through my presence and talents; and when the opportunity comes, new people to witness to.”  

Eufaula: United Way supports COT

Left to right: Craig Packard, board president of United Way of Greater Barbour County; Tom Sachs, Eufaula Housing Authority; Kent Thomas, COT Leadership Team and Family Service Center of Barbour County; Suzann Tibbs, COT Eufaula VISTA; Bob Powers, COT Leadership Team, President of Eufaula City Council, Board Member of United Way of Greater Barbour County.

This photo and article, written by Kent Thomas, were originally featured in the Eufaula Tribune. 

For families taking the journey towards self-sufficiency, they are often faced with difficult questions, strong challenges, and few resources. Suzann Tibbs, director of Communities of Transformation in Eufaula, believes that will change when the Eufaula community rallies around those families.
Starting in February of 2015, she and her many volunteers, coming from various local churches, have seen families transformed, restored, supported and better equipped to meet their goals. Meeting weekly at St. James Episcopal Church, participants spend time with volunteers to build friendships, work toward achieving goals, and receive valuable information, insight, and experiences.
“By developing relationships with people,” said Suzann, ”we can offer hope for their future lives. This might be accomplished by enrolling in school, finding more reliable transportation, becoming a homeowner, or securing employment. At our weekly meetings, we have representatives from all neighborhoods in Eufaula and a huge variety of denominations. We provide a meal and child care…at no cost. I am so thankful for the support of the United Way of Greater Barbour County, Wiregrass United Way, and Family Service Center Barbour for believing we can transform lives in our hometown. If you would like to be involved, please contact me at 334.695.3764.”
In December of 2015, the United Way of Greater Barbour County met to discuss allocation of funds for 2016, and, encouraged by the success of Communities of Transformation, agreed to donate $15,000 to the organization.
Craig Packard, board president of United Way of Greater Barbour County, said, “Like United Way, Communities of Transformation provides tremendous service to Barbour County. We sincerely hope that our donation helps establish this outreach in Eufaula and Barbour County for many years to come.”
In a joint effort with Family Service Center Barbour (The Clearing House) and Wiregrass United Way, a check for $15,000 was presented to Communities of Transformation on March 14th.
Bob Powers, who’s been active with all the above organizations said, “These funds for Communities of Transformation are a direct result of individuals and businesses donating to United Way of Greater Barbour County (now Wiregrass United Way); volunteers, loaned executives, and numerous United Way agencies giving their time and effort to campaign for United Way; and the collaboration and cooperation we have between the Family Service Center Barbour Board, the former United Way of Barbour County Board, the Wiregrass United Way Board, and the Communities of Transformation Leadership Team.  This is an example of what can happen when we come together to Give, Advocate, Volunteer and Live United.”
United Way of Greater Barbour County, Family Service Center Barbour, and Wiregrass United Way are proud to contribute to the future of our community, and encourage all in Barbour County to support Communities of Transformation.

Book study spurs growth of new Community

Four United Methodist churches – Daphne, Fairhope, Providence, and Spanish Fort – partnered together to encourage their church members and others from around the Eastern Shore to join in a book study of Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity. The study gathered together on Sundays at one of the partnering churches, each time for an hour and a half. Like a regular COT weekly meeting, the group gathered in a circle and opened by sharing Good News from their lives. And like a regular weekly meeting, the group closed with Affirmations, offering words of encouragement to those sitting nearby.
The book study was led by Katy Wrona, Bay Area Coordinator, and Alecia Glaize. Alicia will be coming on staff with COT as the Baldwin County VISTA later this month. “I am excited to be a part of the conversation of how we are serving our community and how we can be a part of a relational ministry,” says Katy.
The group will meet once more on May 22nd at Providence UMC. For more information, contact Katy Wrona at or 724.889.6754

Phenix City Participants writing resumes

Loretta Baber presents on resume writing to COT Phenix City Volunteers and Participants.

COT Phenix City Participants recently completed a two-week resume-writing course. About 27 attended the course, presented by Loretta Baber, a sponsor for Future Business Leaders of America. Loretta also teaches at Central High School in Sports and Internet Marketing, Business Technology, and Multimedia Publications.
Loretta helped with building resumes as well as offering practical advice that might help attendees better their chances of getting jobs. One piece of wisdom that stuck out to many dealt with what people post on their private social media accounts. “Watch what you put on social media. It can make or break your chances to get hired!” Loretta implored.
The idea for the class came from Phenix City Participants who were interested in learning more about how to find and attain jobs or better jobs. Attendees of the resume-writing class were able to research resume templates and begin writing their own resumes. At the end of the final night, they printed out copies and saved copies to thumb drives to take home, edit, and print for future use. One Participant had received a GED years ago but could not find a way to get a copy of it for a job application. Because of this course and one Volunteer involved, the Participant was able to attain a copy of the GED. 

Reba Wiley, answering God's call to Selma

Retired United Methodist pastor Reba Wiley stands with her friend Dawn Bond, pastor of the Pine Hill Charge of Alabama. These women are working together on bringing COT to rural West Alabama. 

If you ask retired United Methodist clergy Reba Wiley how she ended up in Selma, she’ll answer, “God brought me here.”

While living in Selma and answering the call God placed on her heart, Reba began wondering what brought others to Selma. She started asking those around her, “You could live anywhere in the world. Why are you in Selma?” She didn’t know these people; she had no idea what their backgrounds were. Yet every single person she asked had the same answer as she, “God brought me here.” Reba knew this was a sign that God was preparing a work to occur in Selma. “There must have been half a dozen people, and they were from all over – places like Wisconsin! I’m thinking God’s put the foot soldiers on the ground. Let’s move forward!” For Reba, COT was a plan to move forward and help Selma. Reba soon invited other pastors in Selma into discussion on how to meet the needs of those struggling in Selma. As part of her plan, she also invited COT Coordinators Fred and Laurel Blackwell to discuss the initiative and how to get started.
Like most pastors, Reba had a lot on her plate between caring for a congregation, preparing sermons, and being involved in various ministries and programs. However, she still made COT a priority. “People would say to me, ‘You’ve got another COT meeting?’ And I would say, ‘Yeah! I’ve got to do the church stuff. I get to do COT.” In the midst or her work with COT Selma, Reba’s husband Steve fell ill. Reba retired in June of 2015, shortly before the Community’s fall Kick Off. Steve passed away in August. Despite Reba’s retirement, COT Selma is grateful for her vision, persistence, and hard work. Laurel is especially grateful for all that Reba contributed to the Community. “I don’t believe Selma’s COT initiative would have been birthed had it not been for her leadership.”
Reba’s passion and vision for COT are among the many reasons she is a blessing to COT. Though Reba has moved from Selma, her commitment to COT has not diminished. At the end of this month, Reba will officially join the COT staff as a VISTA. She will be answering God’s call by working to bring COT to rural West Alabama in the Demopolis District, working alongside friend and retired United Methodist clergy Dawn Bond. Dawn is currently the pastor of the Pine Hill Charge in Alabama.


May Events

All times Central unless otherwise stated. Please check the website calendar for locations.


May 3rd, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 10th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 17th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 24th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 31st, 5:30-8 PM: NO MEETING


May 3rd, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting - New Volunteer training begins
May 10th, 5:30-8 PM: Speaker - Legal Services of Alabama
May 17th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 24th, 5:30-8 PM: Speaker - Child Advocacy
May 31st: NO MEETING


May 2nd, 5:30-8 PM: Celebration Meal
May 9th, 5:30-8 PM: NO MEETING
May 16th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 19th, 4:15 PM: Leadership Team meeting
May 23rd, 5:30-8 PM: NO MEETING
May 30th: NO MEETING (Memorial Day)


May 5th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 8th, 6:30-8 PM: Toxic Charity book study, Spanish Fort UMC
May 12th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 15th, 6:30-8 PM: Toxic Charity book study, Daphne UMC
May 19th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 22nd, 6:30-8 PM: Toxic Charity book study, Providence UMC
May 26th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting

Phenix City - All times Eastern

May 3rd, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting - Last night of resume writing class
May 10th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 17th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting - New Volunteer and Participant training begins
May 24th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 31st, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting


May 2nd, 1:30 PM: Leadership Team meeting
May 2nd, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting - "Dressing for Success"
May 9th, 5:30-8 PM: Taste and See
May 16th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
May 23rd, 5:30-8 PM: Taste and See
May 30th, 5:30-8 PM: NO MEETING (Memorial Day)


Want more?

Contact Us

Heather Allen
Communications VISTA

Laurel Akin
Communications VISTA

Community Contacts

Janet Wooten
Administrative Assistant

Deborah Marriott
Caroline Pinckard

Suzann Tibbs

Katy Wrona

Phenix City:
Ruth Ann Powers

Dorothy Fitts

Laurel Blackwell
Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.