November 2015

What is Circles of Transformation?

Circles of Transformation (COT) is an innovative ministry that partners low-income families with community volunteers. Through COT, intentional and often unlikely friendships are developed, bridging the socioeconomic, cultural, and racial gaps that might often divide us. Participants enter a safe and nurturing atmosphere filled with hope. There they can dream about a more stable future for themselves, developing clear goals and a pathway to a better place.


Robert Lupton, author of the transformative book Toxic Charity, will be visiting the Alabama West Florida United Methodist Conference to help change the conversation about ministry with the poor! He will be speaking on two separate occasions:

March 5, 2016: Daphne UMC in Daphne, Alabama
March 6, 2016: Aldersgate UMC in Montgomery, Alabama

All are welcome to attend as we discuss ways we can make lasting impact in our communities! For more information, contact Laurel Blackwell at or 334.524.3652.


COT News

Phenix City begins with prayer

COT Phenix City began with a weekly Tuesday night prayer service in the sanctuary of Summerville United Methodist Church. The service was a simple one. Members of the community would gather together for an hour to pray for Phenix City, state leadership, national leadership, and the future of Circles of Transformation. The atmosphere was casual, with tea lights lighting the sanctuary, the Christ candle flickering, piano music softly playing old hymns, and the Communion table set. The service gave people a chance to connect with God in the midst of a hectic work week, the chance to meditate in a safe and comfortable setting. People could light candles as they prayed, or they could walk around the sanctuary meditating on the stain glass depictions of the story of Christ. They could write prayer requests or thoughts on the provided slips of paper, and listen to and reflect on Bible verses read aloud by volunteers. At the end of the service, everyone would recite the Lord’s Prayer together.
The idea for the service came from COT leaders who realized that in order for COT to make a lasting impact in Phenix City, God would have to be leading the way. “To undertake something so large and looming as a task of breaking down barriers – [barriers of] denominations, churches, cultures, races, socioeconomic status – it has to be a lot bigger than us. If we are going to do this, we have to go into this with an open mind, asking God to help us figure out what role we play in all this,” says Brady Baird, pastor of Summerville UMC.
When asked how she has seen God working through the prayer service, COT Phenix City VISTA Ruth Ann Powers answers, “People who have come to the prayer service are so moved. They make comments about how it was restful … and people are touched by the serenity and restful spirit. We know why we are there to pray … for Circles of Transformation.” The restful and safe spirit experienced in the prayer service has now carried over to weekly meetings, which are held on Tuesday nights in place of the prayer service, giving members of the Phenix City community a safe place to grow.
COT Phenix City meets at Summerville UMC at 5:30 PM on Tuesday nights. For more information, contact Phenix City VISTA Ruth Ann Powers at or 334.614.1476.

Brewton graduates first class

Pictured above are the COT Brewton graduates and Leadership Team. The six graduates are sitting in the front row and standing in the second row. First row, left to right: Madelyn Messina, Tinita McFergerson, Brenda Henry, and Brynn Nichols. Second row, left to right: Latasha Bradley (3 people in, wearing black and white shirt) and Lisa Stallworth (directly beside Latasha, wearing green and black shirt).

This year, Circles of Transformation Brewton celebrated the graduation of their first round of participants! The six graduates worked hard through twelve weeks of training - building relationships, creating goals, and learning necessary life skills that will help them accomplish their goals. One graduate, Latasha Bradley, has a college education and has had some short-lived successes in life. COT helped her “get unstuck,” as she puts it. “I knew I had to be open to learning new things to be successful in the long-term. [Circles of Transformation] helped me do that.” When asked about COT, Brenda Henry, another graduate, said she initially did not think Circles of Transformation could benefit her. However, she sings a different tune now as she says, “I know my goals will be fulfilled because of this class.”

Brewton is thrilled at the success of their graduates and looks forward to continuing to encourage these six women as they achieve current goals and set new ones. COT Brewton has also started their second round of participants and is currently looking forward to a December graduation. 

Dothan participant on television interview

Rosalynn Richards is hard to forget. She has a beautiful, infectious smile coupled with a warm, inviting spirit. It’s no wonder she has thrived in Dothan’s COT community. Rosalynn is more than willing to help out other COT communities as well. Just recently, she was interviewed on The Dee Armstrong Show, where she announced COT Phenix City’s Taste and See and shared about the COT methodology.
Rosalynn hasn’t always been so smiley. Rosalynn’s father owned a corner grocery store until he passed away nine years ago. This left Rosalynn with debt from college classes and depression. As she watched her father’s store crumble as the years passed, Rosalynn realized she needed change. “I was watching the building deteriorate, and watching the building deteriorating made me think about myself deteriorating as well. So I knew that I needed a change. And I knew things had to be done. I just didn’t know where or how to start, but Circles of Transformation opened up an opportunity for me to set goals and obtain those goals.” According to Rosalynn, COT helped her learn “where to start” – with SMART goals, which are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. One of Rosalynn’s SMART goals is to reopen her dad’s store by July 2016, and she is on the right path. Through her hard work with COT, Rosalynn has paid off her debt and is taking classes for a degree in criminal justice.  
For Rosalynn, motivation is key! “The then is better than the now. So you have to be motivated to keep moving forward . . . Just don’t get stuck.” Though Rosalynn says her COT community has motivated her to be a better person, it’s no doubt that she is motivating and encouraging those around her to be better as well. Just watch the above video, and you’ll see what we mean! 

Eufaula mayors past and present work together

Eufaula certainly does not lack mayoral support. Suzann Tibbs, wife of the current mayor Jack Tibbs, serves as the AmeriCorps VISTA for the Eufaula community, coordinating Circles of Transformation there. Suzann is a retired elementary school principal who is well respected in Eufaula and has a welcoming spirit that makes her easy to talk to and trust, making her a perfect fit for the VISTA position. Previous mayor Jay Jaxon, Jr. is also involved in COT Eufaula, serving as an advocate in the community. According to Jaxon, he is the guy to call if you want advice on why and how to get involved in COT, if you need someone to speak to a group about COT, and if you need help fundraising. Jaxon is happy to do it! “Out of all the civic programs and charitable causes that I had seen in twenty-two years as mayor, this one made the most sense. Not only were you helping someone immediately – you were giving them the tools to help them in the long run.”
Jaxon also says COT is such a great fit in Eufaula because it benefits not only the participants, but also the volunteers. “There is a great deal of satisfaction when you work with people over time and share experiences,” he states. “There is a great deal of satisfaction when you see participants graduate, whether you have been serving meals, volunteering directly with the families, or being a voice in the community.”
Jaxon, Suzann Tibbs, and current mayor Jack Tibbs are all excited to see COT Eufaula grow. Eufaula recently had two participants graduate from the training portion of COT, and both graduates have since earned full-time positions with benefits in the education field.  With the excitement of these two participants and all that are involved with COT Eufaula, more and more families have joined and are being impacted. This excites Jay Jaxon, Jr. “I see this having a long-term, major impact . . . I see this improving the quality of life not only for participants, but also for volunteers. This is going to make long-term, permanent change.” 

Team of UMC pastors connecting Bay Area

Timing is a very important aspect of beginning a COT community. COT Mobile knows this especially well. Though talks of building COT in Mobile began three years ago in 2012, things didn’t really take off until 2014. District Missioner Don Woolley attributes this to a few things – the arrival of Global Missions Fellows, the passion of District Superintendent Doug Pennington, and the support and drive of local churches and pastors.
Global Missions Fellows Katy Wrona and Marcharkelti McKenzie, stateside missionaries within the United Methodist Church, are just two of the hardworking leaders involved in COT. “Katy has done a phenomenal job! [She] has led the charge and made Circles of Transformation happen. We are grateful for her leadership,” says Woolley. While Katy works closely with the adults involved in COT, Marcharkelti works with the youth and children, often teaching lessons and planning programming that mirrors the training the adults go through. “The children get to experience relationship building and how to make a new future story,” McKenzie states. This helps build up the family relationships as well as the relationships with COT volunteers.
When it comes to DS Pennington, Woolley says, “He has made the launching of Circles of Transformation a top priority.”  According to Woolley, this passion has trickled down to local UM clergy and lay leaders as well, sparking a deep desire for lasting change. “All of our churches are deeply committed to serving those in need, but we have all realized that what we have done has enabled people to stay in poverty instead of helping them get out of poverty.” The leadership in Mobile includes John Russell (St. John UMC), Jenni Hendrix (Springhill UMC), Kathy Fisher (Wilmer UMC), Dan Morris (Daphne UMC), lay leader Clara Ester, DS Pennington, Katy Wrona, and Marcharkelti McKenzie.
Woolley is optimistic about the growth of COT Mobile and sings praises for the leadership: “We have a great group of pastors here who are driven and open to try new things.” 

COT Selma kicks off with Taste and See

Revival is certainly happening in the city of Selma, Alabama, where COT recently held a Taste and See event. Approximately 80 people gathered together at Memorial UMC to learn more about COT and how they could get involved as participants, volunteers, childcare workers, providing and serving food, and supporting COT in other ways. The number in attendance was much more than expected, but the tasty dinner of fried chicken seemed to multiply like fishes and loaves, allowing everyone in attendance to eat their fill!
After dinner, all gathered in a circle to hear more about COT. “It’s not reaching down and picking someone up. It’s about people helping people,” Judge Bob Armstrong shared. To start the meeting off, an overview of COT was given and each person was asked to share good news from his or her life. Revival seemed to be the theme of the night, as many shared about how they saw revival happening across the city through various ministries and programs starting up in Selma. “Circles of Transformation is another piece of the revival in Selma,” stated James Thomas, Executive Director of the Dallas County Family Resource Center.  Judge Bob Armstrong agreed, “This will tenderize hearts, and that’s just as important, if not more important, than fighting poverty.”
Not only was good news shared, so was encouragement. “God is doing something huge in Selma, and you’re a part of it. You’re taking a huge step in the right direction, and THAT is good news,” shared Jerria Martin, a participant trainer with COT Selma.
After good news was shared, potential participants and potential volunteers split into two groups to learn more about their individual training with COT. Many potential participants expressed excitement about having a support system to encourage them and push them to reach their goals. Potential volunteers expressed similar excitement about forming new and unique relationships that could strengthen Selma as a community and further the revival.
At the end of the night, the circle came together again, this time to affirm each other. Though many had just met, they encouraged each other to work towards their goals and affirmed the hope and joy they saw in the person next to them.
COT Selma has begun weekly meetings on Monday nights at 5:30 PM at Memorial UMC. For more information on how to get involved, contact COT Coordinator Laurel Blackwell at or 334.524.3652.


November Events

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


November 5th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 12th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 19th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting


November 3rd, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 10th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 17th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting


November 2nd, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 9th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 16th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 23rd, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 30th, 5:30-8 PM: Graduation


November 5th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 12th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 19th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting

Phenix City

November 3rd, 5:30-8 PM (Eastern): COT Meeting
November 10th, 5:30-8 PM (Eastern): COT Meeting
November 17th, 5:30-8 PM (Eastern): COT Meeting


November 2nd, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 9th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 16th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting
November 30th, 5:30-8 PM: COT Meeting

Want more?

Contact Us

Heather Allen
Communications VISTA
Email Us

Community Contacts

Deborah Marriott

Caroline Pinckard

Suzann Tibbs

Katy Wrona
Phenix City:
Ruth Ann Powers
Laurel Blackwell
Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.