January 14, 2016

COT News

Changes in store for COT

Exciting change is underway for Circles of Transformation. As of January 1, 2016, Circles of Transformation is now Communities of Transformation, and a new logo will be in place soon! This process of rebranding began in late 2015 when COT Coordinator Laurel Blackwell and the community VISTAs and Coordinators met together in Montgomery, Alabama, to envision the future of COT. Together they discussed how much the ministry has changed since the founding of the pilot site in Dothan, Alabama, in 2013. 

One of the biggest takeaways from this meeting was how deep the relationships in each of the six communities – Brewton, Dothan, Eufaula, Mobile, Phenix City, and Selma – have grown. Each community has become a diverse gathering of people from varying walks of life. Yet each person is valued, trusted, respected, welcomed, encouraged, challenged, and loved. Many in the communities have expressed how their COT community has become their family, bringing them out of a place of isolation and despair.

These families are working together to better not only themselves, but also their surrounding communities. Because of this, COT is truly a community effort, working with various denominations, races, cultures, ages, organizations, backgrounds, and referral entities. We believe that the move to Communities of Transformation will convey that message, encouraging many more to join in the work God is doing through Communities of Transformation. According to Laurel Blackwell, Coordinator of COT, “Communities of Transformation more accurately describes what we do as a ministry.”

Interested in starting a Community?

The Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church and Communities of Transformation will be hosting Robert Lupton, advocate of those living on the margins and author of the transformative book Toxic Charity, March 5-6, 2016! Lupton will be speaking on building fruitful 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

These events are free of charge and open to the public – all churches, denominations, and communities are invited! This will be a unique opportunity to talk to people who are already engaged in Communities of Transformation and to get a behind-the-scenes look at how to start a COT community. Times will be announced and registration opened in early February. Come join the discussion on Toxic Charity, ways we can strengthen our communities, and Communities of Transformation! For more information, contact Heather Allen at

The Ears of God

In Communities of Transformation, great emphasis is placed on listening and being attentive to the needs of those being served. Healthy relationships are established through effective communication. COT calls us to further develop our ability to hear what others are communicating and seek understanding. Listening calls each of us to slow down, be patient, and to wait. Listening calls each of us to focus on the person speaking rather than our own ideas or inclinations. Just by listening, new opportunities for transformation begin to take root. Through listening, we acknowledge brokenness, loss, heartache, trouble, and begin to help bear the burdens of our neighbors.
Back in September Colonel Chaplain Tom Waynick, who is the new CEO of the Pastoral Institute in Columbus, GA, graciously accepted an invitation to come speak in Phenix City to the Lee-Russell Counties Ministerial Association. He spoke of his career as a military chaplain and the different stations he has served, which includes being the Chaplain for the Pentagon. He spoke of the great work that Chaplains perform, which is primarily listening to the needs and troubles of hurting people. Chaplain Waynick pointed out that very little, if any, training is truly needed to listen. Anybody can do it, and the lasting effects are truly transformational. I was struck by a phrase he used, saying, “Too often we focus solely on being the hands and feet of Christ, and we neglect the rest of the body, which includes the ears. More often than not, our greatest opportunity to help those who hurt is to be God’s ears.”
With the start of the new year we look with great expectation for God to continue to change hearts and lives through the work of COT. We invite you to join us in prayer for Volunteers and Participants who will engage in new ways of ministry and service that will provide lasting, meaningful relationships and change. As well, we pray that as our communities face new challenges and opportunities the ears of God would be present in the faithful people who serve and are served. Where is God calling you to listen and be the Ears today?

 Brady Baird
Pastor of Summerville United Methodist Church

Christmas story comes to life in Selma

Participants, trainers, Volunteers, and special guests dressed up in homemade costumes to bring to life the story of Baby Jesus!

Participants in Selma were not interested in doing a craft at their Christmas party, so they were given the chance to make their own suggestions. LaKayla, a Participant who has just recently completed the training phase of COT, imagined everyone coming together and acting out the Christmas story found in Luke 2:1-20 and Matthew 2:1-12. All agreed that this was a great idea and set out to find their costumes.

On the night of the Christmas Pageant, a hodgepodge of bathrobes, pipe cleaner, scarves, shawls, boxes, wire, mesh, and more littered the tables, waiting to become costumes. There was an air of excitement throughout the room as people volunteered to act as shepherds, wisemen, angels, and of course, Mary and Joseph. Three-month-old Bruce played the part of Baby Jesus. Once the supper was over, people began to dress for the show, helping each other wrap scarves around heads, get wings on straight, and pick the right shepherd’s staff. “It was really a beautiful sight. Watching people get ready, you couldn’t tell who was a Volunteer and who was a Participant. It was just a group of friends getting ready to play out the Christmas story,” says Heather, COT Communications VISTA and mother of Bruce.
Those who were not characters in the pageant were asked to join together and sing a corresponding Christmas hymn in between each scene – “Away in a Manger” after Jesus is born, “We Three Kings” after the Wise Men come, etc.
Once the Wise Men departed from Jesus, completing the pageant, Communion was served. The Communion elements were received from the manger to remind all in attendance of the significance of Communion as the body and blood of Christ, the babe born in a manger to be crucified on a cross and resurrected again. After receiving the elements, each person was given a candle to light. The night closed with all gathered together in a circle singing “Silent Night.”

It was a beautiful and unique experience for all, and a wonderful reminder of Jesus’s love for us – a love so deep that he would humble himself to be a babe born in a manger, destined to grow and be crucified by those he came to save, and bringing new life through resurrection. 

Participants complete training in Eufaula

Left to right: Participants Maria; BJ; Michelle and her son, Camdyn; and Participant trainers Joann and Lou.

In December, Eufaula celebrated three Participants completing the Phase I training of COT. These Participants are Maria, BJ, and Michelle. COT Eufaula VISTA Suzann describes these three as “young, impressively intelligent, and very hardworking.”

Maria and BJ are a brother and sister pair – the first for Eufaula. They are also Eufaula’s first experience with the Hispanic community. For Suzann and the entire COT Eufaula community, this has been an educational and positive experience.  “BJ and Maria would often mention relatives now living in the Eufaula area . . . The Hispanic culture has such a strong allegiance to family and very strong ties to their Catholic faith. Their church family is almost as close as their biological family.” This proved to be true when so many members of BJ and Maria’s church, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, attended the celebration ceremony to cheer BJ and Maria on.
When asked about their goals, all three Participants mentioned going back to school. Maria, who worked part-time as a waitress and part-time as a dental assistant, was recently offered a full-time position with the dental office and is looking forward to regular daytime hours. She wants to take an ACT course in hopes of seeking college admission, a dream she didn’t think possible until recently. She hopes to one day be a counselor and work with students learning English as their second language.
BJ works in the construction industry as an hourly paid worker. He is considering vocational school in hopes of moving to a more permanent job with retirement and benefits.

Michelle started nursing school a few years ago, but her dreams of becoming a health care professional were put on hold when she had her now two-year-old son Camdyn. One of her goals is to have her own living space, as she and Camdyn currently live with her mother and grandmother.
As part of their small group work, all three Participants will be introduced to the Wallace Community College program director for the TRIO Programs, which work to assist first generation college students, those facing financial hardships, and those with a disability. Because all three would be first generation college students, they may be eligible for assistance.
Though all three Participants have grown in self-confidence, BJ will tell you they have also been humbled. In a speech he gave during the Celebration ceremony, BJ half-jokes that he thought he knew everything when he first starting attending COT, but through weekly meetings, COT helped him learn new ways to view different opinions and handle difficult situations. As they get ready for the next phase of their COT journey – a financial literacy course - all three Participants are already encouraging those around them to join Communities of Transformation. 

Phenix City celebrates first round of Participants

Pictured above are the four Participants - (bottom row, left to right) Lateisha, Ally, Tracey, and Hope - and Participant trainer Anne. On the top row are COT Coordinator Laurel Blackwell and Phenix City VISTA Ruth Ann Powers.

A lot of prayer, dedication, and hard word have paid off as Phenix City celebrated their first class of Participants completing the training portion of COT.  Four women have completed this phase – Lateisha, Ally, Tracey, and Hope.
Over the past thirteen weeks of training, these women have experienced true change, and they’ve commented that though it has been hard at times to look inside themselves and acknowledge the need for change and for growth, their hard work has paid off. “These women worked so hard to get from where they were when we first started to where they are now, ready to move forward and make real and lasting changes in their lives. It’s so inspiring, seeing how hard they have worked to get here,” says Ruth Ann.

One particularly powerful testimony of change comes from Hope. Hope is a mother of four – one adult, two who live with their fathers, and one who lives with her. Recently DHR removed the youngest from Hope’s custody. DHR told Hope she needed to make some changes in her life. She needed to stabilize herself, remove bad relationships from her life, give her child a safe home, and to prove her ability as a parent. For Hope, this was absolutely devastating. She knew that even with all her hard work, she wouldn’t have her young child back until at least mid-2016. However, Hope worked diligently on getting her life in order and putting into practice things she learned at COT – how to build healthy relationships, smart financial practices, and make better life decisions. All of her hard work and change paid off when Hope recently received her child back and her case was closed, over six months earlier than she expected!

It is easy to see from the above picture that Hope has formed good relationships. It is obvious that the women have really taken with each other and grown close over their training. Ruth Ann affirms this, saying, “They bonded so well with Anne and with each other. They really became a community!”

Now, these four women are in the matching process of COT, where they will be matched with two or three Volunteers as they work toward goals they have set during their training. The process is called “Speed Dating,” where Volunteers and Participants are given the chance to talk more one-on-one in hopes of finding common interests. Ruth Ann is optimistic about the matching process: “There was a lot of good interaction among the Volunteers and Participants as they spent time getting to know each other. They all seemed to get along really well.”

January Events

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


January 19th, 5:30-8 PM: Financial Workshop, "Improving Your Credit Score"
January 26th, 5:30-8 PM: Financial Workshop, "Budgeting to Get Debt Free"


January 12th, 5:30-8 PM: Participant Celebration
January 19th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
January 26th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting


January 25th, 5:30-8 PM: Third class of Participants begin training


January 14th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
January 21st, 5:30-8 PM: Cooking Matters programming
January 28th, 5:30-8 PM: Cooking Matters programming

Phenix City

January 5th, 5:30-8 PM (Eastern): Meeting
January 12th, 5:30-8 PM (Eastern): Meeting
January 19th, 5:30-8 PM (Eastern): Meeting
January 26th, 5:30-8 PM (Eastern): Taste and See


January 11th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting
January 25th, 5:30-8 PM: Meeting


Want more?

Contact us

Phone: 334.356.8014
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.