March 30, 2016
Robert Lupton recap
Author Robert Lupton speaks to group gathered at Aldersgate UMC in Montgomery, AL, on March 6
“Communities of Transformation is an entirely new way of doing church – a new wineskin to contain new wine that the Spirit is pressing out in this season. No buildings, no pastors, no politics. It is a lay-led movement growing in local soil, connecting diverse neighbors, building relationships that have lasting and redemptive impact. The movement takes seriously, and quite literally, the Great Command to love God and love neighbor, including neighbors on the sidelines of society. As meals are shared, personal stories presented, prayers and resources exchanged, trust deepens and community happens. Is this not an authentic expression of the Shalom God intended for his earthly family?”
These are the words of Robert Lupton, well-known author of Toxic Charity, who spoke at two COT Community recruitment events earlier this month. The events took place in Daphne and Montgomery, Alabama, and focused on spreading the word about COT and engaging potential new Communities. Both events featured Robert Lupton offering a new vision for ministry with the poor, a brief overview of COT, and a panel of current Participants, Volunteers, staff, pastors, and leaders engaged in one of our six Communities. With roughly 225 attendees between the two events, the panels offered a rare opportunity to directly engage with those currently serving though COT.
Building new bridges
COT is beginning to work with six new Communities that will start up this year. Each area will feature an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) position. VISTAs seek to assist communities who are addressing issues of poverty by serving a one-year term, focusing on building long-term capacity within the community. They work full-time and are dedicated to assisting low-income communities through increased education, economic development, and improved health services. For more information on how you can bring COT to your community, contact Laurel Blackwell at 334.524.3652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brewton Participant thrives in community
Brewton's second class of Participants, left to right: Kimberly Johnson, Mollie Pizzotti, Hunter Horton, JoAnna Brannon, and Rosanna Mast
Five Participants in Brewton completed the Awaken curriculum at the close of last year. These Participants were Kimberly Johnson, Mollie Pizzotti, Hunter Horton, JoAnna Brannon, and Rosanna Mast.
Rosanna recently went through a difficult divorce, leaving her a single mom of three children. Being a single mom has been a challenge for her. She’s had to learn how to manage her household, make major decisions, balance finances, and more – all on her own. “Life was overwhelming and chaotic,” Rosanna remembers.
When Rosanna found out about COT, she started reaching out to Participants and Volunteers to learn more, leading her to eventually join the community. She was encouraged and welcomed by everyone, and she was reminded that everyone encounters a setback or discouragement at some point in life. For Rosanna, the weekly COT meetings were about people coming together, sharing in hope for a better future for their families.
As a single mom, Rosanna thrives in the community bond she has formed in Brewton. “Isolation is the enemy of community and success. This community, this village, is offering resources that can make a difference in my life.” Rosanna is doing her part to contribute to her village. She is reaching out of her comfort zone and opening up to those around her. She is soaking up the information and resources she encounters, and she is putting them to use as she learns to establish and meet goals.
When asked what sets COT apart from other ministries or programs she could have joined, Rosanna answers, “COT is different in that [the Volunteers] stick with you when the going gets tough. They understand that it’s not easy, and they are there to help and encourage.”
All five Participants have now been matched with Volunteers and just recently completed a six-week financial training workshop. They are optimistic that the knowledge they gained from the workshops will help them manage their finances better, purchase insurance, find stable jobs, and build the future they dream of for themselves and their families.
Unique relationships form in Dothan
Safari Dawkins stands with her son Keevon at his graduation from Wallace Community College's electrical lineman program.
Safari Dawkins' involvement with COT Dothan began when Safari was a childcare worker during the weekly meetings. As she spent time with the children each week, she was moved by the relationships forming in the meetings and decided she wanted to be a part of it. She joined the next class of Participants, working to better herself and her family.
After completing the Awaken curriculum, which is used to guide Participants in setting goals and learning the life skills needed to build a better future story, Safari was matched with Volunteer Les Pinckard, the husband of Dothan VISTA Caroline Pinckard. Being matched with Les and other Volunteers gave Safari a community of support, a group of friends to encourage her and walk with her as she worked towards her goals. One way Les offered support was by providing a ride to Safari’s son, Keevon, during his six-week electrical lineman program at Wallace Community College. Though Keevon has his driver’s license, the family only has one car, and Safari leaves for work early in the morning. Les offered to help. “I knew this was a short-term training program for Keevon, but with the family’s transportation issues, I offered to get [Keevon] to school everyday on time.” When Les couldn’t give Keevon a ride, Caroline would drive Keevon to Wallace.
Keevon completed the electrical lineman program in November and was recently hired by Comcast. Safari could not be prouder! “Keevon is growing as a person. . . When he is asked to do something or given an opportunity like the electrical lineman program, he finishes what he starts.” Caroline and Les are also on cloud nine and are excited to see where Keevon’s hard work and dedication takes him. According to Keevon’s aunt, Marquita, who is a Participant in the current Dothan class, Keevon is enjoying his new job and is happy that it is close enough to home for him to walk to work.
Caroline and Les Pinckard stand with Keevon at his graduation.
Eufaula and the plight of payday loans
Jim Calton, Jr., Esq., lawyer and member of COT Leadership Team
COT Eufaula is out to educate fellow citizens on the dangers of predatory lending businesses, specifically payday loans. According to Jim Calton, Jr., Esq. (pictured to the left), a lawyer and member of the COT Eufaula Leadership Team, “The term payday loans is a misnomer because the people who are using these services don’t have checking accounts at regular banks for the payday loans to hold and cash a loan payment. It’s like calling Coca-Cola a morning fruit juice.” In theory, a payday loan works because a person takes out a loan with the promise that when their check comes in, a portion of it is cashed to pay off the payday loan. However, the majority of those taking out payday loans do not have jobs.
Many payday loan scenarios go as follows: Don’s house needs some repairs that would cost him $500. Don gets a disability check for $700 on the 30th of every month, but it’s only the 15th. So Don takes out a loan at the local E-Z-Money. They lend him $500, float the check, and he has his house fixed. When the 30th of the month comes, E-Z-Money cashes the check and takes the $500 (plus 456.25% interest), leaving Don with just over $100 to live on for the next month. Don’s remaining money isn’t enough, he takes out another loan to survive for the next month, and a cycle begins. In order to pay off the loan, Don would eventually end up paying more than the initial loan of $500.
Jim has been practicing law for 19 years but has only seen these predatory lending shops emerge within the last 12 years. He has had a lot of interaction with unemployed clients who have little source of income yet are still struggling with heavy payday loan debt. Through his work with those clients, as well as his time given to COT, Jim is battling predatory lending one victim at a time. “I felt that God called me to [COT] to give service back to the community because I have this information and I do know about what is going on.” Though Jim is limited in ways he can battle predatory lending, he seeks to educate individuals one person at a time, helping them learn the dangers of payday loans. He hopes that sharing his knowledge will prevent others from being taken advantage of and instead seek better financial solutions. “It’s a mustard seed. And if it takes one person at a time, then it takes one person at a time. But it’s better than doing nothing.”
According to Bob Powers, President of Eufaula's City Council and member of COT Eufaula's Leadership Team, the city of Eufaula is working against predatory lending businesses by asking churches, Eufaula City Schools, and the Chamber of Commerce to help educate citizens on personal finance and the "exorbitant cost" associated with payday loans. Eufaula has also changed zoning ordinances, restricting the areas where these business can locate; and restricted the number and specified distance of the business locations, limiting the number of predatory lending businesses within city limits. Bob says "It does not solve the problem, but it sends a message."
"Cooking Matters" in Mobile
Participant Jessica Young (left) and Volunteer Clara Ester work together on a side dish of orange glazed carrots as part of the "Cooking Matters" programming in COT Mobile.
Mobile is blazing a new trail for Communities of Transformation as they recently completed a six-week nutrition course called “Cooking Matters”. The idea for nutrition-focused programming came during one of the weekly COT meetings. This particular meeting was devoted entirely to getting feedback from Participants on what type of programming would be of interest to them. “I really try to make sure everyone has a voice and their opinion is heard about the future programming,” says Katy Wrona, COT Mobile Coordinator. “We created a whole list of potential programs, and I started finding speakers.” However, after several Volunteers and Participants followed up with Katy, asking when nutrition programming would begin, Katy focused on bringing that to fruition. “I started thinking, ‘Where in Mobile do we get this?’” Katy’s answer came as “Cooking Matters,” a nutrition and cooking course Katy had participated in during her work with another local ministry.
Sponsored by local food bank, Feeding the Gulf Coast, “Cooking Matters” teaches skills such as kitchen safety and procedures, smart grocery shopping, reading labels, meal planning, cooking simple and well-balanced meals, exercising, and making healthy lifestyle choices. Everything is provided for those participating in the programming – ingredients, aprons, hairnets, kitchenware, and anything else needed for the cooking lesson. The programming spanned six weeks, with each night being two-and-a-half hours long. Meals that were prepared in the lessons included a peanut butter and banana breakfast wrap; a side dish of orange glazed carrots; a breakfast sandwich with egg, spinach, and tomato on an English muffin; tuna noodle casserole; chili; white fish with mango; Hoppin’ John (a pea and rice dish); and more!
The group also took a field trip to Walmart. The trip was divided into two parts. The first segment took attendees through each section of the five food groups – grain, dairy, meat, fruit, and vegetables. The guides gave a short lesson at each section, going over the fat percentage in meat cuts, unit pricing, comparing organic versus regular and fresh versus frozen, and even stopping to discuss the tricky marketing tactics of cereal. The second segment gave Participants and Volunteers the chance to put to practice what they had learned. The week before the field trip, the group was told they would be given $10 to shop for the ingredients for dinner for four, using at least three of the food groups. Some came to Walmart with a list in hand and a plan of action. Others took a more casual approach and decided to choose while at the grocery. After everyone had completed the shopping challenge, the group returned to the church to discuss what they purchased and why, the nutritional content of their planned meals, and pricing. At the end of the night, everyone was able to go home with their groceries.
While the Participants were learning in the kitchen, their children were also learning about nutrition in their own youth component. Marcharkelti McKenzie, another missionary serving in Mobile and a roommate of Katy, led the children as they practiced reading labels; comparing frozen, canned, and fresh ingredients; and exercising. Marcharkelti even took the children into the kitchen for a lesson on utensils and appliances, encouraging the kids to help at home during meal prep and cooking.
The programming received great reviews, with Participant Tasha Graham saying, “It took me out of my comfort zone, and I learned [to try new things] in the kitchen.” Volunteers were also surprised by how much they learned and were challenged to make healthier choices. COT Mobile Volunteer Kathy Fisher said, “Petra, our instructor, encouraged us to experiment with new ingredients for healthier meals.” At the end of the course, every Participant and Volunteer was given his or her own cookbook to help serve as a guide in their future meal planning.
Phenix City raises money with pancakes
Back row: Pastors Braidy Baird (Summerville UMC), Ed Sunday-Winters (First Baptist), Steve Reneau (Trinity UMC), and Ralph Wooten (FUMC)
Front row: Patti Sunday-Winters, Olivia Poole (Mt. Zion UMC)
Five churches came together on Shrove Tuesday to support COT Phenix City by hosting a pancake supper. First Baptist, First UMC, Mt. Zion UMC, Summerville UMC, and Trinity UMC worked together to serve pancakes, sausage, and bacon to those gathered in the fellowship hall of First Baptist.
The pancake supper was the brainchild of the pastors of the five churches and was held in lieu of the weekly COT meeting. This gave the sixteen COT Phenix City representatives in attendance a wonderful opportunity to share more about this ministry with the many church members from the five congregations.
According to Ruth Ann Powers, COT Phenix City VISTA, “The food was delicious!” Ruth Ann added that the biggest hit of the night was the table laid out with pancake toppings – whipped cream, fruits, syrups, and more. Everyone was welcome to top as they pleased and eat their fill. There was no charge for the supper, but donation baskets were out if anyone desired to support COT financially. Over $500 was donated to COT by the end of the night.
Selma covers spiritual dimension
COT Selma recently decided to change pace for a night. After working hard in their financial workshops, Selma’s Leadership Team thought it would be a good idea to have a “fun night” for Participants and Volunteers to enjoy each other’s company without any specific training. However, this night still had a focus – the spiritual dimension of the human experience.
There are five dimensions that guide COT instruction and programming – spiritual, relational, physical, intellectual, and financial. The five dimensions are a holistic approach to examining and bettering a person, and it comes from the Awaken curriculum COT uses. To use the example from Awaken, one can think of the five dimensions as a tire: “The more balanced [the dimensions] are in size and maturity, the more evenly your life will roll.” Every aspect of COT focuses on bettering at least one dimension - dinners together and matched circles address the relational dimension, financial training courses address the financial dimension, etc. To address the spiritual dimension, the Leadership Team opted to watch a movie for one of the weekly meetings. The movie was Facing the Giants, a story of a Christian high school football coach named Grant Taylor. Grant’s team, the Shiloh Eagles, have never had a winning season, leading many of the athletes’ fathers to seek Grant’s dismissal. In his personal life, Grant struggles as he and his wife Brooke face the possibility of never having a biological child. In his desperation, Grant calls on God to help him face the giants of fear and failure in his life.
The night began with dinner as usual. After dinner, everyone gathered together, popcorn in hand, for the feature presentation. Throughout the movie, people laughed, clapped, and cried together as they watched multiple characters encounter God’s strength in scary and difficult times. After the movie was finished, Steve Kopp, the pastor of Memorial United Methodist Church, where COT Selma meets every week, led a short discussion time. Through this discussion, Steve gleaned that some scenes stood out to Participants and Volunteers more than others. One scene in particular that resonated with almost everyone in attendance was the Death Crawl scene. (Click on the link to view scene.) As Coach Grant is talking to the team about an upcoming game, one of the team leaders, Brock, makes a statement that the Shiloh Eagles expect to lose the Friday night game. Grant then blindfolds Brock and has him do the Death Crawl, where a smaller teammate named Jeremy lies back to back with Brock while Brock crawls across the football field on hands and feet, without his knees touching the ground, until he can crawl no more. “We were moved by how far he went and how hard he worked. It made everyone say, ‘We’re willing to work hard to achieve our goals, and we WON’T stop until we achieve them!’” Steve said.
There was a lot of positive feedback from everyone in attendance, and despite that the night ran long, no one left. “When you run late and it doesn’t seem to make a difference to anybody, that’s huge,” Steve laughs. Laurel Blackwell, COT Coordinator, added, “I think the message of the giants in our lives – things that look insurmountable – will be an ongoing discussion in the COT Selma Community.”
All times Central unless otherwise stated. Please check the website calendar for locations.
March 31st, 5:30-8 PM: Mobile Celebration
April 4th, 5:30-8 PM: Eufaula meeting
April 4th, 5:30-8 PM: Selma meeting
April 5th, 5:30-8 PM: Brewton meeting
April 5th, 5:30-8 PM: Dothan Taste and See for potential Participants
April 5th, 5:30-8 PM: Phenix City meeting
April 7th, 5:30-8 PM: Mobile meeting
April 11th, 5:30-8 PM: Eufaula meeting
April 11th, 5:30-8 PM: Selma meeting
April 12th, 5:30-8 PM: Brewton meeting
April 12th, 5:30-8 PM: Dothan meeting
April 12th, 5:30-8 PM: Phenix City meeting
April 14th, 5:30-8 PM: Mobile meeting