Monday, 11 September 2017 11:32

Communities of Transformation Joining Community Volunteers with Adults Wanting to Make the Journey Out of Poverty

Written by  Ashley Sherlock
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Communities of Transformation is an organization lead by Laurel and Fred Blackwell and dedicated to guiding families toward self-sufficiency while focusing on reconciliation, restoration and healing. Communities of Transformation is a collaborative initiative of the United Methodist Church. Other denominations and agencies are welcome to partner with C.O.T. to work with the poor.

 

This collaborative approach pairs community volunteers with adults seeking to reverse their own poverty. A support system is created by matching participants with volunteers who will provide support and guidance.

 

“Families in poverty need much more than money or tangible resources,” says Laurel, “What they need most are healthy, nurturing relationships.  Isolation is perhaps the greatest problem for those who live “without enough.”  They live without enough hope, enough encouragement and love, enough positive role models. They do not live a healthy lifestyle, nor do they work to develop their skills and abilities.”

 

The participating families or individuals in poverty spend twelve weeks in a training class with their peers to learn about budgeting, goal setting and relationship building.  Community volunteers also go through an extensive training. For eight weeks, they prepare to use the Communities of Transformation method of building structured friendships that are designed to encourage and support.

 

Once the participants are paired with their volunteers, together they will attend weekly meetings that include dinner, child care and hope-filled experiences. These meetings help each Communities of Transformation site to identify systemic issues that are holding families back from their potential and to formulate strategies that will help volunteers and participants break down those barriers together.

 

“Evergreen, Alabama has established a community garden as a precursor to establishing a Communities of Transformation site.  A government/community/church partnership has been developed, bringing people from all parts of the community together for a common goal.  That is what we do in Communities of Transformation – bring people from throughout the community together for a common goal - to build better lives for all. The garden is now full of vegetables, as well as people working across all demographics that have historically divided us.”

 

C.O.T. allows time for intentional friendships to develop in a safe and nurturing environment. This place allows participants to dream about and create a better future for themselves and their families.

 

“Our primary goals have been to help adults prepare for meaningful and stable employment through helping them acquire a GED, enroll in skills training, to assist others in attending college to improve the opportunity to do life-changing work, to get full-time jobs and jobs with benefits. Many individuals have taken these steps and made other progress which has been more than we could have imagined.”

 

In the future, Laurel hopes to assist churches that have the desire to work with the poor as they establish local C.O.T. sites. She also wants to “assist the church as it reaches outside its walls to minister to those who will never enter our sanctuaries, not by giving tangible goods, but by giving of ourselves.”

 

Originally launched in Dothan, Communities of Transformation now has sites in Brewton, Eufaula, Mobile, Phenix City and Selma, with new cites in Montgomery, Union Springs, Evergreen, Baldwin County and the Demopolis District. Each site is coordinated by a Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) member. VISTAs develop initiatives that enable individuals to become self-sufficient and secure. Communities of Transformation currently has twelve VISTAs.

 

Volunteers help coordinate and serve meals, provide weekly support for participants, donate money and supplies, and lead studies in their churches and homes. To learn more about Communities of Transportation or to volunteer, contact Laurel and Fred Blackwell at 334-524-3652, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit their website at www.communitiesoftransformation.org.

 

 

A Florida native, Ashley Sherlock moved to Montgomery to pursue a degree in English. She now coordinates events for an independent bookstore in Thomasville, Georgia. She enjoys books, the outdoors, and all things whimsical.

 

 

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