Living Bridges is a local ministry that offers a variety of services to the residents of Lowndes County. With the help of their host church Park Avenue United Methodist, they are able to hold classes twice a week for a special program called Transformations. Transformations is designed to give people who may be struggling, a chance to learn life skills that are necessary for getting a job, keeping that job, and providing for their families. On February 14th, the class held its most recent graduation ceremony.
Tony and Darcy Gunter realized the need for a program that taught life skills several years ago. They began looking for a way to provide people who may not have been taught certain “survival” skills. They found a series of books that could provide students with the tools they need to transform their lives. The ultimate goal was to make sure students had the necessary skills to sit for an interview, answer questions and maintain employment. They were also taught how to manage money and take responsibility for their obligations so they could support their families. With these hopes and expectations in mind, the Transformations class was created.
In order to graduate, students must complete three phases. Three books are used, one for each phase. “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting by World”, “Jobs for Life”, and “The Money Challenge”, are the guides used in each of the three phases. The entire program can take anywhere from 12 to 15 months. Darcy said, “They need all three books, but they don’t necessarily need them in 1, 2, 3 order. So we start filling seats as they become available.” As a student completes a phase, they receive a certificate. To become a Transformations student, a person must have their own transportation, a commitment to attend the classes and the desire to put in the effort to do the work. Students who attend class regularly receive a small stipend that they can use for items they might need. They also receive a small bag of groceries.
There were five students at this years graduation. Four of the students received certificates while one, Tammy Seymour graduated from the program. Each of the four students who were in attendance received a certificate or recommitted themselves to taking the classes. Shalishala Lee who had to drop out before completing her phase due to transportation issues, reaffirmed her desire to complete the class. She said, “They really love you and care for you. They want you to make it.” Felicia Kohler agreed. Upon receiving her certificate she said, “It definitely helped me grow and to become a better person.”
Tangilar McLowery explained just how much of an impact the Transformation class had on her life. “It’s been an amazing opportunity for me. It’s allowed me to change my circumstances.” Donna Banks said, “This class has taught me that I can get ahead and not just get by.” Both women received certificates for completing different phases of the program. Dr. Verna Harvey is one of the volunteer teachers for the class. She explained, “We meet students where they are and give them what they need to be successful during interviews and to maintain their responsibilities.”
The only graduate of the night, Tammy Seymour, was both excited and emotional at receiving her plaque from Tony. Before being called to the front for the presentation, Darcy had a surprise for Tammy. Her daughter who is attending college in Atlanta wanted to be at the ceremony but couldn’t leave school. So her and Darcy arranged the next best thing, a video chat phone call so Angela could tell her mother how proud she was of her. It was a surprise Tammy will never forget.
Having been raised in a family where both her grandmother and mother had received assistance, for many years it was all she knew. A phone call to the Park Avenue church changed everything for her. While she was calling to find assistance, Darcy just happened to be answering the phones. She told Tammy about the Transformations class and encouraged her to attend. Tammy was at a point where money resources were few and her hope was running low. Tammy explained, “ I was depressed and miserable. Battling anxiety, I would lay awake at night trying desperately to find a way out of my situation.” Her first class gave her the hope she needed to make a better life for her and her children.
“By the grace of God, I’ve been able to turn my situation around. I stand here today a mended woman, one truly transformed by the tools, techniques, love and guidance of these selfless people. I have for the first time in my life gotten off of all forms of assistance.” She was also recently named Employee of the Month where she works, competing with over 170 other employees for that honor. As her way of paying it forward she is committed to the Transformations program and will continue to attend classes, not as a student but as a mentor and example to others who are where she once was.
What the Future Holds
This graduation is one of many that will be held as students continue to work through the phases of the Transformation classes. Classes are held in Valdosta at the Park United Methodist Church at 100 East Park Avenue on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. An additional class is held in Cairo on Sunday evenings. Classes last for about two hours and run for about eight to ten weeks. Dinner is provided for all of the attendees. During regular classes, Darcy or the church will provide the dinner. The graduation ceremony was catered by Olive Garden.
Individuals who wish to attend the classes can contact Living Bridges at 229-234-7427 or send a message to their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/livingbridgesministry/.
All of the individuals associated with the Transformations class, teachers, students, and graduates alike, agree that the class is life changing. Ask Tammy Seymour, she is a living testament that a person can change their circumstances and thrive. All they need is a little hope and a drive to succeed. When you have people who love and support you, nothing is impossible!