Archives for June 2013

Demopolis native finds niche in Alabama Rural Ministries

Summer Staff Rondell mentoring youth from College Hill Presbyterian in OhioAt first it seems the two ministries wouldn’t fit together under one umbrella, but Steve Albritton believes both making needed home repairs and providing engaging activities for children have a place in Alabama Rural Ministries.

Now the former Demopolis resident, who makes his home in Auburn, is beginning a new chapter in his life, continuing work for which he has a passion, he has the skills and to which he was led by the Lord.

Albritton joined ARM in January after running a successful construction company for 20 years. “My sons think I’m crazy,” he laughed, but he considers his decision a “great teaching tool” for Jake and Josh.

He made the decision to apply to ARM after reading the want ad for the position. It could have been written especially for him, he said. Everything the ad called for, such as construction and mission experience, he had.

With the support of his wife of 26 years, the former Amy Baxley of Demopolis, Albritton left his business and began coordinating volunteers, checking out potential sites for repair and lining up support for ARM’s construction ministry.

Started 15 years ago by its director Lisa Pierce, ARM strives to get youth and adults to serve others in a meaningful way. The ministry works in two areas in the state. It hosts year-round programs for young people and on-going construction projects in Tuskegee and the surrounding area. In Sumter County is conducts Sonrise Day Camps for children and does repairs on homes during the summer break.

ARM has its headquarters in Auburn-Opelika. Pierce earned her undergraduate degree from Auburn. She received her master’s degree at the University of West Alabama, and it was while she was a student there that Pierce began ARM.

Steve Albritton trains Alabama Rural Ministries summer staff.

Steve Albritton trains Alabama Rural Ministries summer staff.

The summer programs allow groups from around the country to serve with families that need home repairs and provide activities for children.

Albritton said ARM has eight college summer interns working in Sumter County this year, four with each phase of the ministry, who serve under a site leader. They are matched with their fields of study, but Albritton said it is important that each “have a ministry heart.”

It is that same “ministry heart” that drew Albritton into mission work. When his father, Walter Albritton, was pastor of the Demopolis First United Methodist Church, he took part in his first mission trip to Haiti in1980.

“It was a train wreck,” he said. “It was the worst series of events for a first mission trip.”

In spite of the horrid trip Albritton continued going on such mission trips, eventually leading them in countries around the world.

When his father asked him why he continued to go in spite of his initial experience, Albritton told him, “I guess I thought I could do it better.”

The question everyone asks him is how ARM chooses the families to help. Albritton said the ministry gets calls all the time from churches, social workers and individuals who tell them of the needs of Sumter and Macon county residents.

“There is no shortage” of need, he said. “We will never run out.”

It comes down to using the “safe, warm dry” approach to determining the individuals that will be helped and how the ministry team will handle the repairs, he continued. Most of the recipients are elderly, sick and poor. “There is nothing they will be able to do to get out of their situation.”

He must rely for the most part on volunteers, who skills sometimes are limited, and on the funds he has to use.

Most of the ministry’s money comes from small donors who give annually. ARM also applies for grants, and local churches sometimes support its work. The mission teams that come to help contribute funds to help pay for the building supplies.

“The challenge is figuring out how to do something with limited resources,” he said.

Albritton said it can be difficult to find local volunteers and churches to support ARM in west Alabama because the ministry only serves the area for two months out of the year. He hopes to grow the ministry by starting Super Saturday mission projects as well as working out partnerships with other groups who work in the field. He firmly believes that local relationships help build the program.

Photo of the Day: June 30, 2013

car wash picLaquan Sims, back, and Kendall Raby were among those helping with a Newbirth Outreach Ministry car wash Saturday in Demopolis. The proceeds will be used for a youth trip to the beach.

Mitt Gates

William Floyd “Mitt” Gates age 91 of Thomasville, Alabama died on June 27, 2013 at his home. He was born May 13, 1922 in Dickinson, Alabama. Mr. Gates was a retired logger and farmer. He was a member of Liberty Baptist Church. He is survived by his wife, Flora Dean Phillips Gates of Thomasville, AL; four sons, Jerry (Cathy) Gates, Dwayne (Donna) Gates, Randy (Lynn) Gates, and Phil (Sharon) Gates of Thomasville, AL; daughter, Shirley Gates Bowers of Mobile, AL; 12 grandchildren; 18 great grandchildren. Visitation was held at Liberty Baptist Church on Saturday, June 29, 2013 from 10:00 am until the 11:00 am service time with the Rev. Bill Faircloth officiating. Burial was at Liberty Baptist Church Cemetery in Thomasville, AL. Arrangements by O’Bryant Chapel Funeral Home in Thomasville, AL.

All obituaries taken from the website of the corresponding funeral home unless otherwise noted.

Benjamin brings Zumba to Wellness Center

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKimberly Benjamin has a very good reason for teaching Zumba. She loves to dance.

“I’ve always had a passion for dancing,” she said, ever since she was an eight-year-old growing up in Marion. When she was first introduced to Zumba, she realized that dance fitness was her thing. “I fit right in.”

She expected to dance while taking Zumba. What she didn’t expect were the many fitness moves, including squats, jumps and movements for toning and strength included in the routines.

Now she’s teaching two Zumba classes at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m., and getting some two dozen women in each of her classes to enjoy keeping physically fit.

Benjamin was certified this past February after taking “an expensive and an extensive” eight-hour Zumba master’s class at a YMCA in Birmingham. She is teaching not only the two classes in Demopolis but two in Marion, as well as filling in as an instructor at Beautiful Feet dance studio in Selma with her friend Courtney Washington.

A one-hour Zumba class is designed to burn up to 800 calories, said Benjamin. The Latin-inspired dance fitness was developed in the 1990s by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez.

“A lot of people enjoy dancing,” she continued. Zumbais a fun way to help them lose weight and become physically fit.

Benjamin uses repetitive moves in the dances she choreographs for each class. That way her students can learn them, and new students can catch on quickly.

Coming up with the routines for the classes is nothing new for Benjamin. She was the instructor and choreographer for the dance lines at both Concordia College and Wallace Community College.

She’s crammed a lot into her 29 years. In addition to a degree in English from Alabama State University, she earned a nursing degree from Wallace and now is earning a degree in psychology from ASU.

“I can’t sit still,” she admitted.

All her dance instruction is at night. For her day job she works as an administrative assistant at the Marengo County Mental Health Center. She spends her down time with her daughter, nine-year-old Nya Watters, and with her church.

And she’s not done yet. After July 4 Benjamin will begin a Zumba Gold class at Southland Nursing Home in Marion for the residents. Zumba Gold is designed for physically challenged people, especially senior citizens.

She got the idea for teaching the Zumba Gold class after her grandmother had a stroke. While she can’t get around, she would join Benjamin’s Zumba classes and move her arms to the music. Benjamin said her grandmother seems to move better after taking part in the classes.

Benjamin approached Betsy Adams, director of the Wellness Center at the hospital, about offering Zumba classes. Adams had been looking for an instructor, and within a few weeks the classes were set up.

Benjamin hopes that within a year she can open her own Zumba studio. Soon she plans to attend a two-day Zumba Jammer class, which will certify her to train other instructors.

Zumba, she said, is fun, and she encouraged everyone to give it a try.

“I think anyone will fall in love with Zumba if I’m teaching it,” she laughed.

Photo of the Day: June 29, 2013

sidewalk picBanks, Mary Helen and Catherine Compton of Demopolis display their talents as part of Linden’s sidewalk chalk art competition Friday evening. Linden’s weekend of celebration continues through Saturday.

University of West Alabama appoints Wagnon first dean of enrollment management

The University of West Alabama has appointed its first dean of enrollment management, longtime higher education advancement administrator Bill Wagnon.

Wagnon, who has been serving as director of marketing and public relations for online programs at UWA since October, assumes his new duties July 1.

UWA Provost Dr. David Taylor recently announced the creation of the Office of Enrollment Management to unify the university’s undergraduate and graduate and on-campus and online student recruiting, admission, retention, and marketing efforts.

“In the current climate nationwide of enrollment declines and the rapidly increasing competition for both on-campus and online students, along with other factors, it is imperative that all of our efforts devoted to bringing students to UWA and retaining them work in unison,” said Taylor. “We are confident Mr. Wagnon has the broad experience and global view to bring outstanding leadership to these critical areas.

Wagnon has more than 26 years of experience in marketing, public relations, and enrollment communications and services in the public and private university settings. Prior to joining UWA, he served for 13 years as vice president for communications at Birmingham-Southern College. He also has served as associate director of university relations at Mississippi State University, working closely with that institution’s enrollment efforts, and as a communications specialist at the University of Alabama. He began his career in various writing and editing positions at Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee.

The Tullahoma, Tenn., native received his master’s degree in higher education administration from Mississippi State and his bachelor’s degree in public relations/journalism from Auburn University.

Established in 1835, the University of West Alabama is a fully accredited, four-year public institution located on a 600-acre campus in Livingston, Ala. UWA has more than 2,300 on-campus students enrolled in some 52 undergraduate and 37 graduate degree programs. The university enrolls another 2,200 students in 43 degree programs completely online, including 37 graduate education degrees, five undergraduate business degrees, and one undergraduate education degree.

Demopolis Arrest Reports: June 28, 2013

June 26 – Michael D. Spann, 23, for Domestic Violence III – Walmart

June 27 – Calvin D. Teacher, 19, for Burglary III – Hwy 43 South Apt 48

June 27 – Shawtae M. Johnson, 25, for Disorderly Conduct/Disturbing Peace – It’s Fashion Metro

June 27 – Latora R .Richardson, 28, for Insufficient Funds Check – Crossgates

June 27 – Kenneth Spears, 43, for Appears in Public Place Under Influence – N. Walnut Ave

June 28 – Jesse Collins, 58, for Burglary III – Wolf Circle

One dead in Greene County accident

A two-vehicle crash this afternoon in Greene County claimed the life of a Kimberly man. Clarence Suddeth Jr., 57, was killed when the 2012 Ford F250 that he was driving collided with the rear of a 2009 Freightliner. The crash occurred at approximately 3:40 p.m. on Interstate 59 southbound at the 54.7 mile marker, two miles east of Knoxville, AL. Suddeth was not wearing a seat belt. Nothing further is available as State Troopers continue to investigate.

Photo of the Day: June 28, 2013

carnival pic 1Randy Allen of Talladega puts the finishing touches on one of the booths for this weekend’s carnival in Linden. The carnival opened last night and continues through Saturday.

Watchman donates $5,000 to Chamber

Pictured (L-R) are Michael Clements, Jenn Tate, Danny Smith, Laurie Young and Jeremy D. Smith.

Pictured (L-R) are Michael Clements, Jenn Tate, Danny Smith, Laurie Young and Jeremy D. Smith.

The West Alabama Watchman presented the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce with a check for $5,213.05 Thursday. The donation came as the result of a project in which The Watchman put together a special publication to serve as a resource guide for the Chamber.

As part of the project, The Watchman managing partners opted to donate a portion of the magazine’s proceeds to the Chamber.

“We were very pleased with the opportunity to work alongside the Chamber on this project,” Watchman managing partner Jeremy Smith said. “As a company and as individuals, we take great pride in our city and this project gave us the opportunity to show just a fraction of the many things that make living in Demopolis a wonderful experience.”

The 48-page magazine features sponsorship spots from more than 80 local businesses while offering editorial content that ranges from arts and education to industry and healthcare.

“We had a difficult task in planning the editorial content,” Smith said. “We wanted to put together a magazine that would serve the Chamber’s purposes as a resource guide, could serve as another tool for Mayor Mike Grayson and economic development leaders like Brenda Tuck and still be appealing to both Demopolis citizens and visitors. And we do believe we have achieved that. However, that achievement would have been impossible without the assistance of each and every local business that opted to take part in this project.”

The magazine, titled simply Demopolis: City of the People, is available at the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce office. To see a digital version of the magazine, visit