An organization is hoping to help less-fortunate families of Northwest Florida transition from poverty to prosperity.

Caring & Sharing of South Walton is working to partner with Communities of Transformation, a group dedicated to helping others make positive life change, to set up Florida's first COT site. The program originated in Dothan, Alabama, in 2013 and aims to help the people recognize and fix aspects of their lives that are holding them back.

Earlier this month, the group's director joined leaders of Christ the King Episcopal Church to host a meeting for dozens of potential volunteers and donors.

"It's about long-term development," said Katy Wrona, COT director. "Families will walk with us from six months to a year and a half, depending on the goals that they have for themselves. We see families go back to school, finish their degree, get new jobs or the communication skills to get a raise or a promotion."

During the meeting, Wrona described COT's mission as helping people move "from striving to thriving."

Efforts kick off with a 12-week program examining personal characteristics ranging from spiritual, financial and intellectual behaviors, then participants are matched with volunteers in their community. Weekly meetings then help them gain social skills, practice the hiring process and move toward a set of predetermined goals.

"They really set the direction for what they want to achieve and how they want to make progress in their lives," said Emily Proctor, a South Walton community chaplain, who would be the site's first director. 

Six to 12 participants embark on the journey under the supervision of 12 to 24 AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers. Childcare is provided and the program is tailored to fit each individual's situation. 

Since efforts to establish the newest location recently started, a venue hasn't been established, but Richard Proctor, pastor of Christ the King Episcopal Church, said it will most likely either be his church or another local congregation.

"I think that it’s important for us to make ourselves known in the community and to help the community beyond our walls here and our property here to get out and get involved in making this a healthier community, more vibrant community, and I think a lot of that has to do with helping people who are in need," he said.

Colleen Sachs, the board chair for Caring & Sharing of South Walton, said Caring & Sharing has been looking for a way to expand its efforts, and that COT is the perfect opportunity.

Each site uses a surrounding nonprofit organization as an umbrella, and Caring & Sharing of South Walton will promote the newest location. It takes around $12,000 a year to maintain a site, and $6,000 must be raised before the newest location can call Florida home.

"It's going to give us a way to not just give people things that they need at that time ... but its going to help teach people how to get out of that cycle so that they can improve their lives," Sachs said.

If you or someone you know could benefit from Communities of Transformation, or to get more information on how to donate and help COT come to Northwest Florida, email Emily Proctor at eproctor@sowalchaplain.org.

Communities of Transformation is designed to help those living in poverty, someone who's lost their job, is widowed, new to the community or recently out of prison or jail.

“We’re engaging with folks not just on the short term, not a quick fix, but rather long-term solutions for people who are trying to get out of poverty, but also a long-term relationship with those people, with people who we may not have otherwise not been in a relationship with,” Richard Proctor said.