Life Change offers community in Cassville

Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Life Change leaders and Cassville Community Foundation members gathered on Monday to learn about the program and celebrate the $10,000 grant given to support it. Front row, from left: Devon Forsthe, Mindi Artherton, Skyler Bowman, Valarie Hutchens, Derek Cornelius and Laura Holycross. Back row: Rachael Freeman, Jeff Fugitt, Chad Johnson and Phil Hutchens. Kyle Troutman/

Christian-based support group hopes to heal those in need

Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery have been operating locally for many years, but the First United Methodist Church in Cassville is helping sponsor a new program to heal those struggling with things like addiction or mental health issues.

Life Change is a group of people who in a Christian-based setting aim to support and love one another with a goal of changing lives for the better.

Derek Cornelius, of Bolivar, director of missional discipleship who oversees Life Change, ran the program in Springfield, and with the help of Jeff Fugitt, Cassville United Methodist Church pastor, has brought Life Change to Cassville.

“Sunday is our service, and on Tuesdays we have lunch,” Cornelius said. “We also have the Life Change plan, which is a year-long mentorship. On Sundays, our service starts with a meal, then we sing worship songs and talk for a bit, then sing more songs. There’s some table discussion during that talk time.

“We are here for anybody that needs help. There’s more that you can recover from than drugs and alcohol, things like anger issues, overeating or even sex addiction. We are for anyone that might be lost or is looking for something better.”

The group began meeting in July and has about 13-15 members, and it’s not uncommon for the members’ children to outnumber them. Life Change offers childcare on Sundays, giving the children a meal and then taking them to the Cassville YMCA building.

“We have quite a few participants, and more than half have felony convictions,” Cornelius said. “It tends to be a lot of people that have had criminal issues, but we have others come through our group. We try to redirect and give our members opportunities to do something different and lead a changed life.”

One way Life Change achieves that goal is through its mentorship program. After a 30-day trial period, a member is teamed up with a mentor for a year-long program, from which the participant will graduate. Classes are available as part of the program, including three mandatory ones: Jobs for Life, Faith and Finance, and Alpha.

“Alpha is designed for people who maybe don’t go to church or have questions about the meaning of life and faith,” Cornelius said.

Cornelius and Fugitt said overall, Life Change is not a program in the rehabilitation sense. It’s more rooted in creating community.

“It’s not a program as much as it is a springboard to get people started and going in a good direction,” Cornelius said. “AA and NA are meetings where people can talk about their problems, and we do some of that here, but it’s more about building relationships, a family and loving one another.

“We’ve found that when you love on a person, even if they have their arms crossed and don’t seem to want it, over time they can change.”

Fugitt said addiction, a common hangup for participants, isn’t the primary focus.

“Our focus is not on addiction, it’s on building community,” he said.

“People that have addictions always have a reason for why they started using or drinking, usually to numb a pain or trauma, so we try to go past the addiction and to that root issue,” Cornelius said.

Cornelius said the program has showed success in the past through its participants giving back. Many graduates, he said, will return to volunteer or still participate in group trips to places like bowling alleys or movie theaters.

Fugitt said faith is also a big part of overcoming issues.

“I see the faith part as the power that drives the program,” he said. “Having the support of other people is critical, but that real power for life change is rooted in God.”

Life Change recently received a heap of support from the community at large in the form of a $10,000 grant from the Phil and Valarie Hutchens foundation fund with the Cassville Community Foundation.

Valarie Hutchens said she and her husband heard about the program and thought it would be a good option for people locally.

“We have friends that attend UMC and were talking and excited about it,” she said. “We don’t go to the same church, but we are on the same team. I think Jesus never told anyone it’s three strikes and you’re out. He will keep on pursuing you, and I don’t think people hear that enough, that He pursues you no matter where you are in life.”

Phil Hutchens said addiction issues have been common in the community, and he hopes Life Change will help.

“We wanted to help Life Change due to the drug problems the community has experienced and how many families and friends that have been impacted by that,” he said. “It’s a widespread issue, and we can’t just give up and let it happen. We have to give people a choice and a way out.”

Life Change meets on Sundays at 6 p.m. and Tuesdays at noon at the Show-Me Plaza on Highway 248. For more information, people may reach Cornelius at 417-846-8590, or visit the Life Change Facebook page at

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