2021 Families of the Year Winners

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For 33 years, the Family Guidance Center of Alabama has sponsored Families of the Year Awards, recognizing outstanding families nominated for exceptional family teamwork, individual growth and family involvement. This year four families from Alabama’s River Region were nominated and showcased through interviews on the WSFA evening news in November.

In addition to the Family Guidance Center and River Region Parents magazine, sponsors of the program include: WSFA-TV, Aronov, Synovus, Cumulus Broadcasting, the J.K. Lowder Family Foundation and Minuteman Press. For more information about the awards selection or the Family Guidance Center, please call (334) 270-4100 or visit

The James & Cassandra Cooper Family

James Cooper, 63, and his wife Cassandra, 60, of Tuskegee were nominated by John and Deborah Ellis of Shorter. The Coopers are the parents of James Edward III, 33, and Lauren, 29, and despite having adult children, continue to function as a true team. Most recently, the family pulled together to launch a campaign to help get James elected as probate judge of Macon County.

James and Cassandra met when they were both students at Tuskegee University, and they have supported each other’s educational pursuits through the years even through full-time jobs and parenting responsibilities. As a result, both have now attained bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and both children attended Tuskegee University.

Since then, James III has started his own cleaning service, while Lauren is a third-year medical student. The Coopers also supported their children through various extracurricular activities including basketball, band, Scouts and 4-H club. The entire family enjoys the shared hobby of photography.

The Coopers currently lead their church’s media ministry, which broadcasts the church services for Facebook, YouTube, telephone conferencing, and drive-in broadcasts. Through these ministries, the church has succeeded in reaching parishioners beyond the walls of the sanctuary.

Services are now being broadcast to people in the Macon County community and beyond, who are not able to attend church regularly, for whatever reason (COVID-19, physically challenged, homebound, lack of transportation, taking care of a loved one, etc).

James also serves as a member of the Macon County Community Partners Taskforce (formed to combat COVID-19 in Macon County) where he is the co-chair of the Efficient Distribution and Management of Resources Sub-committee for the Taskforce.

The Jordan & Jes Dodwell Family

Pike Road residents Jordan Dodwell, 31, and his wife Jes, 30, have been nominated by Jessica Bedient. They are the parents of five young children ranging in age from 1 to 5 years old. Chandler Holt and Averie Kate are the two oldest.

The three youngest girls were adopted from foster care earlier this year, but Reese, Nova and Aspen have been with the Dodwell family for two years prior. Over that time, the whole family has learned and grown together as they have adjusted from life as a family of four, to life as a family of seven!

Chandler and Averie have fully embraced being big brother and big sister to the three younger sisters. Jes and Jordan have worked hard to help each of the children during times of transition and are now happy to officially be a forever family.

Jes is the “check-in team coordinator” for Church of the Highlands Montgomery campus. Every week and for nearly all church events, the Dodwells can be found helping out at church events. Because they were a foster family in Montgomery for years, they are now in the process to become instructors so they can help others become foster families. Jes is on the board of the Montgomery Foster and Adoptive Parent Association and is looking forward to volunteering there every month when in-person meetings resume.

The Eric & Elizabeth Leatherwood Family

Eric and Elizabeth Nan Leatherwood, both 43, of Pike Road were nominated by Doug and Dawn Singleton. The Leatherwoods are the parents of five children: Thomas, 15; Isabella, 12; Sarah, 9; Paul, 6; and Daniel, 4. The family has owned Leatherwood Plant Nursery for almost 12 years and are frequently in attendance at the EastChase and Wetumpka Farmers’ Markets, greeting customers and helping them pick out flowers.

Elizabeth Nan has been teaching workout classes for more than 11 years and encourages participants with Scripture and fellowship during each class.

She loves to help women to stay faithfully fit and in shape, and to look to the Lord for their ultimate strength. She also teaches a free dance fitness class to involve the citizens of Pike Road.

In addition to their own children, the Leatherwoods have opened their home to others through foster care. Sometimes they have offered respite care for foster children.

Both Eric and Elizabeth Nan help teach GAs and RAs at First Baptist Church in downtown Montgomery, where they are members. Elizabeth Nan is also a member of the Britton YMCA Board.

The Joseph Smith Family

Selma resident and Air Force veteran Joseph Smith is now 87 years old and was nominated, along with his adult children Alberta, 57; Tiffany, 52; and Cassandra, 47, by Patsy Reese. Smith’s wife of 48 years, Brenda, passed away in 2016, but the couple taught their children to always be of service to others. Both Joseph and Brenda worked in the medical field and retired after more than 25 years at the VA hospital in Miami, Florida.

After Smith’s retirement, he moved to Selma to spend time with his mother. He helped people by driving them to appointments and cooking for some—whatever he could do to make their lives easier. When Brenda retired, she joined him, along with their daughters. The family joined Calvary Missionary Baptist Church working in the church and community. One of Brenda’s favorite songs was “Let the Work I Have Done Speak for Me.”

Following Brenda’s death, Joseph showed his family how to carry on with all the traditions they celebrated with her and enjoy them remembering her smile. He still loves to travel and cook for his family. All three of the Smiths’ daughters and all three grandsons have drifted toward service, some in the medical field or community politics.


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