Loss of sister sparks heart of ministry, leads to women’s group, growing conference

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Pam Wooldridge said she’s not in any way a violent Southern woman, but on that particular day in 1999 as she was getting ready for work, she took her hairbrush and threw it on the floor as hard as she could.

“I’ll tell you the truth — I got angry,” she said.

Her sister, Dianne Cooper, had died a few months before, and the loss had hit Wooldridge hard.

‘Grew together’

“It’s hard to tell you how close we were. We were just exceptionally close and did so many things together,” she said. “Also our faith was so important to us. It seemed that as we got older, we just grew more in our faith together.”

But then Cooper lost her battle with breast cancer.

“After Di died, I was just kind of at a loss. I missed my sister, my friend, my buddy,” said Wooldridge, a member of Siloam Baptist Church, York. “There were some tough days, as many people go through when they lose someone.”

The day she threw the hairbrush was one of those days. She had told God she wasn’t sure what to do to get through her grief, and she felt Him say something she had sensed Him saying before — to start a women’s group.

And that made her angry.

“I didn’t know anything about how to do that,” Wooldridge said. So she threw the hairbrush and said, “and even if I did, I wouldn’t know what to call it.”

She said immediately the name “Di’s Hope” came to mind.

“I knew at that moment that it was God. He was telling me what to do, that I should start a women’s group,” Wooldridge said.

And that’s exactly what she did. She gathered up some friends and conveyed what God had laid on her heart — it wasn’t about keeping her sister’s memory alive but about ministering to other people. They started meeting once a month, and the mission just grew.

At the beginning, their primary project was raising money for Relay for Life through barbecues they organized twice a year. Di’s Hope became Sumter County’s top fundraiser for Relay for Life until the organization canceled their events there.

But that didn’t stop the group’s fundraising efforts. They kept hosting barbecues and used the money to help any man, woman or child in the area who might need it. They also took on other ministries, like providing meals for students at the University of West Alabama through a campus ministry there.

‘A mighty God’

And not too long after Di’s Hope got started, another opportunity presented itself too — a local woman who had started a women’s conference a few years before was moving away and asked them if the group could take over the event.

They agreed, put their heads together and planned a conference that year that drew 30 women.

“We thought that was awesome,” Wooldridge said. “We knew it was not us, it was God. It showed us there was interest in this, that there are women who need a boost to keep us all going.”

Two decades later, they’re still conducting the annual Sumter County Women’s Conference sponsored by Di’s Hope on the last Saturday in January. Around 85 women attend each year.

“God has just blessed it,” Wooldridge said.

And as for the Di’s Hope group, she said it was a godsend.

“It gave me something to focus my mind on to once again realize what a mighty God we serve, but that was just the beginning,” she said. “God has just worked in this. It’s been amazing to watch and to walk through it.”

Brad Campbell — director of missions for Bigbee Baptist Association and Wooldridge’s pastor — said Wooldridge is a “blessing to everyone, whether it’s her Sunday School class, her Di’s Hope group or to me, her pastor.”

She is dedicated to helping others and is a “prayer warrior,” he said. “She has dealt with tragedies in her own life but always gives God the glory for His love and guidance.”