Getting Ahead is a course in which participants explore differences in class. Circles is an anti-poverty group that provides support and resources for families seeking to climb out of poverty.

Luciana Rodriguez, 31, embarked on a new life she says in part thanks to Circles of McPherson County.
Rodriguez was one of the new Getting Ahead graduates Aug. 22.
Getting Ahead is a course in which participants explore differences in class. Circles is an anti-poverty group that  provides support and resources for families seeking to climb out of poverty.
Since the program in McPherson started three years ago, five participating families have moved out of poverty.
Rodriguez was in desperate straits before she started the Getting Ahead class.
She left Texas with her children ages, 11, 10, 7 and 5, about a year and a half ago to escape an abusive relationship.
“I was in a depressing moment. I didn’t want to open my doors, and stuff was getting shut off,” she said.
Rodriguez’s son was friends with Rebecca Lewis’ son. Lewis is a Getting Ahead graduate and is now a Circles coach and facilitator for the Getting Ahead class.
“My son slipped up and told Rebecca, ‘My mom won’t get out of bed. My mom won’t do nothing.’ Rebecca showed up and prayed with me.”
Lewis then urged Rodriguez to become involved in the Getting Ahead class. Rodriguez joined the class and fell in love with the program and the people.
Rodriguez said she had lived her life one day at a time — just getting by long enough to pay the next bill.
“This is teaching us to plan ahead,” she said, “look at a future and look at what we can do so we don’t have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck.”
“That is where schooling is coming in. I look forward to a time when I will make $70,000 and be happy or even $40,000 or $30,000.”
Rodriguez started Hutchinson Community College last week and is studying to be a nurse. She hopes to eventually earn a license as a nurse practitioner and deliver babies. She also hopes to set an example for her children, who she also hopes will attend college.
Circles helped Rodriguez with her college application and directed her to resources where she could apply for financial aid for college.
“I didn’t see myself going to school,” she said. “I would have never known what to do.”
Lewis said the Circles community has been waiting in the wings to embrace this new group of graduates.
“This class has really inspired me. We had some real economic struggles in this class this time. Some of my families were really hurting, and I watched how these families coped,” Lewis said. “It brought back a lot to me. To have this life to be doing brick by brick by brick and it keeps piling up.
“What we see is hope starts coming in and people come on Thursday nights and you look forward to it, and we don’t feel so alone.”
In Lewis’ final words to the graduates, she tried to urge them onward in their goals.
“This is what we have been working toward — to trust us hand have faith in us as a body of people and as a community here to strengthen resources in your life and take you to a life from where you are now to a life that is thriving and giving back,” Lewis told the graduates. “This is what we all want for each other — a place where we will not only listen to the needs of our fellows but we hear them and we act, a place where no one is cut off or isolated.
“I believe honestly when we start moving in this direction we can have a community and a nation in which poverty is ended in this lifetime.”
Now Rodriguez and others in her class have finished Getting Ahead, they will have the option to become Circle Leaders in the program. These participants agree to make an 18-month commitment to the program and will set goals to improve their and their families’ lives. Each Circle Leader is matched with volunteers from the community known as allies, who serve as supporters and intentional friends.
Rodriguez said she already feels accepted in the Circles family.
“I feel like I have a family here,” she said. “I feel like I have more family here than I did in Texas. That is sad, but it is nice. I won’t change none of this.”
Circles is always looking for volunteers for the program, especially allies to match with the new classes of Getting Ahead graduates.
For new volunteers, Circles is offering a Bridges Out of Poverty book study, which is a starting point where one can develop accurate mental models of poverty, middle class and wealth.
This book study will be led by Kristen Reynolds and Diane Mears during two days 9-11 a.m. Saturday and 4-6 p.m. Sunday in the SERVE Center of the First United Methodist Church, 1200 E. Kansas, McPherson. To register or if you have questions about Circles or the Getting Ahead class, call 620-242-2015 or email
Rodriguez, as a Circle leader, will continue to set goals for herself and her family. She said she hopes her children will learn from all her mistakes. She said she wants them to live stable, happy lives and know they are not alone.
“I want to thank everyone here,” she said. “I know everyone has a story and I have heard some of them and that gives me and my kids hope that one day I will be where they are at. I know they said five [families] are out of poverty and that doesn’t seem like a lot. The fact that this organization has done that is amazing and that shows a lot. I hope that one day I will be a part of that statistic.”
The other Getting Ahead class graduates include Sarah Allen, Tim Schrock, C.J. Phillips, Christina Maupin, Sherrie Rickerson, Sharon Goodwin, Karen Funk and Tonja Poynor.