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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Circles members attend regional training

  • Circles is a national anti-poverty initiative which seeks to end poverty one family at a time. Getting Ahead helps people in poverty learn about the social and economic rules of class. It also helps participants assess their strengths and weaknesses. These strengths and weakness are not just financial. They include health, emotional, social, mental and spiritual well being.
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  • Julie Whittle didn't know anyone when she moved to Moundridge from Pennsylvania.
    She grew up as a member of the middle class, but a battle with a debilitating disease drove her into poverty.
    “I learned to get by or go without,” Whittle told a group gathered Wednesday in Newton for a regional Circles training workshop.
    Whittle's daughter-in-law, Mindy, is a graduate of the Circles Getting Ahead program and urged Whittle to join a class.
    Circles is a national anti-poverty initiative which seeks to end poverty one family at a time. Getting Ahead helps people in poverty learn about the social and economic rules of class. It also helps participants assess their strengths and weaknesses. These strengths and weakness are not just financial. They include health, emotional, social, mental and spiritual well being.
    Denise Rhoades, a Circles facilitator in Newton, said Getting Ahead is like cleaning out a closet. You have to take everything out to see what you have, and sometimes you end up with a bigger mess than when you started. Then participants can become Circle Leaders and are matched with volunteers in the community who become intentional friends and supporters of the families who are in poverty. These volunteer are called Allies.
    Rhoades said then the process begins of sorting through what people want in their lives and what aspects they want to get rid of. She said it can be a painful process, but a rewarding one for the individuals and families who participate.
    Whittle was not sure what she would get out of the class, but she decided to give it a try. Her daughter told her at least she would meet people.
    “I did meet people   lots of them that had similar problems as I had,” she said.
    Her illness had caused her to withdraw, and her interactions in Circles helped her reengage in the community. Circles helped her access more community resources. Whittle also was able to secure a car with Circles' help after almost a year without one.
    She also credits Circles with a spiritual rebirth. She was baptized and became a member of the First Mennonite Church in Moundridge.
    “Spirituality was one resource I really needed,” she said.
    Although her illness prevents her from working full time, she volunteers at the Moundridge Senior Center and Angels Attic, another non-profit.
    Her dream is to turn her sewing talent into a gift for the community by opening a craft co-op in Moundridge.
    Ed O'Malley, president and CEO of the Kansas Leadership conference, is a member of a group organizing Circles sites in Wichita. He gave the keynote address at the regional training Wednesday.
    O'Malley has worked all his life in philanthropy, but was drawn to Circles because he thought the program sought long-term solutions to poverty and not temporary fixes. He said volunteering may help you sleep at night, but it does not necessarily bring meaningful change to the people who you are helping.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We have to have purpose,” he said. “From now on, we can't do noble things just to do go good things. We have to have purpose.”
    Unlike many other charitable agencies, Circles urges participants to drive the change in their own lives.
    Rhoades said she encourages participates in her Getting Ahead class to create future stories.
    They create two collages. One collage depicts what life is like living in poverty now. The other depicts what they want their life to be after being in the program for 18 months.
    “I ask them to think about meeting a friend in Wal-mart or Dillons one or two years for now,” she said. “They ask you what you have been doing. I tell them to create a picture of what they hope their lives will be.”
    Time can be a key predictor of success in the program. Getting Ahead graduates can become Circle Leaders. The Circle Leaders and Allies are asked to make 18 months commitments to the program. She said it often takes six to nine months for Circle Leaders to open up to their Allies.
    Beyond that she recommends three things to her Getting Ahead graduates - stay put, put everything on the table with your Allies and table all big decisions until you talk to your Allies.
    Whittle continues to rely on the support of her Allies and the entire Circles group in McPherson. She said hopes she can pay forward some of what she has received from Circles.
    “Now I'm a Circle Leader, and we're just welcoming the new Getting Ahead graduates. I hope I can pass on some of the things I learned and can become friends with this new group of people.”
    Contact Cristina Janney at cjanney@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter @macsentinel.

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