Christopher Carlson has a lot on his plate. He is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Lindsborg, serves on the board of The Associated Churches of Lindsborg and he recently stepped into the role of Director of Circles of McPherson County.

Carlson thinks that position parallels his goal of assisting those in need.

"I grew up here, so I thought maybe I had the connections needed to help," Carlson said. "This is where my heart is."

His experience on the TACOL board led to a familiarity with Circles' mission.

"Circles is setting up intentional relationships to help people in poverty learn how to get out of poverty," Carlson said. "We are very supportive of Circles, which just opened up its second branch in Lindsborg."

As director, Carlson will oversee both the McPherson and Lindsborg programs, and he is working on setting up Circles in Moundridge and the Canton/Galva area.

"The goal is to get one in every school system in McPherson County," Carlson said.

The first hurdle he faces is finding people willing to volunteer their time. Circles of McPherson County currently has five paid staff members and around 100 volunteers.

"That is not enough," Carlson said. "We're growing faster than we can find volunteers."

People are needed to be allies for the more than 50 families enrolled in Circles.

"Each person that is going through the program has an ally who is there to help encourage them and make sure they stick to their goals," Carlson said. "Hopefully, they'll have some resources that a person in poverty might not have."

The most valuable resource is the allies’ own networks, which can put individuals in touch with the people who can provide jobs, childcare or other assistance.

"We're playing catch up a lot, trying to find all the people we need," Carlson said. "We're also looking for people who can volunteer to provide meals and childcare at our meetings."

Finding transportation for those in the Circles program is another challenge.

"They're trying to hitch rides to job interviews and hospital appointments," Carlson said. "You would think finding a car would be easy, but it's not for a lot of people."

Even in areas that are considered walkable, not every resource is

available, especially for those needing specialized medical care.

"McPherson doesn't offer a lot of things that people need, so we need a cheap way to get people to Salina," Carlson said. "One of the goals that the Circles Leaders are working on is getting Salina Regional to offer a bus to McPherson and Lindsborg."

Carlson also wants to open the eyes of people to the issue of homelessness. He noted he knew of more than 40 families who are currently homeless in McPherson County.

"They're living on someone's couch or day-to-day in a hotel," Carlson said. "People don't realize that because of how wealthy McPherson County is. We have a huge homeless population in this community here."

Part of the problem is a lack of affordable housing.

"It's so outside the reach for people to be able to get into a home anymore in McPherson County that it's laughable," Carlson said. "Looking ahead, housing is going to be a big thing, I think, for Circles."

Carlson wants to partner with others who are continuing efforts to provide housing for families who need two or three bedroom homes.

"We have a lot of people who are passionate about it, so we hope to get it remedied," Carlson said.

Circles is hoping to use a building on the campus of Bethany College as a multi-purpose facility.

"The goal, if we can get it all funded, is to put a daycare on the first floor," Carlson said.

The second floor would hold a call center and the third and fourth floors would for be housing for single mothers.

"They can have a place to live, work, have their kids watched and then have access to the college," Carlson said.

Circles works to assist people in poverty with getting housing, transportation, healthcare, counseling, medicine, daycare and clothing.

"We partner alongside the Circle Leaders in solving one problem — we'll find someone to watch your kids or a way to get you to work — and for a lot of people, that initial push is all they need," Carlson said.

As of January 2017, 31 Circle Leaders have left poverty by reaching at least 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. These 31 Circle Leaders bring 38 children out of poverty with them. 

"There's a lot of work to be done, but there's a lot of willingness and pride in McPherson and Lindsborg that they want their community to succeed. They want people to be taken care of," Carlson said. "I honestly think that people, in their heart, want to help."

For more information about Circles of McPherson County, visit http://www.circlesmcpherson.org or call 620-241-9011.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.