When Megan Boyd and her now husband, Colby, moved to central Kansas they had nothing — just what they could cram into their car.

When Megan Boyd and her now husband, Colby, moved to central Kansas they had nothing — just what they could cram into their car.
They stayed with Colby’s parents for time, but the tight quarters with in-laws were difficult.
They finally moved into an apartment, but they had no furniture and for a time slept on the floor.
“We were always in between,” Megan said. “We made too much money to receive assistance, but too little money to do what we needed to do.”
While Megan was in Newton, she became associated with the Circles program, and when the couple moved to McPherson, she joined the Circles of McPherson County program.
The McPherson Circles program recently reached a milestone, celebrating 10 people who have moved out of poverty.
Megan is on that list.
There is no plaque or medal for making the list. It is just a piece of scratch paper  scribbled with marker hanging from a thumb tack in the Circles office.
But Megan will tell you it makes the difference between frustration and fear and security and peace.
Circles is an anti-poverty program that matches people in generational poverty with volunteers in the community.
These intentional friends support the participants, who are called Circle Leaders, as they work toward goals and to lift themselves out of poverty.
Since 2010, the program has graduated 70 people from its entry-level Getting Ahead class, and had 45 individuals go on to be matched with community volunteers.
Ten people out of poverty may not seem that impressive, but the program emphasizes individuals building skills that will end poverty in their lives permanently.
Many members of the national Circles program are watching what is happening in McPherson because of the number of people the program has added to its out-of-poverty list and because its sets its goal for individuals at 200 percent of the poverty level.
That figure varies based on household size, but $47,100 for a family of four is 200 percent of the poverty level in McPherson.
Lewis is a graduate of program, as is her mother, Jo Lewis. Both women joined the list earlier this year. As Rebecca has small children, the family celebrated three generations out of poverty.

Education has been a key for several of the Circle leaders to join the list. Rebecca finished her bachelor’s degree in graphic design at McPherson College, another Circle leader will celebrate completing her associate’s degree this spring and others are in various stages of college coursework.
Job training is important, especially for larger families, who need higher incomes to reach that 200 percent of poverty mark, Rebecca said.
Without adequate skills, most families in poverty are looking at working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
About 65 percent of Circle leaders have dreams of higher education, but about half of those have tried higher education and failed, leaving a trail of student loan debt and marred transcripts behind.
Rebecca provides information to these students about how to get their loans out of default and get back on track as students in good standing.
Rebecca has worked with one student who had to leave school because of life circumstances and had failed courses as a result. In order for the student to qualify for student loans again, she had to increase her course completion rate. She had to pay for some of her schooling on her own until she could qualify for loans again.
Training unskilled workers is not just a humanitarian effort, Rebecca said.
“We have a workforce full of baby boomers,” she said. “ This is not just humanitarian. We need to have people trained and educated to fill these positions or we will have a collapse in infrastructure. This is about economic development.”

Transportation continues to be another significant barrier to families lifting themselves out of poverty. Without reliable vehicles, families can’t get to school or jobs. Circles has partnered with a local anonymous donor that has given used fleet vehicles to Circle leaders who meet certain criteria.
Jo Lewis is one of the Circle leaders who received a vehicle. She said it has helped her get back and forth to her new job and travel out of town for doctor’s appointments.
“These are newer models that are fuel efficient,” Rebecca said. “They are beautiful and give our Circle leaders confidence. The kids are better, and the moms are better.”

Marriage also helped several Circle leaders elevate themselves out of poverty. Marriage often means two incomes instead of one. It can mean tax incentives, and the couple can share expenses.

The Circles program offers educational sessions on budgeting and credit management. It also provides the class fee for individuals who wish to take Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course.
Boyd said the program’s assistance to get into Dave Ramsey’s course helped the couple reach their goals.
They worked long hours in order to furnish their apartment and build an emergency fund.
Now they have two vehicles, one of which is almost paid off, and a three-bedroom home.
She says she laughs every time she sees the commercial that talks about the Ramen every-night budget, because that was her at one point.
“We did what was cheap. We did what we could,” she said.
But Megan’s frustration has now melted into a feeling of security.
“I feel OK,” she said. “I still stress about money, but then I say to myself, ‘I’m OK.’ I used to wish I could stress about the things I stress about now. It is definitely different.”
Megan no longer regularly participates in Circles meetings, but she stays in touch with her matched volunteer, Judy Hageman. She said Circles has been a positive influence in her life and she would recommend the program to others.

Growing the list
Rebecca said the Circles could not have enjoyed its success with out the support of the community.
“When I started this, I didn’t believe we would have 10 families out of poverty,”  she said. “I don’t think we would have been able to do it without a robust community full of willing and compassionate community members who want the poor children and poor parents to have their lives changed permanently.”
Lewis leafed through files in a drawer in her office. She continued to list more and more success stories of other Circle leaders she soon hopes to add to her list.
The Circles program has 19 participants taking its entry-level Getting Ahead class. Those participants will graduate May 15 and soon after will be matched with volunteers from the community.
The program is always in need of volunteers to be matched with Circle leaders, to provide meals or serve on committees.
Anyone interested in volunteering or finding more information about the program can call 620-242-2015.