Circles of McPherson County hosted its fourth Circles Share Thursday evening.
Circles of McPherson County hosted its fourth Circles Share Thursday evening. This event gives those involved with the Circles program to share their experiences in battling poverty.
Circles of McPherson County is a program that helps people living in poverty make plans and goals to improve their financial situation and, eventually, get out of poverty. It also helps others in the community better understand the challenges people face when living and trying to get out of poverty.
For some people, the struggle comes from a rough home life. Dawn Yohe, who spoke at the event, said she came from a home of addiction and abuse that constantly teetered on the edge of poverty.
"My dad was unstable, and he couldn't keep a job for more than a couple years at a time," she said. "My mom fought very hard for her family and marriage and rode the highs and lows of my dad's addiction."
Yohe did well in school for a while, but eventually began to struggle with self-worth and let academics fall to the side in order to spend time with friends.
After eighth grade, she was pulled out of school, kicked out of home and fell into abusive relationships and drugs.
"After finally building up the courage to leave my abusive situation, I stumbled for a while," she said.
For her, Circles gave her a place of hope and refuge.
"There's something about connecting with people who have the same struggles as you that helps you overcome," she said. "Isolation and despair have no power when you bring it into the light."
Ashley and SueAnn, whose last names were withheld by request, joined Circles as teenagers. They said Circles gave them a place to talk with others, and has helped them keep their lives on track.
"Since joining Circles, I've graduated high school, went to college and graduated, I have a job, and I'm getting out of poverty," SueAnn said. "Circles is another family to me, and I know I can always come to them for hope."
Though poverty often works in generational cycles, others can find themselves slipping into poverty. Mallory Brundage said she grew up in a family with two rich sides, and never had to worry about money.
However, her father was abusive and would move the family often to avoid suspicion. Eventually, her mother got a divorce and moved the family away.
"Mom worked six jobs to make sure we had everything we needed," Brundage said. "But I got cut off when I started making bad choices."
Brundage eventually moved to Kansas and joined Circles, though doing so was a difficult leap of humility for her.
"I like that we gave up the fight of pride to join," she said. "Circles has helped us so much. I have a job where I can afford to sign my kids up for stuff. It means so much that I learned how to get out, survive on my own instead of having to count on others."
CJ Nickel was another person who started with a middle-class life, free of worries about where the next meal would come. However, after her marriage ended in 2010, disability kept her from working, and her family was forced into poverty.
"We knew nothing about surviving in poverty," she said.
She decided to give Circles a try, and she said doing so has changed her family and life for the better.
"We've made strides to bring us closer to beating poverty, and we have a more positive, hopeful outlook," she said. "Everyone we've met has a caring, helpful attitude."
Some people, like Sherrie Rickerson, are still working to reach their goal of escaping poverty. However, Circles has given them tools and support to keep working — the main one being hope.
"I was hungry for a long time. Once, when I hadn't eaten for four days, a friend invited me over and made me an omelet," she said. "My children know the best meal I ever had was that simple cheese omelet. It not only filled me, it gave me hope."
Many speakers said they saw the kindness and generosity of Circles members before joining the program. When Amanda Lepke was told she had 30 days to fix her broken house or move out, an outreach team came to her rescue. Among those helpers was Rebecca Lewis, a Circles coach.
"She asked if I wanted to join Circles. I said, I'm kind of obligated, because you just fixed my house," she said.
Because those who take Circles classes must be free of substance abuse, potential members can get an extra boost needed to overcome addiction. One woman, who had struggled with drugs for years and lost her children, was able to overcome her addiction, straighten out her life and get her children back. Another man who had resorted to selling drugs decided to get a straight job to support his family, and Circles bolstered that resolve.
Many others shared their stories Thursday night, and those in attendance spent the time encouraging and supporting others in their goals and accomplishments. Lewis said this event promotes growth in those who tell their stories, and those who hear them.
"We become vulnerable when we share our stories, and it can be a powerful tool when people learn how to tell them," she said. "I watch them in their transformation. It's a good way to help them 'become.'"
Those who are interested in getting involved with Circles of McPherson County, or learning more about poverty, can attend an ally training course from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 17 at the First United Methodist Church, McPherson. Cost is $15 for a workbook. For more information, call Lewis at 620-241-9011.