Following the May 2 graduation of the six leaders, who are living on a low income, Volbrecht said the next step is matching them with three to four allies, who live on a middle- to upper-middle-class income, to form that specific circle.
The “circle,” she said, is a friendship across class lines.
The graduates include Tammy Britton, Destiny Cash, Charlotte Coleman, Kimberly Pierce, Alisha Bryant and Richard and Amy McVey.
Once leaders are matched with allies, the goal will be to devise a plan that moves the leaders out of poverty, Volbrecht said.
Ogden, who also serves on the recruitment team, said until the leaders and allies are matched, everyone has a chance to interact and get to know one another.
“We can observe some natural relationships forming,” she said.
“In two weeks (May 30), the leaders and allies will be matched, and those circles will meet the first of every month.”
How it works
When the circle is formed, everyone is asked to make an 18-month commitment, Ogden said.
“They will meet once a month, but they can get together as often as they like,” she said.
Each month there is a meeting called the “Big View” involving topics that maybe middle-class people are unaware of, she said.
“Getting a loan to purchase anything or even opening a bank account and how to do it if someone hasn’t gotten paid yet” will be discussed. “Some rental policies might be unfair.”
Ogden said: “It’s about looking at things that keep people pushed down into poverty rather than supporting them. It is the ‘Big View’ and we hope to get bankers, economic development people to understand the connections.
“As long as you have poverty in your community, it really impacts economic development, and if we make use of these people, we have a better pool of workers.”
Citing an example, Ogden said there was already one Circles leader who became employed because of the initiative.
“I noticed today she has already been promoted,” she said. “We have some very smart people.
“Kimberly (Pierce) is another smart one. She is a Native American, a grandmother and she has lots of abilities, but it’s just been hard for her.”
Britton, another Circles leader, wanted to do a community garden in Peabody, and Phoebe Janzen, an ally who has one in Florence, can help her with that, Ogden said.
For another leader, her goal is learning to drive a car.
“Circle leaders all wrote a want ad,” Ogden said, “and the No. 1 thing they wanted was not to be judged. This is all new to them.”
For Bryant, one of her goals is fixing her teeth.
Volbrecht said even with six teeth pulled recently, Bryant still came to the meeting.
“She didn’t want to miss it,” Volbrecht said.
Unfortunately, Ogden said, two of the graduates are no longer with the Marion program. The McVeys needed to move to Wichita where there are more job resources.
“It happened quickly,” she said.
Circles is about making life better for our leaders and for our community, Volbrecht added.
For Charlotte Coleman, mother of seven, the idea of needing help was not something she envisioned happening to her, because prior to the economic downturn, she had a job in Wichita making almost $25 an hour.
“My job, at Raytheon, now Beechcraft, was outsourced to Mexico,” she said, “and I was about 71⁄2 months pregnant when I lost that job.”
Adding to her family’s financial troubles, her husband, a carpet installer, suffered a back injury.
With four of her seven children still living at home, Charlotte said she stayed on unemployment until it ran out.
After that, Charlotte said, she took care of an elderly neighbor for two years.
“My parents helped us out tremendously,” she said.
In addition, she received help from churches in Hillsboro and Marion and Families and Communities Together, which is where she heard about Circles.
At one point, Charlotte said, she was receiving food stamps and other assistance, which was about the same as she would make with a part-time job.
She asked herself why she should get a part-time job.
“I would be spending more money on gas to get to work.”
Once she joined Circles, though, she said it gave her the confidence to get another job, even if it were only part time.
“I was making only $200 more a month,” Charlotte said, “and spending more money on snacks (than if she wasn’t working), but I wanted to show my children there was a better way than relying on public assistance.”
Admitting that she makes about one-third the income she used to make, Charlotte said she is glad she has a job.
For Charlotte, Circles is more than just about money.
“We learn to have confidence in ourselves and have dreams of our futures,” she said.
One of her personal goals is to be able to pay her bills and have money left over at the end of the month.
“I have met a lot of people through Circles,” she said.
Anyone who wants to become a Circles leader cannot be addicted to drugs or alcohol or have an active criminal record.
“Someone cannot be going through the court system,” Ogden said. “They would simply not be able to concentrate on Circles.
“They have to be aware and attentive in wanting to improve their lives.”
Another requirement is leaders have to be in a stable living situation and not homeless.
“We love couples,” she said, “and, in fact, we really like for both to participate.”
If one cannot participate, she said, then the group really wants the other partner to be supportive.
Volbrecht reflected that it all started two years ago with a few people sitting around when she and Ogden began this journey.
“And this is just the beginning,” she said.
As Circle leaders prepare to move out of poverty one family at a time, Ogden talked about the children and how routine meetings have become for them.
“The kids just thrive on this,” Ogden said pointing to some of the children. “Look at little Mason, who just thinks this is where he belongs or one of Alisha’s boys who has a favorite chair he sleeps in.”
Mary Olson volunteers her time by providing music night for the children.
Another activity includes crafts, Volbrecht said..
A community effort
Pam Bowers, with the community team, coordinates the weekly meal.
“The entire meal is donated,” Bowers said. “It can be church groups, clubs (Kiwanis) and so far I have only double-booked once.”
More than 50 weeks of meals have been donated to feed 40 people and leftovers go home with leaders.
“We don’t tell them what to bring, but the food is good and there is plenty of it,” Volbrecht added.
“It is a lot to ask someone to give, but so far we have not even had a duplicate service.”
One explanation as to why there hasn’t been duplicate individuals, groups, clubs or churches, Volbrecht said, is because Circles is really a countywide effort.