Circles Part 1

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“I am two steps away from poverty,” Stacy Mitchell begins. “I have savings. I have a good job, but I’ve been on welfare before and had a hard time taking care of myself and my family. Awhile ago, I wondered why I was going through those things, and God said, “You will help people with this.”

Trading Economics posts results from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the close of August 2016, they reported 7.8 million people in the US unemployed. 2 million of these had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. 6.1 million people worked part-time, not from choice but because they could not find full-time work. A survey done by showed that 63% of Americans don’t have the savings they’d need for a $500 emergency.

Stacy has a Master’s degree in Instructional Design. While she was earning her second Master’s in Leadership Development, she raised a teenage son and worked a full-time job. She was tired. I would be, too. But she was really tired. She wasn’t just busy, the stress was making her ill, and she was forced to slow down. It was then that God gave her what might have seemed counterintuitive—another task. “I felt it. I said, ‘Lord, I’m ready to help,’ and that Sunday someone walked up to me after church and said, ‘Go to the Circles meeting at 4:00.’ I never read the bulletin, so I wouldn’t have known about the meeting, but God knew.” Instead of one more demand on her time, Circles has become an outlet, something Stacy is excited to do each week. “When they matched Leaders and Allies, I didn’t know if anyone would want to pair up with me, but two people requested me.”

Circles USA works through community groups to help people exit poverty and create  self-supporting, sustainable lives. Each group can host up to 25 participants who are ready to step off the crisis ride and onto solid ground. Each participant goes through training and makes a personalized Economic Stability Plan. After training, he or she becomes the Leader of a circle which contains two Allies like Stacy. She describes an Ally as “The Guide on the Side,” listening and helping the Leader think through and accomplish that personal plan. They lend a hand with the aim of building financial, emotional and social resources that will stabilize the Leader’s life.

“This one girl had a lot of credits toward an accounting degree, but life had gotten in the way. She started school in her twenties, but then her parents had died and her life was turned upside down. She dropped out and struggled to survive. Ten years later, she didn’t even have a computer to apply for school. I took my laptop to a meeting and hooked it into the wifi at the church. I helped her set up an email address and apply for college and financial aid. We got her enrolled before her credits expired.” Stacy found out later the girl had been on the verge of suicide, afraid she’d never get her life together. Now, she’s finishing her degree and laying the foundation for a manageable future.

Small circles also participate in the larger group, where skills and connections abound. “One of the Leaders asked me to come to a Saturday session, which was dedicated to helping Leaders build resumes. She works in a factory and is the sweetest person you’d ever want to meet. Some Allies and I talked to her and asked questions about her likes and dislikes. She enjoys helping people and has great ideas. We said, ‘You need to be in social work.’ She said, ‘I have a felony.’ I’d never have guessed that.”

A felony? What for? How did Circles help? Come back next week and find out.

Meanwhile, are you wondering how much you need in your emergency fund? Is your stable foundation washed away like a sandcastle every time you think it’s solid?  Click here for tips from Forbes.


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