Circles programs around south central Kansas are successfully pulling families and individuals up from the grasp of poverty thanks to community support.

Circles of Hope, Pratt County is five-years-old. Under the umbrella of The Hope Center, Circles is a program for those that wish to get out of poverty (and there is poverty in many ways in addition to financial). There are similar Circles programs in nearby counties as well. All help those who want, to find the support and resources to get out of poverty. This program is very important to me and periodically I feel the need to share experiences with the community.

First of all, the support that has come to Circles through our community at large is phenomenal. Let me give you a feeling for what it is. The First United Methodist Church allows us to use their facility EVERY Monday evening for our meetings. We begin at 5:30 p.m. with a meal (which means we use the kitchen as well). That meal is provided by someone in this community be it a church group, sorority, book club, civic group, business, family or a couple of friends. That process is overseen by Ruth Ann Barker who is there every Monday evening to give whoever is bringing in the dinner support, and knowledge of the surroundings. Kaye Sewell also comes EVERY Monday evening to help in the kitchen. These meals are delicious and always served with generous helpings of love.

Following our meal together, Circle Leaders, (called leaders because they are the leaders of their lives and the decisions are theirs to be made) and Circle Learners, those just entering the program, gather in a Circle and share some- thing new and/or good in their life. Sometimes there is hesitation to find something good but it can be just "I am here". The purpose is to try to get our minds thinking positively when it's so much easier to think negatively. Following that the new Circle Learners go to their "class", which is approx. 12 weeks of "basic training" covering financials, goal setting, relationship building and job information, i.e., application, interview, etc. Those that have completed that and are now Circle Leaders have a different program.

Billy Blair, along with a small volunteer group, plan and organize those presentations which cover everything from mental health presentations and discussions to cooking, painting at the Library, finances, parenting etc. You name it and we have probably heard about it. (Again, people giving their time to share their expertise.) Babysitting is provided so that the entire family can be included.

When the Circle Learners complete the first 12 weeks we celebrate their accomplishment and if they choose to continue are matched with two al- lies, people from middle or upper class, who be- come intentional friends.....not mentors but friends who listen, ask questions and help the Circle Leader plan for their future and a goal


of meeting 200% of the poverty guidelines or to the best of their ability. So there is another gift from people in the community and that is the many allies who step for- ward to walk this journey with a Circle Leader. That period is for 18 months, however Circles USA data shows that most likely it will take more than two years to reach that 200% goal, in some cases if ever, so at the end of the 18 months with allies, Circle Leaders are encouraged to stay connected to Circles and continue to work with staff to attain that goal. Also once that is attained, guidance may be needed to know how to get insurance, etc. and manage those things that come with that accomplishment. The majority of Circle Leaders and allies continue to stay connected in some fashion as they have truly become friends but many of our allies spread that gift of their time to new Circle Leaders coming on board.

Then there are those that contribute financially to Circles. We apply for grants and such when we can, but a solid base of community financial supporters allow us to connect with Circles USA, get training, curriculum, and other sup- port while continuing to develop Pratt Circles of Hope.

We also try to participate in community service. We just completed helping with the food stand at Oktoberfest and had a great time doing it. By the time you read this we will have spent an evening checking some of the Christmas lights for Lemon Park Lights.

Mike and Kate Cum- mins, Circle Leaders from our second class have been teaching the 12 week course and now are more actively involved in full leadership of the pro- gram. Others Circle Leaders are actively sup- porting the program with their talents, i.e. operating the sound and videos for presentations and our Big View discussions as an example. (Big View is community discussions on issues facing the entire community, i.e. the last one was on housing is- sues).

We are just beginning a new group of Circle Learners of eight participants along with the 10 current Circle Leaders. We hope to continue to introduce them in various ways to the community.

I am sure there is something else I should be highlighting and saying thanks for because the Pratt Community is a giving, caring place to live and I am so glad we made that choice MANY years ago.

On behalf of everyone connected with Circles here is a sincere "Thank you."

Circles programs are successfully operating in Stafford, Kiowa and Pratt counties.