Economic, medical, even spiritual needs met by special organizations in Pratt

Billie Blair
Pratt Tribune
The Rotary Club of Pratt recently completed a fundraising project with funds raised donated to the Hope Center of Pratt ($2,187) and Rotary International PolioPlus Fund ($1,700). Hope Center President Rev. Scott Powell (middle), received a check from club president, Kent Adams (left) on March 18 after presenting a program at the club’s weekly meeting. Special thanks to the 31 club members who contributed funds for the project. Pamela Ford (right) is the Director of Pratt's Hope Center, which coordinates donations and gifts for distribution in the community to those in need.

Pratt is unique in its small-town ability to help people needing help. Three local organizations available here for those seeking assistance are the Hope Center, Circles of Hope, Pratt County, and Prairie Independent Living Resource Center, Inc. (PILR, pronounced Pillar). These three programs function independently, yet as they work together, more people are helped. 

“These organizations work together so no one group is spinning its wheels,”  said Pam Ford, Director of the Hope Center. “We are cohesive so real help happens.”

The Hope Center is the hub of help in town. Its purpose is to offer a coordinated and partnered approach to serving the community and to meet the needs of individuals and families. Within the Center one can find the Agape Health Clinic, the Paper Pantry (goods are supplied by the Episcopal Church), and the Hope Emergency Food Pantry. Lisa Hart provides Marketplace Health Insurance counseling and help with medications through the Prescription Assistance Program. Annual funds from the Salvation Army also are distributed through the Hope Center.

The Center once had a large, tangible book of other resources found in town, in the county, and statewide. People holding positions change; addresses and phone numbers change, so that today most of the available resource information is stored in Ford’s memory. She knows who to contact and can quickly reel off names like the Family Crisis Center, KanCare, Department of Children and Families (DCF), DCCCA, MidCap, and Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP). These programs help individuals and families with needs like food, housing, utility payments, transportation, internal family issues, abuse, and addictions. The Hope Center is constantly referring people to these other helping organizations.

Ford said she enjoys solving problems and gets lots of experience doing so working for the Hope Center. 

“I love the relationships I develop with people in the community and I love being able to help people who often come in feeling stressed,” she said. “They learn this is a safe place where they won’t be judged. Some even drop in just to say hi.” 

The relationships are both with clients who come in seeking help, as well as people working at other non-profit resources in the area.

The Hope Center is located at 314 S. Main. Ford can be reached at (620) 933-2166 or pratthopecenter@gmail.com

Building relationships is also important with Circles of Hope, Pratt County. This program is under the umbrella of the Hope Center’s non-profit status, though it functions separately in many ways. Pratt’s local chapter is part of a national organization, Circles USA, which believes poverty is an intolerable situation that is unnecessary. The organization exists to identify and eliminate the causes of poverty and to support those wishing to lift themselves out of poverty. At the local level, Circles of Hope is a community-based program, relying on individuals and groups for weekly meals at Circles meetings, their supportive presence at those meetings, and for financial support. Presentations on topics like investing, legal issues, smart shopping tips, couponing, planning a vacation, and bullet journaling are provided by members of the public.

Mike and Kate Cummins, Coates, went through the entire two-year program of training and support as Circle Leaders. This is the name for those experiencing poverty in the program. Kate Cummins shares that, “Mike and I have seen what Circles can do for people struggling in poverty, whether it is generational or situational. We started the program in 2015 and by 2017 we were out of poverty for first time in our lives.” The Cummins were able to reach more than 200 percent above the federal poverty level, the basic goal for all participants. They are now the

Coordinators for Circles, saying “We wanted to pay it forward. We love helping folks in our community who just need a helping hand up and a circle of support to reach their goals and dreams.”

Jean Tharp is the new coach for the program. Jean has been involved since the early days of Circles in the role of Ally. After Circle Leaders complete the initial 12 week financial training program, they are invited to continue on for another 18 months of learning, building relationships, and occasional community service. . During this time, Circle Leaders are matched with middle- to high-income volunteers called Allies. Allies support and encourage the Circle Leaders on their journey by being good listeners, offering information when requested, and becoming a friend. The social network for people in poverty is often small, so interacting with people of differing socio-economic levels adds insight to how life might be lived differently. About her role as an Ally, Tharp says, “I gained a lot from my work with Circle Leaders and continue to do so. It often feels like I learn as much or more than the Circle Leaders do.”

Circles offers a new class twice a year in the spring and fall. The next class begins Monday, April 5, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. There is an application process to participate. Meetings take place at First United Methodist Church, First and Main. For more information about Circles of Hope, Pratt County, contact Kate Cummins at (620)388-0647 or circlesofhopekc@gmail.com.

The Prairie Independent Living Resource Center is also a person-centered organization. Chelsey Rose is an Independent Living Specialist at PILR. According to Rose, this organization believes in “the full inclusion and acceptance of people with disabilities through education and advocacy.” She goes on to say, “PILR works mostly with people who have disabilities, but there is no proof of disability required. We take people at their word.”

PILR offers assistance in finding housing for those with disabilities in Pratt. The staff also provides help to both youth and older citizens in finding employment in the area. Believing everybody has a skill, Rose says, “Everyone can find a job where their skills can be used.”

Two programs specifically directed at youth with disabilities wanting to find employment are the Disability Mentoring Day and Job-A-Thon. The first brings a variety of businesses together with students from around the area to provide employment information and job shadowing. The Job-A-Thon also brings together many businesses and students. Organizations like the fire department, the road department, and Emergency Medical Services are present, as well, to show students the job possibilities available in Pratt.

Rose recently held a training session on “Attitude” for youth at the PILR office. Rose created a handout for the event with graphics and sayings like “A bad attitude is like a flat tire. If you don’t change it, you are going nowhere.” The handout included her thoughts on bad, neutral and positive attitudes, as she engaged students in conversation about the importance of attitude in the workplace.

PILR supports people in other ways, like helping a woman work with her landlord to get a ramp built and assisting people with disabilities to be able to live at home as long as possible. Once, an individual walked in the office simply needing help in reading and understanding some official papers she had received. Rose is optimistic and encouraging as she tells people not to allow any kind of disability to define them. She also says, “I’m not afraid to say to a person that I don’t know the answer to their question and I’ll suggest we work on it together.”

Partnering with other organizations is a way to better help people. Rose says, “We work as a team with the Hope Center. When we refer a person to go there for assistance, we might go with them, but we will not speak for them.” Respect for each person’s self-esteem, self-knowledge, and self-direction is a consistent theme within each of the organizations highlighted.

PILR offices are located in Hutchinson, Dodge City and Pratt and serve 15 Kansas counties. The local office is at 214 S. Main. Rose and other staff may be reached at (620) 672-9600.