A retired industrial salesman, a Certified Nursing Assistant, and a school system data manager meet for breakfast once a month. Their race, faith, age and economic status are different, but they have one thing in common.
They are part of a circle of hope.
Circles USA, a program to end generational poverty, has a key ingredient to its nationally-recognized success. Once participants graduate from an 11-week training course, they have the opportunity to become a Circle Leader and are paired with two or more Allies, volunteers from the community who offers their knowledge and expertise to help them continue their transition to the middle class.
Retiree Jim Jasmin said when Mary Zigbuo, a former Coach with Circles of Anson, asked him to be an Ally, he was struggling to get his mind around what it meant and what it was. “I realized there were people who had fallen into poverty and saw no way out,” Jasmin said. He began attending Circle meetings each Thursday and said he quickly saw the camaraderie in the group. “They are struggling mightily and it is a release to be with someone sharing the same burden,” he said. He accepted Zigbuo’s invitation and became an Ally to Circle Leader Sebrena Kilgo.
Joan Waring heard about Circles through the Anson County School System, where she has worked for 20 years. She attended an organizational meeting at the Lockhart-Taylor Center, but was not interested at the time. Two years ago, Robin Sanford, a member of Circle’s Guiding Coalition, talked to Waring about the program again and Waring decided to become an Ally. Like all Allies, she took a training course. After completing it she was assigned to partner with a Circle Leader. Kilgo is her second assignment.
Kilgo learned about Circles from a friend. She has been employed with Bayada Home Health Care over five years, and is raising three children, 17, 13, and 11.
“I liked how they encouraged you to budget money,” Kilgo said of the Circles program. “They help people find themselves mentally and spiritually, and build self-esteem.” She decided to become a Circle Leader because she felt she could use the knowledge she leaned to help somebody else.
“She wants a good foundation for her family. She has some goals she is trying to reach and has stumbling blocks. I try to offer different options,” Waring said, following the guideline that Allies not tell their Circle Leaders what to do, but help them figure it out themselves.
Jasmin said he and Kilgo have an open relationship, getting together at least once a month and keep in touch by text message.
“I’m trying to learn to be a better listener. She’s shown a great deal of patience with me and a willingness to try to make it work. She’s good about talking about things that trouble her. In the year we’ve known each other we’ve broken down the barrier of being strangers and built trust,” Jasmin said. “She’s a joy to be with.”
Waring said the focus of an Ally is that he or she should be someone whose goal is to be supportive of the Circle Leader, open to the Circle Leader’s ideas and suggestions in regards to what is going on, and not be critical or judgmental.
“It’s give and take. Sharing is beneficial to each other,” she said. “She has helped me in the sense that I see tenacity in her, not giving up. She has given me the hope that all things are possible.” Jasmin said he asked Kilgo to pray for him while on a trip to his native Vermont.
Kilgo said she prays for both Allies and encourages them by text. “I truly enjoy going to breakfast with my Allies. We encourage each other,” she said. “She’s ready to move forward with her life and for her children,” Waring said.
To learn more about Circles and Allies, visit www.circlesofhopeanson.org or call Yulonda Lindsey at 704-994-2333 or Stephen Shytle at 704-694-3654. Your support will change the lives of Circle Leaders and their families and will address community development needs in Anson County.