Circles helps resident defeat poverty

Staff writer

Cynthia Ellis of Florence has struggled with poverty her whole life, but with help from Circles of Marion County she says she’s climbing the ladder to financial freedom.

Ellis joined Circles a year ago after being introduced to the program by a friend. Circles is a social group that works to help residents emerge from poverty by creating relationships, building social capital, and encouragement.

“I found the experience to be a very good thing for me,” she said.

Circles helped Ellis build her confidence by showing her she’s not alone, and helped her find a way to pay for CNA classes by applying for financial aid, which she will begin in September at Butler Community College.

“I feel like Circles has given me more confidence in myself,” she said. “Before Circles I was living paycheck to paycheck and not having enough hours at work.”

While Ellis is still living in poverty, she feels it’s only a matter of time until she’s able to better her situation.

Ellis said knowing she’s not the only one in poverty helps her feel connected.

“I know I’m not alone,” she said.

Every Thursday during their meetings Ellis receives a meal and encouragement from other residents in poverty, residents who are no longer struggling with poverty, and those in middle class. The three groups work together to form friendships and offer advice.

The group is called Circles because during meetings everyone sits in a circle to promote equality, Rogers said.

Equality is a relief to Ellis, who said people judge her based on her income level without knowing her situation.

“It’s built my self-esteem and given me confidence to know I can be a CNA,” Ellis said. “I felt that people there cared about me, and I felt connected.”

Ellis was assigned a middle class “ally,” Norma Duerksen, to give her resources.

“Norma has been by my side figuring out CNA class enrollment and finances,” Ellis said. “She and I worked together on preparing for tests, and I’m well on my way to achieve my goal of becoming a CNA.”

Ellis said she is looking forward to having a full-time job and making more money to provide for her family. She plans to continue in the Circles program, hopefully as an ally to others like her.

Born to a single mom raising four kids, she struggled with school because the family was constantly on the move. After dropping out of school after eighth grade, she married at 16 and had two kids. She divorced and remarried later and had another child.

Now after her second divorce, Ellis is finding herself in a similar situation her mother was in — three kids to raise on one income.

Currently she works in home health care, but has always wanted to be a certified nurse’s assistant.

Nearly 50 people are involved in Circles, coordinator Mark Rogers said.

Information Rogers has received from area leaders suggests poverty levels in the county are rising.

“The school superintendents say they have more kids each year on free or reduced lunches,” Rogers said. “So there is work to do.”

Circles meets from 6 to 8 p.m. every Thursday at Marion Presbyterian Church.

 

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