People living on the edge of self-sufficiency and those who know the ropes of getting by in the world can have a powerful influence on each other’s lives.
Leaders, as they are called, who live in poverty, and allies living a middle- or upper-class lifestyle can learn much from each other. That’s an important reason Circles works in Marion County.
On Thursday, five leaders will graduate from the program and be paired with allies who will maintain a presence in their lives as they continue stepping upward out of poverty.
Marion resident Pam Byer is community coordinator for Circles. She oversees a weekly meal served to those who attend. She’s been involved with Circles of Marion County since its planning stages.
She was matched as an ally for a member of the first group to graduate.
“She did not have a car, so I was able to help her out with transportation to doctor appointments,” Byer said.
The help given went both ways.
“She also helped care for my mother whose health was declining,” Byer said. “There were a few times I needed to be out of town and she came and stayed with my mother. My mother really enjoyed her.
The next leader Byer worked with was a single mom of two with another baby on the way.
“Shortly after graduation, she got a job as a CNA in Hillsboro,” Byer said. “She got married in my back yard and some of the other allies helped me put on a wedding reception. I helped her husband get a job with the city of Marion, and he has done very well and is now full-time. They have gone from part-time jobs and struggles with making ends meet to both of them with full-time jobs, two cars, and a home they are buying.”
The family is putting money away to tackle some repairs on the house.
“She is currently enrolled in a CMA course that will enable her to get a raise,” Byer said.
Byer also paired with a single mom of three who lost custody of her children because of a drug addiction. That leader now holds a full-time job, is helping start a Christian-based recovery program in Marion, and has moved to a nicer home for her family to live in.
“She is doing a wonderful job rebuilding her life,” Byer said.
The experience of being an ally has been good for Byer as well.
“Circles has helped me learn that being flexible to the unexpected is important,” Byer said. “I’ve discovered that those little moments of joy will happen when you aren’t expecting them and the ability to recognize them has enriched my life. Each week at Circles I see so many ‘joy’ moments. The love and fellowship each week is amazing.”
Hillsboro residents Richard and Marilyn Riemer also are allies for Circles. They became involved in Circles about two years ago.
Their involvement is a natural extension of what they’ve both done for years.
“My husband was a Lutheran pastor for many years,” Marilyn Riemer said.
One leader they were allies for was about 60 and living at Main Street Ministries in Hillsboro when she got involved in Circles. She worked two part-time jobs and pedaled a three-wheeled bike to and from work.
Transportation was a need, but something else was a more immediate need.
“One of the main goals we had was to get a set of teeth,” Marilyn Riemer said. “She had a few but they had to be removed, and we got her some teeth.”
A benefit dinner helped raise money to take care of her dental needs.
Now the goal is to help her get a car. Members of the church she attends also are interested in helping her with the car.
Right now she doesn’t need transportation to work, with her new job being close by.
“The importance of the allies is, they’re familiar with a middle class environment,” Richard Riemer said. “Allies know some of those ropes and they’re not afraid to step out.”
That really is the key to Circles, Riemer said. Leaders begin to know about ordinary people.
“One of the things I’ve learned is that people in poverty are normal in every way,” Richard Riemer said. “They’re just as smart as we are. They just haven’t had the breaks along the way.”
The Circles program has plugged along for the past five years, counting the time it took to plan and raise membership money for the organizational membership in
Circles of Marion County is part of the Circles of the Heartland group, which in turn is part of a national campaign taking a transformational approach to help families move forward out of poverty. Allies befriend the families and lend support to help them reach their goals.