Allies help achieve

Small time sacrifices make a big difference
By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Jul 09, 2014
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Circles of Hope allies Debra Knox, far left, and Lisa Verges, far right, strike a silly pose with their circle leader, Brandy Cook in the center.

Circles of Hope ally Lisa Verges works 30 hours a week and still finds time to meet with her Circles of Hope leader Brandy Cook, a single mom of three.

What’s her secret?

“They say if all you can do is show up, then that’s enough,” Verges said about volunteering as an ally.

Circles of Hope is a program that helps families get completely out of poverty by achieving economic stability. The participants go through six weeks of training where they learn how to become self sufficient. With the help of two "allies" who offer them guidance and encouragement along the way,  they begin making changes in their lives.

Upon graduating from the training program in March, Cook was matched with Verges and Debra Knox as her Circles of Hope allies.

“Being an ally is a wonderful experience,” Knox said. “It’s so needed in the community. … It’s not just a matter of food and clothing and shelter — it’s about brainstorming and goal setting to help the Circle Leaders make a better life for themselves."

Verges and Knox devote between eight and 12 hours a month to help support Cook in all her endeavors. Whether they meet weekly at the Circles of Hope meetings at Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church, text each other throughout each day, or meet at the library — Cook, Knox and Verges work together to tackle problems and help Cook change her life one day at a time.

“I was living day by day trying to figure out what I was going to do,” Cook said, referring to her life before joining Circles of Hope. “Now this has me doing a lot of thinking about what I’m going to do with my life.”

“I’ve seen you come alive with motivation,” Verges said to Cook.

Verges, who works at Memory Care 30 hours a week, was hesitant to become an ally at first, fearing that she wouldn’t have enough time to devote to Cook. But ultimately, the Circles of Hope program tugged at her heartstrings, and she decided to just give it a try anyway.

“I came empty handed,” Verges said. “But everything we do is appreciated. It feels like a calling to be a help in small ways.”

Cook, 24, has three children, Brison Cook, 2, Izabella Cook, 3, and Jasmine Mintz, 4. Since she joined the first Circles of Hope team last fall, Cook has not only gained confidence in herself, but she feels like she has control of her life.

Though she lost her job at Burger King last month, she has been diligently looking for another job and has received her adult high school diploma from HCC. She is currently taking courses at HCC.

“I stay busy, but I still have time for this day,” Cook said during one of the Circles of Hope meetings last month. “I enjoy it — I look forward to it all the time.”

In the past few months, Knox and Verges have helped Cook with budgeting her finances, with housecleaning, applying for jobs, with tutoring for her classes, applying for resources like Work First and just helping with her overall emotional health.

“Once we get her a job, we will sit down with her and help her learn how to be independent and manage her life well,” Verges said.

Cook, originally from Canton, lives in Clyde and tries to support her three children, who attend full-time day care. She relies on Haywood Public Transit for transportation, and has a boyfriend who helps out whenever he can.

“To be an ally, we are blessed to be building a relationship with Brandy and to see her have hope and follow through with her dreams,” Knox said. “I think she’s realizing that life can be better.”

Cook said her future goals include getting an education to become a CNA or getting her cosmetology license. For the first time, she said she’s beginning to see her goals as attainable.

“I see myself in a new light,” Cook said. “I’m learning how to speak up for myself, and find my voice.”

“To see how Circle Leaders are just blossoming — they carry themselves differently; they have a different attitude about life,” Knox said. “And they all have hope.”

Volunteering just a couple of hours a week as an ally is a small sacrifice to make for such a beneficial cause. Allies not only build personal relationships with their circle leaders, they experience the rewarding feeling that comes with seeing one's time and effort improve another person’s life.

If you’d like to share some of your time to become a listener, an encourager and offer guidance to those in need, call Millie Hershenson, Circles of Hope coordinator, at 828-452-1447, ext. 134. It’s not too late — Ally training is scheduled for July 26 at Waynesville Presbyterian Church.