Circles of Hope offers solution to poverty

By Vicki Hyatt | Apr 17, 2013
Photo by: Vicki Hyatt Rob Rollins, who worked with the Circles program in Anslow County, tells the group how lives are changed, not only for those in poverty, but for those in the support circles who help them improve their lives.

Circles of Hope, a program that has earned national acclaim for helping stamp out poverty, is on the cusp of being operational in Haywood County.

The program has been a work in progress for the past three years, suffering a setback after one of its founding leaders, the Rev. David Christie, was transferred from Canton to another Methodist Church.

The Rev. Chuck Wilson with Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church is leading the initiative, and has spent the past months raising funds for the effort.

“I knew this would be a nonstarter without funding,” Wilson said, noting individuals and several churches have raised about $40,000 to cover program start-up costs.

At a meeting this week, about 50 area residents were told there are 9,000 people in Haywood suffering from poverty, with almost 55 percent of the students in the public school system qualifying for the free or reduced lunch program. There are 250 documented homeless students in Haywood, said Michelle Mull, a social worker with Haywood County Schools.

It is clear there are hungry children in the county, she said, telling a story about a young child who came to school on a Monday morning and ate five bowls of cereal.

Efforts are ongoing to provide backpacks of food for children who would likely go without over the weekend, but a program to address the root cause is the goal.

“We can try to break the cycle,” she said. This program would help tremendously.”


Team building

A network of concerned individuals is needed to help those living in poverty move into middle class. The program not only changes lives of those who need help, but of those who make up the support system.

“Poverty is the mask we wear to hide our wealth,” said Rob Rollins, who has worked in the Circles program in Anslow County. “Wealth is the mask we wear to hide our poverty.”

Rollins said during a three-year period, it was shown for every dollar spent on the Circles program, $2 was saved in public assistance, and $4 went back into the community. For the first two groups, the annual income added to the local economy was $225,000.

Wilson said statistics show 67 percent of Circles leaders (those living in poverty) improved their income by 81 percent and 60 percent increased assets by 800 percent. More importantly, the leaders reported an 89 percent increase in number of people they could count on for support through the building of relationships.

Core individuals and members have been identified in Haywood to lead resource teams, but others are needed. There is especially a need for those who understand the inner workings of government, more business participation and an expanded number of individuals in the community willing to help in a variety of ways.

Wilson calls the effort the best chance of eradicating situational and generational poverty in Haywood County.”

“Almost all poverty is the result of a lack of choice,” Wilson said. “For those trapped by circumstances beyond their control, the result is futility of spirit. … They have lost the one thing to have a meaningful life and that is hope. That’s what brings us all together today.”


How to help


To help with the project, become part of these teams.


Recruitment Team — Patsy Dowling at Next meeting, 10 a.m. April 24, Mountain Projects


Community Team — Debbie Knox, and Peggy Winters, Next meeting, 6:30 p.m. April 24, Longs Chapel, modular building behind church

Resource Team — Chuck Wilson, Next meeting at 5 p.m. Long’s Chapel office complex.

Big View Team — Monty Williams, Next meeting, 1 p.m. May 9, City Bakery, Waynesville

Guiding Coalition — Next meeting 11:45 April 29, City  Bakery