Guest column on Circles of Hope

By The Rev. Chuck Wilson | Feb 16, 2014
The Rev. Chuck Wilson

Circles of Hope in Haywood County

By Charles (Chuck) W. Wilson II


On Tuesday, February 4, I wish you could have been sitting where I was sitting. I watched 11 men and women graduate from a community program called Circles of Hope in Haywood County. I think this work gives us the best hope I’ve observed for eradicating situational and generational poverty in our region.


Circles of Hope is powerfully touching the lives of persons in poverty in our community. Since early September, every Wednesday night 11 Circle Leaders (A Circle Leader is a person in poverty who wants to get out of poverty) have gathered for training and support. These persons are being empowered to permanently transition out of poverty and into economic self-sufficiency. A part of the strength of Circles of Hope is the surrounding of each Circle Leader with trained, supportive team of people (called Allies).


When I was a kid I fell quite easily into the bias that poverty was somehow a choice you made. I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I came to the understanding that if you were poor, you probably deserved it. What I didn’t understand was that the opportunities I had made it possible for me to overcome just about any obstacle that came my way. I attended good schools. I had all my vaccinations against those crazy childhood diseases. I was living in a country that for the most part embraced basic freedoms and protected individual rights. I didn’t suffer from hunger, impure water, or a lack of basic health care. I had hundreds of colleges and universities from which to choose with scholarships and loans available. I then entered the everyday work world with opportunities for me to put my education and abilities to work productively. Best of all, I found that my efforts and hard work were almost always rewarded.


But the advantages I just mentioned that contributed to my own story were not and are not available to all Americans. When I grew up in the 1950s and 60s, Black children were often segregated into different and inferior schools, and sometimes prevented from going on to higher education. They found that even in America they suffered from severe limitations on their choices.


The neighborhood I grew up in was a nice middle class neighborhood with good schools and low crime rates. But then and now, the children of the poor in America live in communities (Yes, even in Haywood County) that often expose them to very destructive forces like crime, violence, corruption, rape, drugs, racism, domestic abuse, economic deprivation, and prostitution, just to name a few. A child living in Haywood County poverty, who has never met his father and whose mother is a meth addict, does not start with the same choices I had. And while poverty in Haywood County is not usually characterized by bad water, or famine, or epidemics, it replaces those destructive elements with a whole new list of things that are equally powerful: discrimination, intimidation, alienation, and exploitation.


The result is … hopelessness. Poverty in Haywood County where we have 9000 persons struggling with poverty issues is real … just as real as poverty in Africa, and it is just as damaging to the human spirit. At its root it has the same causes: the lack of real choices.


What I have discovered is that almost all poverty is fundamentally the result of a lack of options. The poor are not lazier, less intelligent, or unwilling to make efforts to change their condition. Rather, they are trapped by circumstances beyond their power to change.


The result is the devastation of the human spirit and that, my friends, is a trap like no other. They have lost the one thing that every person needs to thrive … hope … hope that they can somehow overcome their circumstances, that tomorrow can be better than today, and that their children might someday have a better life than the one they’ve known. Such people discover that they are in an economic and social prison from which there is no escape … unless something happens to change their circumstances and to restore the link between effort and reward.


If you could have sat where I sat on Tuesday evening, February 4 you would have seen that Circles of Hope in Haywood County is precisely that link.


If you’d like more information please contact Millie Hershenson at or call at 828-452-1447, Ext. 134.


Comments (4)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Feb 16, 2014 20:39

The Circles of Hope project gives hand-ups and not so much hand-outs.  That gives help to those that will help themselves.  In that regard, this program is conceptually a winner!


That being said, all poverty is not easily stereotyped.  There are numerous examples of people born into poverty who found a way out.  And most of those examples are people who chose to find that way out, put in the effort, and maintain a lifestyle that keeps poverty in their rear view mirror. 


Conversely, there are those that choose poverty.  What I mean by that is a homeless man living in a storage shed came to me for help because of the very cold temperatures.  I gave him $50 and all the keroscene I had for him to use in his heater as an advance for a day's work he agreed to give me on as he was certainly able-bodied.  I also started to think about other jobs I could have given him.  It's been more than a week.  I'm not sad I lost the $50.  I'm sad a man chose poverty.


I'm a Republican and a conservative.  That means I wholeheartedly support programs that provide help for those that want to help themselves.  This Circle of Hope program (from all that I've read) seems to do exactly that.


As a Christian, I know that more damaging to the human spirit than poverty is a lack of faith.  According to Mark 14:7, Jesus says, "The poor you will always have with you."  As such I know there is no cure for all poverty.  It's an unfortunate fact of life.


Reverand Wilson, don't feel guilty that you were blessed to not be born into poverty.  In Genesis 9, I'd like to think God did not intend for Noah's sons and grandsons to feel guilty that they received God's blessing while others did not.  Shine your light and inspire others to know God and His glory.  I've never known anyone that walks in the light to know he is poor.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Feb 18, 2014 11:20

             Jesus was poor.

             John Locke put forth the idea that as we are all God's creation, we are all equal and should have equal opportunity to use the fruit of God's work. Anyone having more than they can use would allow anyone else needing it to have it. That things shouldn't go to waste.

             Using that logic there would be no homeless.


Posted by: Scott Lilly | Feb 18, 2014 15:15

"Anyone having more than they can use would allow anyone else needing it to have it." -- This is truly a Christian pillar of which we often need reminding.  And there is a particular honor that Christians feel when performing charitable deeds -- much of that feeling of honor is taken away (rightly or wrongly) when a government redistributes that excess without any mention of God's name.  Giving and receiving is much more meaningful man-to-man.  Someone feels humility and someone feels charitable.  A charitable act connects people in ways an unemployment check or food stamps can't do.  Reverend Wright is testifying to these connections and charitable acts.  His article and one that I read before describes what it might feel like for someone in poverty to overcome some of their humility.  I believe this form of assistance is where America should invest her resources.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Feb 19, 2014 10:49

                          And when charity falls short crime will rise.

                          We the people have a duty to take care of the unfortunate without judgement nor coerscion.


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