Overcoming poverty with a smile

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Dec 16, 2013
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Ricky Auler is pictured with his fiance Cathy and his stepdaughter MaKayla before a weekly Circles of Hope meeting. Auler is weaning his family off of government support with help from the program.

Ricky Auler is all smiles when he comes into his weekly Circles of Hope meetings at the First United Methodist Church.

Greeted by his fellow Circles of Hope leaders, he takes his seat in a group of 13 members, each of who are there for the same reason he is — to overcome poverty.

“I look forward to my Wednesday evenings at church because of Circles,” Auler said, adding that he usually attended church before the meetings.

Since September, Auler has been a group “leader,” which, in the Circles program, is the person determined to change his or her life. This has created a support system of allies to help him achieve his goals

The program helps families get completely out of poverty and builds new systems of support that will help them achieve economic stability. Upon graduating from the program, circle leaders have the option of becoming an ally for another person.

“This was exactly what I had been praying for — to get out of poverty and help others," Auler said. "(The program) teaches us to be more self sufficient and to not depend on the government.”

Auler, 41, currently works for Lake Junaluska Public Works in the sanitation department, where he has worked since March.

With help from Circles of Hope, Auler is currently weaning his family off of the $470 in food stamps he previously received. Today, he is focused on making ends meet on his own, without the government help.

“It’s aggravating and hard to budget,” Auler said. “There are times you want to give up. But Circles showed me I’m not the only one in the world who suffers. And I also get to see my fellow members and how their lives are getting better.”

Auler is currently engaged to his fiancé Cathy and has assumed a full-time role as being a stepfather to her 11-year-old daughter, MaKayla. Cathy works at Walmart and attends Haywood Community College full time.

Without the help of food stamps, Auler said it was often a struggle to have enough food on the table.

“Sometimes when you have an 11-year-old going through a growth spurt, it’s hard,” Auler said. “But you just have to tighten your belt and deal with the hunger pains. You have to make sure she has food. You don’t always want to give up (some of) your food, but she’s a child so you have to suck it up and do it anyway.”

Feeling hungry isn’t a new feeling for Auler, and it’s why he does everything he can to make sure MaKayla is fed.

“It’s been a struggle all my life — even as a child,” he said. “Soemtimes the only meal I got was at school, so I went to bed hungry. I guess it makes it easier now when there’s not enough. I can eat smaller portions and be happy so MaKayla can have seconds.”

Auler said the fellowship and camaraderie that came from his church and his Circle group is what was helping him the most.

“I have a great church group and my ally George Thompson is what keeps me going,” Auler said. “And of course God — I owe it all to him.”

Besides wearing a big smile, Auler said his friends and family have noticed some changes in him since being a part of the Circles program.

“Everyone keeps telling me, ‘You’ve changed, you seem happy and you don’t seem so stressed,’” Auler said. “It helped me come out of my shell. And I think it’s just me knowing that God answered my prayers.”

Circle of Hope leaders are expected to graduate from the program on Jan. 28, at which time leaders can work toward becoming an ally for another person in the future.

Auler said he planned on becoming an ally.

“If nothing else, I will bring humor,” Auler said with a laugh.

In addition, Auler plans to attend HCC in the future to finish his degree in electrical engineering.

“That is one of my goals, but sometimes I don’t feel that it will happen,” Auler said. “But it’s whatever God wants. I’m going to give it my all.”

Circles of Hope is always seeking allies to help support individuals who desire a life free from poverty. Anyone interested in becoming an ally should RSVP to the training by calling 828 452-1447 ext. 134 or emailing mhershenson@mountainprojects.org

Comments (2)
Posted by: Beth G. Johnson | Dec 16, 2013 10:49

This is a wonderful program.  Thanks to all the churches that support it.  I am impressed at how hard people will work to climb out of poverty and dependence.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Dec 16, 2013 16:48

The concept of this kind of charity seems great!  Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

 

I'd like to see some reporting on the efficiency of this program to compliment the paper's endorsement of this and at least another supportive article on the Circle program.  For example, what is the administrative overhead for the program and how does that compare with the numbers of graduates in a year?  How is the Circles program impacting the numbers of people receiving food stamps in Haywood County?

 

I can't tell for sure (which is why a little investigative reporting would be appreciated -- the MPI website and annual report doesn't give details) but the Mountain Projects website reports a budget of $9,000,000 and a staff of 140.  (I assume those are paid staff -- but not sure.)  With those kinds of numbers, I hope we're graduating LOTS of people through the program!  I suspect that budget and staff is split between various social programs though.  I think I would like to see more resources given to the Circles program than perhaps the other traditional assistance programs.

 

I mean if it costs $50,000 of administrative costs per graduate and the food stamp numbers continue to climb, then we should pause and think about this before endorsing it.  But given the concept is so refreshing and potentially lasting, I'm betting the details will look promising and worthy of increased community support.



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