Support motivates single mom

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Dec 03, 2013
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Tonya Cagle, 23, is holding her 2-month-old daughter Maddalyn while sitting with her 3-year-old daughter Savannah. Cagle is a circle leader in the Circles of Hope program, and will soon receive her GED thanks to the support of the program.

Tonya Cagle, a mother of two, used to spend most of her time worrying about caring for her toddler Savannah and her 2-month-old Maddalyn. Now, she doesn’t worry so much — she’s making changes.

Her changed attitude is just one of the perks of her recent decision to join the Circles of Hope program, which helps families rise out of poverty and build new systems of support that will help them achieve economic stability.

Circles of Hope connects people living in poverty to people with economic and social stability. As a result, relationships form naturally, and friendships develop between Circle leaders and allies.

Cagle, 23, has always struggled financially, particularly after having Savannah at age 20. She was unemployed and staying at the REACH shelter when she decided to join Circles of Hope. The REACH shelter eventually helped Cagle find a home in Waynesville, though she said affording rent is still a challenge.

“Life was hard before Circles of Hope,” Cagle said. “It’s hard making ends meet. I would have been at the REACH shelter for a long time.”

Since September, Cagle 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 her achieve her goals, which included getting her GED and enrolling in Haywood Community College.

During the past few months, Circles of Hope allies — those in support positions for the circle leader —  drove Cagle to class and watched her daughters for her while she finished classes. Cagle was kicked out of high school in 10th grade and never was motivated to go back to school until recently.

“I feel different about things now,” Cagle said. “Circles of Hope made a huge impact on my life — it not only teaches us resources, but the people, they’re all great. The allies always give me high hopes and keep me motivated.”

Cagle is a single mom and doesn’t receive any child support. While her father has occasionally visited Savannah and Maddalyn, she said her mother has never met them. However, Cagle said her oldest sister Becca did help a lot with her daughters.

She currently receives food stamps, Medicaid and is hoping to find a job soon so she can stay in the Work First program, which will cover childcare costs as she strives to build a better life. Her ultimate goal is to support her family without government help.

“I’m used to struggling my whole life,” Cagle said. “I want to not depend on the government, but it’s going to take a while. I want to be independent.”

Enrolling in HCC will be a challenge for Cagle since she lives in the Jonathan Creed area and doesn’t have transportation, but she is still determined to reach her goals and work part-time to pay the rent.

“I want to be a full-time student and get a part-time job that will work around my school schedule,” Cagle said. “I’m not going to give up.”

Circles of Hope leaders are expected to graduate from the training on Jan. 28. For Cagle, the graduation will be an enormous accomplishment.

“It will be the first time I’ve ever finished something all the way through,” Cagle said. “I get to show my friends and family that I accomplished something, that I supported myself.”

In the Circles of Hope program, circle leaders who graduate from the full program have the option of becoming an ally for another person. Cagle said being an ally was also one of her main goals.

“Becoming an ally is really important to me so I can help younger women like me,” Cagle said. “When I first went in (to the program), I didn’t think my life would be like it is, but it is what it is because of Circles.”

Despite her hardships and all the financial strain, Cagle loves being a mom.

“It’s one of the biggest blessings,” she said. “If I could afford it, I’d have more.”

More than anything, Cagle said she received a more positive outlook from participating in Circles of Hope. Now that she is motivated to reach her goals, she is making them happen one step at a time.

“I’m working a lot on time management and positive thinking,” Cagle said. “I’m becoming more of an adult and a parent. I plan to help others — motivate them to be independent and I’ll be supportive. If you don’t have a support system, you don’t have anything.”