Editor's note:This is the 18th in a series of stories featuring the 25 agencies that will be receiving money from the Finney County United Way in 2014.



Breaking the cycle of poverty is a daunting, and seemingly impossible task in some cases, but a local organization is helping people do just that.

"Circles of Hope is a fairly new initiative in Garden City. It's intended to help people move out of poverty," said Missy Allen, Circles of Hope coordinator.

Circles of Hope uses a comprehensive approach to helping people break poverty's grip.

"It's not just finances, it's anything to help them improve their situation -- education, emotional, physical or spiritual help, role models and support systems," Allen said.

Through the initial 12-week course, participants receive education in basic financial principles, set goals and are given access to resources that help them achieve those goals.

The class is held on Thursday nights at the United Methodist Church, 1106 N. Main St.

"We always eat a meal together for the whole family, and then we provide child care while we have our adult class," Allen said.

The last class wrapped up in October.

"We had 11 people that participated and 11 that graduated. All 11 people moved onto the next phase," Allen said, adding that one couple, after getting the opportunity to better their situation, moved out of town.

After setting their goals and learning basic financial principles, participants are matched with mentors who help them continue on their path by offering encouragement, support, resources and in some cases, networking opportunities that can lead to employment.

"The next phase we talk about is an 18-month commitment, and in this part, they're matched with people from the community, which we call allies. The allies help them work through the goals they set in the class, and then also maybe improve their situation with networking, a better job, better housing, those kinds of things," Allen said. "It's a support system."

Circles of Hope is one of four new programs being funded by the United Way this year and is receiving $7,400. Allen said that these funds will help the agency continue the classes and that it will be used for supplies and other items, as needed.

Circles of Hope is the local version of the national organization Circles USA.

According to its website, www.circlesusa.org, the Circles model started in 2000 as a way to increase the capacity of communities to address poverty. The approach combines best practices in several disciplines, including community organizing, case management, grassroots leadership, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-needed) goal-setting, financial literacy, mentoring, peer-to-peer counseling and learning, and child/youth development.

Tammy Ryan knows firsthand what it's like to struggle financially.

"I am currently raising three grandkids," Ryan said. "I didn't even realize I was in poverty because I was living paycheck to paycheck."

Ryan said that the Circle of Hope program has helped her to plan ahead, save money and to place more importance on her own health.

"I've always put the kids' health before mine," she said. "My health wasn't good, so I was sick a lot, and now I'm taking better care of myself. I feel so much better."

Ryan works part-time at Lone Star Steakhouse, and in August, she began working as the satellite manager of the Georgia Matthews' kitchen.

She said that since she started participating in the program, she has been able to get some of her bills paid off and also is saving money when she can. She said the best thing about the program, for her, has been the support.

"Without Circles, I wouldn't be in the position I am now. I've made new friends. We're like a family," Ryan said, referring to other participants, who are called Circle leaders.

She said the allies' support provides them with much-needed support and encouragement as they strive to meet the goals they have set.

Allen said that the next 12-week program is anticipated to begin in January. For more information, contact Allen at 275-9171 or email her at missyatcirclesofhope@gmail.com.

The local United Way's annual fundraising campaign goal is $560,000, which is $10,000 more than last year.

The 25 partner agencies for the 2014 United Way campaign include:

Miles of Smiles; Real Men, Real Leaders; Russell Child Development Center; Santa Fe Trail Council Boy Scouts of America; Seeds of Hope Jail Ministry; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; Building Blocks Project through Russell Child Development Center; Spirit of the Plains CASA, Inc.; St. Catherine Hospital Lactation Program; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; The Salvation Army; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Garden City Recreation Commission Playground Program; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney & Kearny Counties; Catholic Social Service; Circles of Hope; Community Day Care Center, Inc.; Family Crisis Services, Inc.; Finney County Retired Senior Volunteer Program; Garden City Area Chapter of the American Red Cross; Garden City Family YMCA; Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland; Habitat for Humanity; Kansas Children's Service League; Meals on Wheels.