Recently two of our volunteers for Circles of Jackson, Bill and Julie Ogletree, took the time to write a letter of nomination for the 2019 Humanitarian Award. Their letter serves as a wonderful summary of all that Circles provides to Jackson County. 

Their first statement tells what Circles is about: “Circles of Jackson County (formally Circles of Hope) provides long-and short-term support for individuals and families living in poverty. Its explicit goal is to move participants into financial sustainability through education, job opportunities, and community support.

In addition, Circles works to educate the broader community about poverty, while building positive relationships with community neighbors. Circles’ approach is based upon a progressive model grounded in the idea that low-income families benefit from strong social capital and community connections.”

Their second statement tells how Circles is able to achieve its goals: “Circles of Jackson County accomplishes the broader goals described above by training Circle Leaders and Circles Allies during a 12- to 15-week program. Circle Leaders are individuals in poverty while Allies are community volunteers. Training assists both groups with understanding the basics of financial sustainability, employment success, and community utilization. Leaders and Allies are paired after training and participate in joint goal setting. The Leader guides this process as the Ally provides feedback and support. Post-training, Leaders and Allies develop intentional friendships that contribute to goal pursuit and attainment.”

And if their first and second statements are not intriguing enough, their third statement certainly is. It reads: “Presently, Circles serves 35 Circle Leaders and Leader family members with over 50 volunteers. Circles outcome data reveals that after one year in the program, Leaders’ monthly incomes have risen an average of $300. Furthermore, during the first 18 months of participation, Leader unemployment dropped from 57 percent to 14 percent, and 19 percent of Leaders obtained specialized training or higher education degrees. Finally, since the program’s inception, 30 percent of Leaders have obtained safe housing and reliable transportation.”

And now you will see how wonderful the community has been in return. “There are several Circles activities available to Leaders. A few of these include a five-week financial literacy program, ongoing professional writing seminars directed by faculty from Western Carolina University, and multi-session parenting workshops conducted by local child development specialist. Circles has also initiated collaborative efforts with Jackson Community School to extend training to at-risk high school students.

“Circles partners with and connects Leaders to several community agencies including but not limited to the Jackson County Library, county communities of faith, local food banks, civic clubs, and community health services. Recently, Circles has also established a partnership with Rolling Start, a local group assisting with vehicle restoration for individuals in need.”

In the end Bill and Julie Ogletree sum it all up by stating, “Clearly, Circles of Jackson County is one of many local groups meeting the needs of persons in poverty. We have been involved in Circles as Allies and have seen so many positive outcomes with Jackson County residents. We consider it a privilege to nominate Circles for the NAACP’s Humanitarian Award.”

Circles wishes to thank Bill and Julie Ogletree for their wonderful explanation of just how Circles of Jackson works to bless our community. We also wish to thank the Jackson County NAACP for honoring Circles with the 2019 Humanitarian Award.

Ann Melton is founder, Circles of Jackson.