There is no operating manual for running a nonprofit from one’s attic during a pandemic, but the executive director of Circles of Jackson County, Dawn Neatherly, and Client Services Coordinator Sierra Womack could certainly have written one. They have done an incredible job and because of their hard work not one of our Circle Leaders (those taking a leadership role in working their way out of poverty) has returned to government assistance.

Even with the pandemic a new group of Circle Leaders has begun this month. It is the mission of Circles to provide the short- and long-term support that enables families currently living in poverty to move into financial sustainability through education, employment readiness assistance and the creation of community support systems. Our two-step process is a 21-month commitment. First, our Circle Leaders complete a 15-week class covering the personal, interpersonal and financial tools necessary to move beyond poverty. Then they are paired with two trained volunteers who meet with them weekly over the next 18 months.

Our most recent outcome data shows a 29 percent increase in average monthly income, a 19 percent increase in specialized training or higher education, and a 30 percent increase in safe housing/reliable transportation after 18 months in the program.

Along with a new class of Circle Leaders, we have restarted our speaker series and will be having two speakers a month. Two topics that will be coming up soon are “The Uncomplicated Kitchen” and “Heath & Wellness” taught by a Yoga instructor.

We have had two Circle Leader graduates who recently received a car from the Rolling Start Car Club. Mary Schosser received a Dodge Durango and Nicole Stinchcolm received a Dodge Stratus. Both these ladies have worked diligently to achieve financial sustainability, and we are so proud of them. And we are so appreciative of the generosity of the wonderful men who work to provide reliable transportation for those who are working so hard to help themselves and their families get out of poverty.

Circles is beginning their Business and Corporate Sponsorships, an opportunity for businesses to work alongside Circles to provide the support that will enable families to move out of poverty. The idea that it takes a village is definitely true. In 2014 we were told there were 9,000 in our county living in poverty. I would say that the pandemic has only caused that number to increase. We must all work together to create the community support that can bring about needed change.

Circles has a wonderful Board of Directors that includes Deborah Harris who serves as our treasurer, Blake Daniel, Craig Day, Chelsea White-Hoglen, Kayla Loftis, Ann Melton and a great Board chairperson, Mary Anne Farrell. We also have 60-plus amazing volunteers who have found creative ways to continue our mission.

So you can see that Circles is successful because of those in our community who partner with us to help those in need. If you would like to join us in this effort, email Dawn Neatherly at info@circlesofjackson.org or call 342-4627. We would welcome you at any of our Tuesday meetings which take place at the picnic area at Western Carolina University. 

We continue to wear masks, social distance and sanitize. We would introduce you to our amazing volunteers and Circle Leaders, and serve you a delightful meal. I believe that you would leave feeling blessed and would hopefully return to become a part of this wonderful organization.

Ann Melton is founder, Circles of Jackson County.