Ann Melton Column

Circles of Hope graduates (from left)Tabitha Reynolds, Lawrence Moses, Ryan Stinchcomb and Linda Stinchcomb.

Almost daily I hear someone lament that because of the coronavirus our world has become a sad and difficult place.

Certainly that is correct, as so many have lost loved ones and families have been devastated by their loss. It is difficult in that friends and families cannot see one another and visit as they have in the past. But for some folks who one might think would be speaking of the difficulties of these times, that is not the case.

Many ask how our Circle Leaders (those working their way out of poverty) are getting along. They are surprised when we tell them that they are doing really well. Not one has had to go back on welfare or depend on social services for help. Because of the wonderful education they have received or are receiving in our Circles classes and the skills they have gleaned, they are doing well.

Our Circle Leaders are hard-working, thoughtful individuals who have applied the skills they have been taught to remain steady in these difficult times. In fact, many have become Allies (those who serve as cheerleaders and supporters of those working their way out of poverty) who now work to help other Circle Leaders. That, I believe, is one of the greatest gifts of Circles of Jackson County – becoming a helping hand to those around you.

Recently, one of our Circle Leaders bought a house. Because the interest rates are so low, she realized that this was the perfect time to purchase a home. That Circle Leader’s name is Sherry. She has a job at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and when I talked with her, she was on her lunch break. She told me how she had grown up in poverty. Her mother was a single mom with four children. As a child, Sherry was sick a lot and she often felt guilty because her mom would have to leave work to go to the school to pick her up, and because she would have to stay home with her she would often lose her job.

Sherry remembers how embarrassing it was to stand in the welfare food lines. She does have one good memory however. She remembers how much she loved what she called “the welfare cheese.” She now feels so blessed that she can make her own contributions to community efforts. She feels folks should lend a hand when they have a hand to give but also to be able to reach out if they need a hand. Sherry’s thoughts on Circles are similar to mine. I have always said “Circles is not a handout. Circles is a hand up.”

She told me she used to feel alone and desolate, but with Circles by her side she feels surrounded by the community and help if she needs it. She said, “more than once I have been told, ‘we are here for you.’ I feel all lives should be filled with a sense of community and Circles does that. I feel supported by the community. Circles also gives me someone to run my thoughts by. For example, I was debating different retirement accounts and how to combine them and because of the great Allies in Circles, I had knowledgeable folks I could talk with about all this.”

During the pandemic, Circles is holding weekly meetings either via Zoom or at the picnic area at Western Carolina University. If you would like to know the schedule of our meetings, you may go to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and look under Circles of Jackson County. You can also go to our website, circlesofjacksoncounty.org.

Sherry said she especially likes meeting at Western because of the human contact. At Western the meetings are limited to 25 people, and masks and social distancing are required.

Sherry asked that I stress in this article how wonderful she feels this community is and how appreciative she is at the way the community supports Circles through their donations of money and time especially since we have, thus far, been unable to have our one big fundraiser this year – the hundred-dollar-a-plate-luncheon.

“I don’t think I would be where I am today if it weren’t for Circles. I am extremely grateful,” Sherry told me.

If you are interested in knowing more about Circles, you may call Dawn Neatherly, our executive director at 342-4647, or go to our website circlesofjacksoncounty.org or look for Circles of Jackson County on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. And if you would like to make a contribution to Circles you can mail it to P.O. Box 501, Sylva, NC 28779.

Ann Melton is founder, Circles of Jackson County.