Circles of Hope Jackson County received a grant from the Evergreen Foundation that made it possible to purchase computers to be used in our weekly meetings.

Our Circle Learners (those involved in the 18 weeks of classes before graduation) and our Circle Leaders (those who have graduated but who continue to come to learn about resources available to them in the county and to avail themselves of additional classes from local college professors and educators) will now have laptop computers available to them to use during their classes.

The grant allowed Circles of Hope to purchase 20 laptops, a printer, video projector, storage/charging station, projector and programs, all of which will be invaluable to our program.

To be able to incorporate technology skills into our current classes will help ensure that our students make a successful progression in their journey out of poverty. Circle Leaders will gain a basic understanding of spreadsheets, word processing and electronic presentations.

Thanks to Laura Chapman, Jackson County Library staffer who wrote the grant that made the computers available, and to the library for providing classes on the use of technology to our Circle Learners, our program will continue to improve and our students will be better prepared to meet the challenges they are sure to face in their lives. Each week we have educators from Western Carolina University, Southwestern Community College or Jackson County Schools teaching classes on various topics to our Circle Leaders.

We also partner with different community organizations such as NCWorks, the Health Department and Blue Ridge Health to help inform our participants about services available to them.

Circles provides workshops for the community to help them better understand the plight of the poor, or for landlords and members of our Big View Team in an effort to remove barriers to housing now experienced by low income families and which could eliminate some of the current restrictive policies.

Other workshops such as Financial Literacy, Healthcare, Mental Health, Avoiding Homelessness and so many more will greatly benefit from the availability of computers.

We also want to help the community better understand the plight of those now living in poverty in hopes that they will become Allies (those who serve as cheerleaders, supporters, and resources for our Circle Learners) in our program as we work to move families out of poverty and as we work to better educate the community on the work and mission of Circles of Hope Jackson County.

The long term goal of Circles of Hope Jackson County is to move 10 percent of the county’s 9,000 now living in poverty into living wage jobs and better housing. At the present time, 23 percent of those living in Jackson County are living below the poverty level.

Our immediate goal is to move 20 families a year out of poverty. It costs $72,000 a year to keep someone on food stamps and welfare, to provide help with housing and transportation, and to provide all the other services for which they could qualify. Currently it costs Circles of Hope Jackson County approximately $3,000 to get someone out of poverty. Most importantly, Circles provides long-term support and education that makes a difference because it is a “hand-up” program.

If you would like to learn more about Circles of Hope we invite you to visit us any Tuesday at the Mission and Fellowship Center of the First Baptist Church of Sylva at 5:30 p.m. or call 586-2345 ext. 2.

Thanks to local churches, organizations and individuals we offer a free healthy meal, free childcare and wonderful educational programs every week. Please come and be a part of an amazing program, meet some of our wonderful volunteers, and perhaps even agree to become a volunteer or an Ally. I promise you will be truly blessed.

Ann Melton is Circles of Hope Jackson County founder.