Meet the second of four Circle Leaders who have changed their lives with Circles.
“I’m very happy with my life. It’s a confidence boost to do what many women can’t do: I got my life together without a man.”
—Lola Flores, Newaygo, Michigan
The reason I didn’t grow up in poverty was that my mom had a husband with a good job. But my mom struggled with alcohol, and sometimes when she wasn’t around, her boyfriend would abuse me. This went on for years, and I was 11 before I fully understood what was happening and spoke out. When I did, he went to prison, and we lost everything. At age 12, I tried to commit suicide twice and was hospitalized both times.
Desperate for attention, I ended up partying in high school. It felt like my life was a tornado, and I didn’t know how to stop it. I became pregnant just before I turned 17 and ended up dropping out of school. It was my senior year.
At 18, I moved to Grand Rapids hoping to start a new life with my baby girl. I lived with my cousin, watching her kids while she worked. I hated men because of the abuse I had endured as a child, and yet I felt like I needed a man in my life in order to feel loved. Babysitting each day, I felt like I was missing out on life so I started going out with friends. I began a relationship with a new guy, moved in with him, and became pregnant.
I was 19 when my son was born, and I struggled with postpartum depression. My relationship with my son’s father ended, and I began a 5-year period of working part-time but never having stable housing. The kids and I moved from my mom’s house to a boyfriend’s house, to a boyfriend’s mom’s house to my sister’s house.
I moved in with a new boyfriend after getting pregnant once again, but unfortunately, this relation-ship was abusive. He would physically hurt me, and I was unkind with the words I used. I feared my kids would be injured, so we’d leave only to try again later. All I ever wanted was a happy family, but the cycle of abuse, apology, and forgiveness kept repeating. My life was a mess.
I earned money working for a Realtor, cleaning houses after people had been evicted. I also helped my mom clean houses and office buildings. My brother got me a job planting onions and then sorting and bagging onions. I kept working but never earned enough to have my own apartment.
Eventually, my aunt took us in. When I was filling out an application for free Christmas toys for my kids, there was a flyer for Circles. Hearing it was an 18-month program scared me, but my aunt encouraged me and pointed out that the Circles meetings included dinner and childcare. At first, I would attend but sit alone. Then I warmed up to it.
My aunt was my ally, and Circles gave me more “Allies,” who, like my aunt, were positive and offered different perspectives. Circles taught me how to speak up for myself and how to ask for a raise. I also learned how to process my thoughts. When my thoughts get out of control, I write them out in the form of goals, and it removes the stress.
It was tough and embarrassing to talk about my past. Now I talk about my life with tears, yes, but with the thought of “thank God I’m not that person anymore.” I’ve gained parenting skills. I know how to budget. My kids are only 11, 9 and 4, but I’m already teaching them about credit.
I’ve also learned how to set goals. I started with short-term goals, such as saving $20 a week, and achieving my short-term goals put me in the mood to set long-term goals. My long-term goals included paying off some debt to fix my credit score, getting my own place for me and my kids where I could pay my own bills, keeping insurance on my car, and getting ready for home-ownership. I’ve accomplished all of these goals, and in early 2019, I plan to start the process of purchasing my own home.
I’m now 28 and work full-time for a financial services company in the accounting department. I earn about $24,000 per year after taxes, so I’m still eligible for food stamps and healthcare. But I pay for rent and childcare. I’ve been in Circles for 18 months, and I plan to stay in it a bit longer. I’m very happy with my life. It’s a confidence boost to do what many women can’t do: I got my life together without a man.