Our latest installment of Lives Transformed features three different, but equally inspiring, Circle Leaders from across the United States and Canada—all winners of our 2021 Impact Award. The Circles curriculum supports each person’s efforts to “break through” and expand what they think is possible: for themself, their family, and their community. As Circle Leaders reach milestones in their journeys toward financial stability, we document their achievements to highlight joy and hope as valuable tools in combating poverty.
. “Circles is truly circles. It comes back around and it benefits so many people.”
—Deb Brown from Circles Troup County, GA
I grew up in New Hampshire with my three brothers and my parents. We lived in a one-bedroom trailer. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and my dad was a mechanic. We often didn’t have enough food. My dad didn’t want anyone to know we were poor, so we never got any help – not even free lunch at school.
I got into a lot of financial difficulty with my ex-husband through the years; he broke the law and left me with no car, no money and two weeks to find a place to live. I had been driving a school bus for students with disabilities for a couple of years, but I couldn’t make it on that salary. I didn’t think that I was living in poverty. But I needed help; I felt like I was being swallowed.
I heard about Circles when a staff member, Holly Roberts, came to one of our bus driver meetings. I knew I needed to make some changes and so I wanted to try out Circles. When I drove to my first Circles meeting, I sat in my car. It was literally the first time I’d done anything since my divorce. I hadn’t gone to church or any activities—nothing. I did finally get out of the car and go to the meeting, but honestly, I was embarrassed because I knew some of the people. But I was surprised: everyone was so welcoming to me, and eventually it got easier.
Circles has helped me make connections that have changed my life, and they have made all the difference to my mental health. I had Facebook memories popping up all the time, traumatizing me. I realized I needed to turn off that feed. So that became a first goal. I wrote it down and gave it to Holly, our Circles coach, and she made sure I owned up to it. My Circles people connected me with a great counselor too, and I’ve made progress. These early successes gave me hope and the belief that I could continue going forward.
Making goals for financial stability was really hard. The first time we did a goal-building activity in Circles, I didn’t have one. Why would I have a goal? It’s not going to go anywhere, I thought. It’s easy to get frustrated and say, I can’t deal. And then the disappointment keeps building and building. But I knew that I wanted to buy a house. So we did the pie charts to show how much you should spend, and then we did the budget. Circles helped me figure out how to increase my credit score. I started paying off my credit cards. I saved all my extra unemployment money toward the down payment and moving costs. When my lease was up, I stayed with my daughter for a month and saved that month of home bills. Honestly, I couldn’t have done it without Holly saying ‘You can do this! You CAN do this!’ In the summer of 2020, I bought a house!
And my Circles connections have worked to help so many of my students with disabilities on the bus that I drive, it’s just amazing. Some students are close to homeless. I’ve had kids on my bus that lived in tents. We work together at Circles so we can afford Christmas presents for them. I have shopped for every kid on my bus. I always thought that if I changed one student’s life, that’s a lot. But now I’m changing all of these lives. Circles is truly circles. It comes back around and it benefits so many people.
Circles has connected me to so many people and so many resources. Sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s just encouragement, but it saved my life.