Circles USA had the fortune to sit down with two special alumnae from Circles Jackson County, in Sylva, North Carolina. Here, Evalee and Mary Anne describe how CUSA’s system of building social capital to end poverty has changed their lives—and their community—for the better.
Meet Evalee and Mary Anne, from Jackson County in North Carolina.
Evalee is a Circle Leader navigating life with a disability. Mary Anne is a volunteer ally who has come alongside Evalee as an encourager and intentional friend in her journey out of poverty.
When Evalee and Mary Anne first met, Evalee was experiencing homelessness and living at a shelter. Through Circles, Evalee has learned how to budget and save her money. Now she lives independently in her own apartment.
Mary Anne shared with us, “Evalee is just amazing. [She] pays all her own bills now, she’s managing her own money, she has her own apartment. She has become extremely self-sufficient. She’s just come so far, she really has.”
But Circles hasn’t just helped Evalee develop her innate financial skills. She’s also found a strong sense of community at the chapter’s weekly gatherings.
“I really love being there. I go every Tuesday night. It makes me feel good, they’re good people. I love them all, ‘cause they’re my friends,” Evalee said.
Evalee is well-loved by everyone at the chapter. Dawn Neatherly, Executive Director of Circles of Jackson County, told us that Evalee often brings crafts and small gifts for everyone at the chapter.
“She is a bright spot in my life,” said Mary Anne. “Evalee is so upbeat. So kind and loving, so generous.”
Evalee chimed in, saying: “[Mary Anne] is a great friend. I wouldn’t trade her for the world.”
“I’ve really learned a lot from Evalee and her disability, how resilient and strong she is… it’s lovely to be invited into that, as a partner and as an equal. I’ve given, but I’ve also gotten so much back in terms of my understanding about our country and the world we live in,” said Mary Anne.
Though the pair have completed their initial commitment with CUSA, they remain close friends. They’re even developing a side business selling handmade jewelry!
We asked Evalee if she has any big dreams, now that she has some money saved up. She told us: “My dream was to go to Dollywood, and believe it or not, I’m going on April 3rd!” She’s also going back to school to pursue her GED—and setting aside savings for a new computer.
According to DataUSA, 21.6% of Jackson County’s population lives below the poverty line. Circles of Jackson County’s mission is to provide the short- and long-term support that enables these families to move into self-sustainability [source: https://www.circlesofjacksoncounty.com/]. But the key to the chapter’s effectiveness, said Mary Anne, isn’t building economic capital alone; it’s building social capital through quality time, empathy, and interests.
“It’s just a really good group of people from all different walks of life, hanging out as equals and friends. I think in this country we all sort of live in our little silos, socio-economically. And the thing about Circles is, we’re just all there together, helping each other. So it’s really a great equalizer.”