Encircled in Love

It is impossible to have a personal understanding of someone else’s life without a meaningful relationship. Have you ever wondered what someone’s life is like who is completely different from you?

I have a front-row seat to the lives of some people in our community who are struggling to make ends meet. They face daunting personal life challenges, raise families alone, lack family support and in some cases have experienced unimaginable trauma.

I am thankful each day for this front-row seat because it reminds me of the courage of the human spirit and the power of meaningful human connections.

As Circles Utah Valley Coordinator, I’m privileged to not only meet these wonderful, humble people but also interact with an additional group of equally amazing people who have big, service-oriented hearts ready to lift and form friendships to those who need a friend.

Circles brings two unlikely groups of people, from completely different economic backgrounds, together as friends. Bank presidents, college professors, teachers, homemakers, entrepreneurs, retirees, and any number of successful, career-minded professionals are matched with families in poverty to become their friends and lend their life experience and friendship. The power of these unlikely friendships has been amazing to observe and the increased understanding on both sides is remarkable.

A divorced mother with three kids, raised in generational poverty, buried in debt, poor relationships, lacking skills and not knowing where to turn, came to Circles for help. She set some goals for herself with the help of Circles coaches, her allies (those middle-class friends), community resources and went to work changing her life. With this encouragement and support she began making strides to get out of debt, establish better financial choices, obtain training and a good-paying job, and eventually move toward her goal to be financially stable and able to take care of herself and her family without any other financial assistance.

I watched her change from a shy, confused, scared, discouraged woman into a confident, strong, powerful woman who knows who she is and what she wants in life.

The power of these relationships is evident in the data: of those in the Circles Utah Valley Initiative last year, 65 percent increased their income, 50 percent decreased debt, 55 percent are off assistance, and 87 percent have a savings account.

The best news of all? Seven of these people have graduated from Circles with income over 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline and are financially stable.

All participants make huge strides to overcome difficult barriers with the help of their allies and increased circle of support. This personal growth is a wonderful thing to observe and makes me happy to come to work every day.

Bridging the gaps between economic classes isn’t an easy thing for anyone on either side, but by forming friendships outside of our own little circles and stepping outside our comfort zones, understanding is increased, compassion fostered, and lives changed.

If you feel like something is missing in your life and would like to make a difference for yourself and others, connect with a wonderful community, and increase the richness of your life, Circles Utah Valley might just be the place for you!

There are always people who are in great need of a good friend and others who want to be a friend. Are you potentially that friend? We invite you to consider volunteering with Circles.

For more information, call (801) 691-5287, email Volunteerconnectionuc.org or find us on Facebook at CirclesUV. Kathy Givens is the Circles Utah Valley Coordinator. A program hosted by Community Action Services and Food Bank, Circles Utah Valley is located at 815 South, Freedom Blvd, Ste. 100. For more information on Circles, educational programs, how to make donations, upcoming classes, food drives and more at CASFB, visit communityactionuc.org or call (801) 691-5287. (Serve Daily submission)

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