BY BECKY GINOS
CLEARFIELD—A couple of years ago, Tara Cooper was in a downward spiral of depression and feeling like she was going nowhere. Now she has a job, a car, and an apartment and is working toward owning a home one day – all thanks to the Circles program.
Circles, developed by the Open Doors organization, is intended to eliminate the cycle of intergenerational poverty by teaching individuals the skills needed to succeed.
“The program is for people who are trying to better themselves,” said Cooper. “We learn about budgets, how to get out of debt, saving, etc. For me that’s huge because I’ve always been a single mother living from paycheck to paycheck. It has taught me to dream.”
Recently, 12 Utah residents were honored for completing the 12-week-course at a graduation ceremony.
“They’re trying to break that chain of those born into poverty,” said Davis County Commissioner Randy Elliott, who serves on the board of the Family Connection Center and attended the ceremony. “They’re teaching them to step up and step out so they don’t have to rely on the government.”
Open Doors oversees the family support programs for Davis County. “Circles fits perfectly into that action because it’s about families and anti-poverty,” said Assistant Executive Director of Open Doors Daneen Adams. “The whole point is a hand up – not a hand out. We understand the need for food and a roof over their head but we want them to be self sufficient.”
Adams said the program is intended to give participants the mentality that they can get all that they deserve. “We want them to regain their confidence and shoot for the stars,” she said. “But it takes an entire community buy in of police officers, elected officials and people living in poverty to all come together.”
Throughout the 12 weeks participants are taught about finance, education and budgeting. “After graduation they become ‘Circle leaders,’” said Adams. “They’ve gone through the hardest 12 weeks so we know they’ve made the commitment to the program. Then we set them up with a volunteer mentor or ‘ally.’ They meet with the mentors and can call them when they need help. For most of these people they’re always in crisis mode. The allies help them to be prepared if the car breaks down or ask if they’ve planned for Christmas, etc.”
“Allies help you to become more successful,” said Cooper. “My ally was in a shelter in Ogden so he was a lot worse off than I was but now he owns his own business. But you have to commit to becoming a better person. I’m very committed because I don’t want my kids to live the life I did.”
Following the 12-week course there are “topic nights” twice a month with speakers covering financing for college, how to start a business and politics. “We want them to get involved in the community politically,” said Adams. “We want to give them a voice.”
While the parents attend their classes, their children are learning similar things in a class of their own. “We teach education, budgeting and civics,” said Adams. “The point is to end intergenerational poverty.”
Circles is going into its third year and served some 50 people, not counting children over the past year, said Adams. Along the way she’s seen several success stories. “There was one single mom with three kids who was working three jobs at $7.25 a piece,” she said. “Circles gave her the courage to go back to school to show her daughter ‘you don’t have to live like me.’ Another woman just wanted a home with a foundation, she’d always moved around. She brought her keys in to tell us for the first time in her life she owns a home – we all cried.”
Elliott said the commissioners are there for moral support. “We want the community to rally around them,” he said. “We want them to succeed using this program and get the tools to go out and find jobs and good housing. There’s not much affordable housing.”
Cooper said Circles has taught her to dream. “I can make them come true,” she said. “It’s shown me that I’m not the only person out there that struggles. I dream of owning a home one day – I will get there. It’s an amazing program for people in poverty so that their children aren’t statistics when they get to be our ages.”
Even though Cooper has already graduated, she still attends classes. “I have been doing it because I’m just trying to help others. We need to get the word out so that they can get the help they’re looking for too.”