A year after the process of the Fort Scott Circles program began as a result of the Gordon Parks Celebration in 2014, those currently involved in that program used that same celebration as a chance to give an update on its impact during a panel discussion Thursday afternoon.
The program provides resources, assistance and training to those in the community who want to improve their way of life.
Volunteer coordinator Jan Hedges quoted a Kansas State University study released earlier this year that ranked Bourbon County as 104th out of 105 Kansas counties when it comes to the number of children living below the poverty level.
“There are barriers in every community that make it hard to get out of poverty,” Hedges said, mentioning some barriers such as lack of transportation and child care as well as a lack in financial knowledge.
The program starts with a 12-week class that goes through curriculum, training participants in areas such as how to set a budget as well as goals for themselves.
“We talk about what’s your dream in circle,” Hedges said. “You have a dream but there are some things you have to do to get to that dream.”
Diana Endicott, facilitator for that phase one of the program, said their first step is to recruit people to participate and keep them in the program, but added some find that they are not yet willing to make the necessary changes.
“In order to have things come out differently, they’re going to have to make some changes,” Endicott said.
Phase two of the program partners each circle participant, called a circle leader, with two other members of the community, called allies, who will hold the circle leader accountable and meet with them regularly, helping them set and keep goals.
Phase two facilitator David Goodyear said their goal is to help residents go from merely surviving to thriving.
The first group involved in the program started with five participants and had three of those graduate to the next phase. A second group started with 12 and now has seven on track to graduate in December.
Already, the program leaders said they have seen participants go from homeless to finding housing, had a mother be granted custody of her children once again and another is about to take the GED test.
With the upcoming graduation, the program is looking for allies to get involved as well as participants for the program. Training will be provided to those interested in being an ally on Nov. 11.
They also invite professionals in the community to participate by training circle leaders in areas such as finances, renters’ rights, baking or other areas. The program also accepts monetary donations or other assistance such as in transportation and child care during their weekly meetings on Wednesdays.
“Circles is not a handout program,” Hedges said. “It’s a hand up…It’s a program for people who want to improve their life.”