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CIRCLES Program Set To Expand Family Efforts To Cumberland

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
CIRCLES Program Set To Expand Family Efforts To Cumberland

The CIRCLES Program, part of the Empower effort to get families out of poverty, will expand to Cumberland County later this month, the second chapter in the state.

Putnam County, the state’s first chapter, started last July and is now working with its second group of families. Those sessions began with eight families. Four are now homeowners and three have gotten better paying jobs.

Balinda Westmoreland leads the CIRCLES Program in Cumberland, Fentress, Van Buren, White, and Warren Counties. She said the two-hour sessions once per week are led by volunteers. The sessions focus on goals, gaps, and removing barriers.

“The main thing that we work on is building a healthy intentional relationship,” Westmoreland said. “These are things that a lot of our families have never had. They don’t understand. They have a lot of people that love them, but they don’t understand what a healthy intentional relationship is. We want to increase poverty IQ. If you are situational poverty, sometimes you understand something happened, I need to get back on course. But we see so many families that are generational poverty. So to them, food stamps and moving from home to home to home to home because you couldn’t pay rent is normal. That’s what grandma did, that’s what mama did. So that’s what I do. But once they build this intentional relationship, they find there is another way and they get support through this.”

Westmoreland said the process for starting a CIRCLES program begins with finding volunteers in each community who are willing to work as mentors, serve food for the family meals, supervise the youth program or help in anyway. She said a recent meeting in Cumberland County brought enough volunteers to get the program started.

She said they now have enough families in Fentress and White Counties to begin recruiting volunteers there.

“This intensive care is wrapping our arms around these families, giving them the mentorship, the encouragement, empowering them to be better parents, to help them on their journey,” CIRCLES Leader Lehra Trobaugh said. “They all want to work hard and they want to better their circumstance.”

95 percent of the families involved are single-family households. The sessions begin with a meal, where parents and children sit together. Westmoreland said that sometimes does not happen in the course of a regular week. The youth go to a seperate breakout group while the adults work with volunteers. The second Putnam County group had the first fathers involved.

“We love to see them going through this together, learning all this together,” Trobaugh said. “And what are your barriers? How can we get someone to come in and speak to you about what your barriers are, whether it be credit repair, home purchase, trying to buy groceries and navigate the grocery store.”

Residents interested in volunteering to help the families can find information on the Empower Upper Cumberland website. High School and college students needing volunteer hours are invited to help with the youth side of the program. Westmoreland said the ultimate goal is to turn the program over to the local community to oversee.

The Empower Upper Cumberland program began last year through a state grant to reinvent how the community tackles the issue of poverty. Locally, the program works with families individually to help address the issues that can lead to systemic generational poverty. Some 275 families have enrolled in the Empower program. Empower Director Megan Spurgeon said that is second highest number among the state pilot projects, behind only Davidson County.

Spurgeon said they need more families in both Clay and Van Buren County. She said the program has been a big success, in terms of numbers, in both Cannon and Jackson Counties.


The post CIRCLES Program Set To Expand Family Efforts To Cumberland appeared first on News Talk 94.1/AM 1600.