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People in poverty asked to lead new program
Circles of Central Kansas forming
new jlk circles logo.tif

Poverty in Barton County

In 2015, 20 percent of the children in Barton County were living in poverty, compared to 17 percent of all children in Kansas
• 35 percent were in single-parent households, compared to 29 percent statewide
• Unemployment was 4.3 percent here, 4.2 percent statewide
• 54 percent of the county’s population had some college, compared to 69 percent statewide

Source: County Health Rankings & Roadmaps 2017
A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program

2016-2017 Federal Poverty Guidelines
Size of family unit, 100 percent poverty, 200 percent
1 person - $12,060 and $24,120
2 people - $16,240 and $32,480
3 people - $20,420 and $40,840
4 people - $24,600 and $49,200
For each additional person add $4,180 and $8,360

A new group aims to reduce poverty in Barton County by turning to the experts — those who live from paycheck to paycheck and crisis to crisis — and empowering them with a circle of allies.
Circles of Central Kansas will hold an informational meeting at 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 13, at Great Bend’s First United Methodist Church, 2123 Forest Ave.
Members of the steering committee said they hope people in need and people who want to help will attend to learn more about how to get involved.
The program is a joint effort between Barton County Academy/ESSDACK, Barton County Health Department, 20th Judicial District Community Corrections and Kansas Kids @ Gear Up.
They’d like to find 15-20 people in poverty who are willing to attend training to get their lives in a better position. Those who sign up will complete a 20-week program called “Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World,” said Rebecca Gillette, site director at Barton County Academy.
“They can be making a substantial amount of money,” said Barton County Health Department Director Shelly Schneider. A family of four with an annual income of $49,000 is still below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, a threshold the group hopes people can cross.
“From the poverty line we want to bring people to 200 percent, if not 300 percent,” she said.
“We can’t give them money — that is not part of the program — but we can give them ideas,” Gillette said.
“Many of us aren’t aware of the barriers that people in poverty face because we know how to get around those barriers,” she said. “We use the same words, but many times they have different meanings.”
Other community members will be invited to attend a different training, called “Bridges Out of Poverty,” in December or January.
“Housing, transportation and adequate income are difficult for some people to obtain,” Gillette said. “We are looking for people who have bumped up against the issues and who know the pitfalls that exist in Barton County. We invite any who are curious to come to the meeting on the 13th to look into some possibilities.”

How it works
Schneider explained how the program will work in Barton County.
People in poverty will be the circle leaders. “They are the experts,” she said.
“People living in crisis all of the time, every minute of the day, experience situations that people who have never experienced poverty can’t understand,” Schneider said. “The desperation and the fear of not providing for their families is not a feeling most of us have felt.
“The Poverty Reduction program that Barton County is implementing will start the process of engaging our poverty population in a way that they can sustainably stay at 200 percent above the poverty level and start making their lives as well as their children’s lives better,” Schneider said. “This program will directly affect the ability to change Barton County’s numbers so that we can increase our appeal in attracting new families to our community.”
Community members who join their circle are not experts on poverty, which is why they aren’t considered mentors. They’re called allies, but they can help the leaders learn how to become self-sufficient.
“We’re not giving people a handout, we’re giving them a hand up,” Schneider said. “For allies, it’s an investment in the community.” They may donate their time or talents, perhaps volunteering to prepare a meal for fellowship at a meeting.

Grassroots effort
Gillette said the Circles of Central Kansas steering committee was formed back in April after local residents started looking at concerns in the community. They contacted the faith-based group Youth Core in Greensburg to help with the program, which has had great success in many rural areas around the state. The non-profit Youth Core Ministries Inc. will be the head agency for the local effort.
The steering committee consists of people who see the impact of poverty in Barton County every day. Schneider is at the Health Department, and Gillette and Rebecca Lewis-Pankratz are at Barton County Academy/ESSDACK, which helps people earn high school diplomas and learn English.
Other steering committee members are: Amy Boxberger at Community Corrections; the Rev. Lennie Maxwell at First United Methodist Church, representing the Ministerial Alliance, along with LaVonne Gerritzen, Elaine Felke and Sue Bishop; Regina Rose with Kansas Kids @ Gear Up, a program that provides educational resources to help middle and high school students in foster care succeed; and Michelle Daniel, a support worker at Riley Elementary School in Great Bend USD 428.
“This is really what Barton County needs,” Schneider said. A single mom is an ideal example of someone she would like to see enroll in the program.
“It’s giving her the ability to make an impact for her kids and become well off,” Schneider said. “By which I mean, to have a little buffer if their car breaks down.”
It is an issue that affects the entire community, Gillette said. “You’ve got to have hope that somewhere somehow things will work out, and many people in poverty don’t have that hope.”
Circles has had success in other communities, she said. The McPherson group had 113 people go through the leader training program, and 79 stuck with it for an extended period of time. They started the program with a combined income of $400,000 and four years later their combined income was $1.4 million.