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Poverty reduction program seeks to expand to Hoisington
Positive comments from council members following presentation
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Veronica Coons Great Bend Tribune Hoisington City Council members Carroll Nather, Becky Steiner, Travis Sinn and Michael Aylward, City Manager Jonathan Mitchell and Hoisington Mayor Dalton Popp listen to a presentation about Circles, a poverty reduction program seeking to expand to Hoisington. Also pictured are Hoisington City Attorney John Horner; Jamie Baldwin, a Circles graduate from Great Bend; and Debra Factor, the executive director of Youth Core Ministries of Kiowa County. - photo by Veronica Coons

 HOISINGTON — A poverty reduction project that has been successful in Great Bend, Larned and Stafford County is looking to expand to Hoisington. 

The Hoisington City Council heard a presentation Monday night from Debra Factor, executive director with Youth Core Ministries in Kiowa County, who shared how the Circles program facilitates life-changing relationships between those experiencing poverty with those who can help lead the way out. 

Participants take the lead

The program is unusual in the aspect that those hoping to walk out of poverty become the leaders of their circle upon graduation of a 20-week course called “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World,” Factor said.  After that, they are partnered with allies, individuals in the community committed to offering advice and support as the leaders work to raise themselves to at least 200 percent of the federal poverty line, which Factor calls “the front porch of middle class.”  

Typically, she said, it can take two to five years in the program to reach that goal. In just the past two years, three graduates from Great Bend are out of poverty, as are two from Stafford County, she said. 

Jamie Baldwin, one of the graduates of the Circles program from Great Bend, was also on hand to offer her personal testimonial about the program. She gave an emotional account of the connections she made and how the program changed her life.  She will be co-coaching in Great Bend, and is looking forward to giving back. She invited the council to attend the graduation ceremony for the second group at 6 p.m. Thursday night at Great Bend First United Church. 

Factor explained what is needed from the Hoisington Community in order to move forward. Solving poverty is going to require a grassroots movement, she said. It takes six months to a year to get the word out in a community and rally community allies, she said. Then, the 20-week “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World” classes begin. That requires community commitment to provide space, a meal and childcare each week so participants can commit to the program. Having numerous entities involved not only decreases the burden, but also builds community. So, there is a need for volunteer help, but also financial resources, because in order to work smoothly, Circles needs to find and hire a few people in the community to run the program, Factor said. 

Steering committee forming 

Steve Hopkins with Epicenter Ministries, the church that is currently working to update a Main Street building formerly known at The Office, spoke in support of the organization. He is working with Youth Core Ministries now to organize a steering committee for Circles of Hoisington. He asked the council to consider committing to providing a meal or childcare in the future.  

Councilperson Carroll Nather asked in general how poverty is measured. Factor directed her to the 2018 Federal Poverty Guideline,

“Our goal is to get people to 200 percent above the poverty line,” Factor said.  “We call that the ‘front porch of middle class,’ and it seems to be enough to get your bills paid and begin to put a little bit back and quiet the chaos of constantly not knowing how to meet the needs of day-to-day.” 

Hopkins added that in Hoisington, 55 percent of the school-aged children are eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunch as of May. Factor said that means their families live below 200 percent of the poverty line. “I think this is a great program,” Nather said. “I’m glad you are out there doing this. More power to you.” 

Schneider weighs in 

Barton County Health Department Administrator Shelly Schneider, who with Central Kansas Community Corrections Director Amy Boxberger has worked closely with the program and has seen firsthand the transformation of some of its leaders, also spoke.

“Barton County has a really high rate of children living in poverty,” she said. 

Interestingly, there is also a higher than average rate of unengaged youth, defined as anyone under the age of 24 who is not in college and does not have a job, in the county, she said. Some of the effects have been an increase in crime, houses falling into disrepair, and a tremendous increase in hoarding. Within weeks of the start of the first Circles class in Great Bend, she began to see changes in attitudes. 

“It was amazing what I saw,” she said. “There were people in there that hadn’t had hope or empowerment, but now, they were the boss.”

What they had to share about policies was insightful for decision makers like Schneider. She appreciates the untapped resources these Circles graduates represent for policy makers like her.  

“This is necessary in Barton County,” she said.  “My vision when we first started this was to get this into Hoisington as soon as possible.” 

She encouraged the council to reach out to her or Boxberger with questions.  


Here’s a quick look at what happened at the Hoisington City Council meeting on Monday:

• Approved the consent agenda which included minutes from the Sept. 10 council meeting and Cereal Malt Beverage permits from St. John the Evangelist Church at Bicentennial Park on Sept. 29.

• Heard a presentation from Youth Core Ministries regarding the Circles of Central Kansas program. 

• Approved Zoning Ordinance #1534 concerning a proposal to rezone a property located at 701 Main St. from R-1 Single Dwelling Dist. to C-2 General Commercial District. The Hoisington Zoning Commission met Sept. 17 and unanimously approved the request, despite protest from Ron Schremmer and Karolyn Mason, property owners in the area of said building. 

• Heard a report from the city manager, which included updates on a number of ongoing city projects.  

• A 10-minute executive session was held for the discussion of confidential matters regarding the interpretation and enforcement of the terms of a contract which would be deemed privileged in the attorney-client relationship. Upon returning to regular session, no action was taken.  

• City Councilperson Carroll Nather informed the council that a client of Sunflower Diversified the week before fell attempting to access a bathroom at the Hoisington Municipal Complex. The bathroom sits at the bottom of a stairway, and she asked the council to consider Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant options. Councilman Michael Aylward asked City Manager Jonathan Mitchell to look into options including the addition of unisex bathrooms on two levels of the building.