New Beginnings

Facing Poverty in McPherson, Kansas

I was born in Windsor, England, a stone’s throw away from the Windsor Castel. Though my mother was Irish Catholic, my father, who lived in the Sound of the Bowbells, identified himself as a true London ‘Cockney’.

At age 19, I left England to work in Europe for two men who made costumes. I lived in Kobenhaven Denmark. I traveled around Europe drawing and designing costumes – measuring the clients, sending their measurements back to my employers in Denmark. Once the costumes were completed, they were shipped back and I fitted them to the clients. I earned really good money with this job.

In 1986, I married my second husband, a soldier, and moved with him to America. I brought my money with me and started a real estate business. In my third year, I had acquired $750,000 in property – all rental property. At this same time, I lived in a trailer, at less cost than any of the properties I rented out.

After my husband got out of the Army, he began to help me with the business. After three years of hard work renovating the properties, I doubled my rent income. Another year later, it was time to expand, so I tried to buy a 12 x 12 plex. It was during that time I learned the mortgages on my properties were three months delinquent. Checking into the matter, I learned my husband not only mishandled my business, but he had taken all my money. I lost everything!

I had to start over. For a while, I was a taxi driver in Manhattan, Kansas. After that, I made the decision to get into nursing. I got my CNA in 1986 and kept learning. Over time, I received various certifications and trainings: Social Service Designee, Rehabilitation Aide, Activity Director, Home Health Aide, Certified Medical Aide, Alzheimer’s training, and Developmental Disability training. Eventually, I worked as a Medication Aide in a nursing home.

My downfall came when I was injured at work while helping a patient out of the bathtub. Insurance covered only a fraction of my medical costs. After three years in court, the settlement of $8,000 was reduced to $800 by the time legal fees were deducted.

Disabled now myself, I was so lost, depressed and my self-esteem would have to have been dug up! I was taking 6 to 7 Lortabs a day just to function at half-mast. I was unable to work for two years, reducing my income substantially. At one point, I became so depressed; my girlfriend drove to my house, guided me out to my car, and took me home with her. I lived with my friend for a year.

My friend was afraid I’d do something dangerous. She wasn’t far from wrong. The thought had been in my head.

Over time, I learned about the CIRCLES program and decided to come to meetings just to listen and hopefully meet people.

I soon learned some of those in Circles had challenges worse than mine. Others cried as they told their stories. Everyone was hurting. I quickly learned that CIRCLES was a safe place to share feelings. Best of all, CIRCLES taught us how to overcome our poverty, mentally and emotionally.

Learning to accept help, instead of being the one to give it is the hardest of all the lessons I have ever had to learn. I still go to the Food Bank occasionally. I’m glad it’s there for me, but I sometimes feel it is demoralizing because I used to be able to help others. When my self-esteem plummets, I feel so lost … like my soul was being sucked into a crater in the earth.

CIRCLES has helped me get past my isolation. It helped heal my human relationships. My CIRCLES friends lend listening ears and help me make wise choices. We shop, do needlework, and watch television together to keep an eye on each other.

CIRCLES Community of Support group also encourages each other to ‘give back’. I volunteer at a local resource agency; I quilt for relief, sew wheelchair bags, and help at Salvation Army. I volunteered with these activities until my 55th birthday, when I qualified for a government program that provides re-training for people in situations like mine.

With my new skills, I was recommended for a job at a non-profit organization. I was hired, and today the position is restoring my self-esteem.

My life is turning a round once again. Hopefully back into the right direction again. McPherson is now my home. It has opened my eyes to the ability to keep going and trying to keep my mind on the possibilities, not the negative!

Today, I have my four Yorkies and my friend, Margaret, and all my Circles Friends!

A Circle Leader’s Story as told to Jeanne Smith

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