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Troup County nonprofit celebrates milestones

Poverty rate drops countywide

By Tyler H. Jones

tjones@civitasmedia.com

Mary Ellen Taylor plays a board game with Ja’Mari Stinson, 4, during the Circle of Troup County Empty Bowls dinner Thursday at the Del’Avant event space.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/web1_EmptyBowls02WEB.jpgMary Ellen Taylor plays a board game with Ja’Mari Stinson, 4, during the Circle of Troup County Empty Bowls dinner Thursday at the Del’Avant event space. Tyler H. Jones | Daily News
Sheneka Lewis selects her ceramic bowl Thursday at the Del’Avant event space during the fourth annual Empty Bowls dinner sponsored by Circles of Troup County. The event raises awareness of local poverty and the work underway to combat it.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/web1_EmptyBowls01WEB.jpgSheneka Lewis selects her ceramic bowl Thursday at the Del’Avant event space during the fourth annual Empty Bowls dinner sponsored by Circles of Troup County. The event raises awareness of local poverty and the work underway to combat it. Tyler H. Jones | Daily News

LaGRANGE — A local nonprofit aimed at reducing area poverty had good reason to celebrate Thursday night at the Del’Avant event space on Main Street.

Circles of Troup County, which began in 2012 and has since served nearly 40 families — including about 150 children — gathered for its fourth annual Empty Bowls dinner.

The dinner is a fundraiser where tickets are sold and attendees can select a handcrafted ceramic bowl before having a soup dinner. LaGrange College ceramics professor Austin Wieland provided the bowls, which he and college students glazed.

Sherri Brown, the nonprofit’s director, said after years of work, the group is starting to quantify results using data collected about its participants over the past three years.

“We’ve found that if you stay with our program six months or longer, and you work through (the program), then our folks average a 119 percent increase in income, a 56 percent reduction in debt and a 366 percent increase in assets, such as retirement accounts and bank accounts,” Brown said.

Tameka Johnson is one of the people who says Circles has helped her.

“Prior to joining Circles, I was quiet and withdrawn, mostly keeping to myself and just going to work and school,” she said. “Since joining, I’ve learned various soft skills to aid in communication when applying for jobs, creating resumes, communicating with teachers or prepping for events like this.”

She added that meeting new people through the group has broadened her circle of friends and helped her to branch out socially.

“Among many things, Circles provides insight and knowledge into the cycle of poverty and different sides of it,” Johnson said. “Before joining Circles, I barely ventured out to see what it was like in others’ lives around me. … Now, I realize that sometimes people in poverty may need a push or some form of motivation to help them recognize the positive things that can come out of an organization like Circles.”

Troup County’s poverty rate dropped in 2015, to 19.5 percent — down from 21.9 percent the year prior, according to the U.S. Census. Still, it’s higher than the national average of 14.8 percent.

The federally defined poverty level for a single person is an annual income of $11,770 and for a family of four is $24,250, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Brown realizes she and her organization still have work to do, and Thursday announced the CharterBank Foundation has granted the group $20,000 to open a second Circles location in West Point. She said she expects it to be up and running by August, and the group is currently accepting applications for participants.

For more information, visit www.circlesoftroup.org or call 706-883-1687.

Tyler H. Jones is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.