Thousands of families around Utah have trouble meeting their basic needs.

As of 2019, nearly 9% of Utahns were living at or below the poverty level. Initiatives like Circles, which has six locations in Utah and more than 80 locations across 22 states and parts of Canada, are working to stop the cycle of poverty and lift families to financial security.

In Circles, people can find community support and resources to help them become financially independent.

Poverty may not always look the way you would expect, and it is often hiding in plain sight. It could be a neighbor like Tammi Velasquez: a married mother of four who was working but still struggling to make ends meet. It may be someone like Trevor Buit, who holds two bachelor’s degrees but still needed government assistance to get by.

Here’s how Circles helped Velasquez and Buit improve their lives.

Tammi Velasquez

When Velasquez’ family was struggling financially, she found the Circles Utah Valley chapter and went through several courses over 12 weeks. The program, which is designed to take at least 18 months to complete, gave her a deeper understanding of the effects of poverty and gave her tools to set goals and improve. In Circles, she met with others who were going through the same things and were working to improve.

Circles also connected her with volunteer allies who could assist with strategies and support her through the process. When she encountered stumbling blocks along the way, a support network was there to keep Velasquez on track. While most people in life are focused on their own issues, Velasquez found the Circles initiative to be designed for supporting the needs of each individual and helping people grow together.

Though Velasquez graduated from Circles in 2019, she still has a list of goals from the program that she works toward now. She says the program takes time and effort, but it is a life-changing experience that gives people in poverty hope.

Trevor Buit

After college, Buit looked for work but had a hard time finding a job without any experience. Living on government benefits and feeling unsatisfied with his situation, Buit looked for help to chart a new course.

He was pointed to Circles, where he found resources and a supportive community. Buit has cerebral palsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and he says it is easy to learn helplessness when living with a disability. At Circles, he found he could do more than he thought he could.

Buit says Circles gave him community as well as accountability to others when working toward his goals. The program kept him from isolating himself and gave him a purpose: Helping others like him.

According to Buit, people in poverty are working to improve but need support to get there. As a person with a disability, it is easy to feel unemployable or be viewed that way by others. Circles helped show Buit that everyone is employable and can become financially stable with the right support system.

Today, Buit is working full-time and credits the Circles program as an important part of his progress. He said he was determined to improve his life, and Circles helped him get there.

Living in poverty can make a person feel isolated with no way out. Circles creates a community of support from financially stable volunteers, other families, staff and community partners to guide people out of poverty and improve their families’ lives for generations to come.

Brent Hutchison is the Circles Utah Valley coordinator. An initiative hosted by Community Action Services and Food Bank, Circles Utah Valley is located at 815 S. Freedom Blvd, Ste. 100. For more information on Circles, educational programs, how to volunteer or make donations, upcoming classes, food drives and more at CASFB, visit www.communityactionuc.org or call (801) 373-8200.