Autumn Hendrickson is still shaking her head in unbelief.
She was the lone graduate Tuesday from the Community Action Circles program. That means she has become a self-sustaining single mother of three.
In just four years in the Circles program, Hendrickson has taken the tools she has been taught, applied them and increased her income by 540%.
The Circles program is designed to help lift people out of poverty through education, mentoring and goal-setting. The ultimate outcome is to have individuals be self-sustaining and employed.
“I met Autumn at her first night at Circles and have watched her journey,” said Karen McCandless, director of Community Action. “She has faced challenges along the way, but her passion, focus and positivity has permanently changed her family’s life trajectory. I am so happy she and her family are thriving members of our community.”
Her children have been some of her greatest supporters. They include Kali Hollins, 18, and her two sons, Matthew Hollins, 15, and Noble Waite, 5. They all live in Mapleton, but will all be moving to West Valley City shortly to be closer to their mother’s work.
Hendrickson married young, and over her four-year marriage had two children. She said her husband was an alcoholic and drug addict, and for three of those four years was either in rehabalitation services or jail.
That was in California. Hendrickson moved her children to Utah where she had friends. She was neither in a good nor a stable place when she fell for the first person she dated, she said.
“My (second) marriage turned toxic,” Hendrickson said. “He quit his job and wouldn’t find work and was living off me.”
Her little family was in an abusive situation both mentally and physically.
“I was trying to leave, but found out I was pregnant,” Hendrickson said. “I felt trapped.”
She was on total government assistance for nearly everything. It was some good friends that directed her to Circles—the place that would change her life.
“Some friends took me to a Circles program,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was invited to. I started to take the classes. I didn’t know where I was going, but I was getting kindness, love, support and hope for my future.”
For Hendrickson, that was enough to stick with it. They broke goals down into little steps that were attainable for her. It was hard at first.
“It was like looking up a mountain that was unsurmountable, especially when you’re carrying three kids on your back as you climb,” Hendrickson said. “I went through a lot of self-healing.”
She also went from job to job, still only finding those that paid no more than $12 to $15 per hour, not enough to care of her family and take her off government assistance.
She had some friends that moved to the area and bought a dump truck. They were aware of the new prison being built and how they needed people to haul dirt, etc. It got her thinking about trucking jobs.
“I started researching trucking for a month or two,” Hendrickson said.
She said she utilized LDS Employment Services, Department of Workforce Services and Community Action work services.
It took a couple of weeks of school, and Hendrickson had her commercial driver’s license.
“LDS employment had a program with a scholarship for high demand employment,” she said. “I met with an employment counselor and he helped me get an interview. They wrote the check for the trucking school.”
With help from her Circles allies, and four years of working hard on bettering her situation, Hendrickson landed the right job as a driving recruiter with Swift Transportation in West Valley.
“I have just grown here. Being with Swift has been absolutely the job for me,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson gives credit to the mentors and allies in the Circles program that had confidence in her and helped her with her own confidence.
“They were so helpful,” she said, “But it came down to, ‘Was I going to make it for myself?’”
The last phase of Hendrickson’s transformation with Circles before she could graduate was determining her finances, fixing her credit rating and making sure she could sustain her family.
She said when she sat down with a counselor and looked at what she was really making, she was shocked. With her base pay, she was able to pay all of her bills; her bonus and commissions are the gravy on top.
“I’m in a first-time homebuyer class. I’m being helped with cleaning up my credit. Buying a home is in my plans,” Hendrickson said.