Our first week has just finished here in the wonderful town of Gettysburg, and I feel like everything is starting to settle down. Phoebe and I have finally begun cooking meals in the campus kitchen, and are getting the hang of how things work here (or at least I think so).
A few nights ago we cooked a meal for a group that meets named Circles. After preparing the meal for them, we sat in on their meeting, and really saw what it was all about. Going into the meeting I had no idea what to expect. I was one of the first people there because I was delivering the food, and I just assumed it was a place where families could come to eat a meal if they could not afford one for themselves, or just wanted a place to relieve their stress and talk to people. As it turns out, those two things were only small components of what Circles really is. As people started to filter in I began to see that it was more formal than I thought, and there was someone in charge, almost like a teacher, or mentor. Her name is Tonya, and she is incredibly nice and patient with everyone that comes. She has a sweet tone, but the kids know when she is being serious, and straighten up and listen to her. Tonya even brings her own children, who are a little younger than me, to play with the participant’s children downstairs while the meeting is going on. It was interesting to find out that when Tonya was younger she came to Circles, and someone looked after her kids. Now that they are older, they are giving back what they received, which I find awesome. Before the meeting began, I started talking to one of the ladies who has been coming regularly for almost three years what Circles is really about. She told me that it is a support group for adults who were emotionally or financially struggling, and need a place to talk about it, and not feel judged. She also told me that it is like a class in some ways, because they all have a textbook, and are assigned homework for each week. The homework focuses on something different each week, and this week was public speaking. They each had to prepare a 3-5 minute speech about their lives, and present it in front of the class. It was actually a large crowd to present in front of because there were 6 participants, 3 Heston interns (Phoebe, Brandon, and myself), and about 7 other women who were observing the program to see how successful it was, to see if they could bring it to other places in the state.
It was very interesting to listen to each individual’s story, and sad to see that they have all had so much hardship in their lives. One of the women in particular talked about how she had a kid with a man, but he began to abuse her, so she came to the shelter with just the clothes she had on, and her child. Since then, she has been able to achieve her GED, and has begun taking classes at the college level. She also has a job, and has a house. She has come a very long way from when she showed up at the door with nothing. Another man who shared his story talked about how he spent his entire life savings on a house in Gettysburg, but when his son got sick he had to sell it and spend all of his money on making sure he received the treatment he needed.
I went into the dinner thinking that the people coaming were going to be homeless, with torn clothes, and no education. I left the meeting with an entirely different perspective however. Most of the people had their high school education, and some even had more education than I have gotten so far. They all just have had a bad break in life, and are trying extremely hard to get back on their feet. I think sometimes people are categorized and judged before they can really show who they are. They are grouped into the “poor” category, rather than the “hard-working”, and people judge them for this rather than trying to help them. Circles is a place where no judgment is passed, and I believe that this is why the people are so comfortable there, and why it is ultimately so successful.