"Poverty is a bully," said Juan Aguilar. It was a heartfelt proclamation he made as one of five graduates from Circles for Davidson — a 12-week journey designed to help people overcome obstacles to move forward in life.

"Circles really is helpful when you're going through a hard time...and I guess losing hope,” added Aguilar. “You seem happier. You have to keep your head up and be strong."

For Aguilar, Sydney Jenkins, Travis Gilyard, Denyse Rabb and Jasmine Fries, Dec. 18 marked an ending and a new beginning during the Circles graduation ceremony which was held at Memorial United Methodist Church in Thomasville.

"The mission of Circles is to really help people to make a plan to move forward in their lives," said Annette Snider, Circles community organizer. "To have that happen, we engage the whole community by bringing in resources and community volunteers who say I want to help support a young person move forward and connect them to resources.

"I have seen lives change and communities transformed."

Circles is a national campaign which partners community leaders, volunteers and parents or expectant parents (ages 16 to 24) who are struggling with the cycle of poverty. Each graduate presented life plans and reflections on what they learned in the program to overcome barriers in their lives that could prevent them from achieving their goals.

Tracy Carpenter, an intern at Family Services of Davidson County, addressed the graduates with a charge following their presentations. Carpenter, 60, spent considerable time with Circles participants in their most recent session after completing her master's degree in counseling.

"When I was a very young girl, 17, I had a baby and got married," Carpenter said. "I had no college education. I didn't even have a high school education. Slowly, over the years, I was able to get an associate's degree at 29. At 56, a bachelor's degree, and now at 60, a master's degree.

"I came here and I was a stranger to you. I was just a middle-aged white woman. Who was I? But you accepted me and gave me such warmth. When I came to this internship and was granted time in this program, I fell in love with everything that happened here."

For more information on an upcoming Circles program, contact Family Services of Davidson County at 243-0237.

Staff Writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 888-3575, or at kennedy@tvilletimes.com.