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Financial Mentors Offer Sustainable Change at Florida Church

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St. Luke’s UMC in Orlando offers financial counseling for families who are living in poverty.

For Shalania Crumpton, asking for help had always been a struggle. But she and her family needed help financially, so she reached out to an innovative program at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando.

“I realized that it’s OK to ask for help,” says Crumpton, “and not let my pride get in the way.”

St. Luke’s officially launched Circles Orange County in 2013 after reviewing its strategic vision for the 1,500-member church, says Lynnette Fields, St. Luke’s executive director of missions. They wanted to aid local children in poverty, she says, but realized it required assisting entire families.

“We thought that if we could stabilize the family,” says Fields, “that would provide long-term, sustainable change for the children who are living in poverty.”

Circles Orange County is based on Circles USA, a national initiative that combines case management, peer counseling, mentoring and more to help resolve barriers that keep families in poverty, Fields says.

Circles Orange County encourages Circle leaders—those seeking assistance—to state their goals, whether it is raising their credit scores, getting out of debt or finding work. The program then matches Circle leaders with middle- and upper-income volunteer mentors, called Circle allies, who share their expertise and help leaders find the resources they need to reach those goals. The program lasts 18 months.

Fields says three classes have graduated from the program, and three Circle leaders from the first graduating class are now allies. The program has a 90 percent retention rate.

Mentors helped Crumpton start her own home-based floral arrangement business, says Beth Witten, St. Luke’s Circles coordinator.

“We’ve been able to let people know of her business,” says Witten, “so it widens their social network.”

Besides business, Crumpton says she has learned another lesson: “God puts people in your path to help you.”

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