I was born in Iowa with a rare genetic disorder called craniofrontonasal dysplasia. At an early age I had several surgeries. Procedures were done to separate two fingers, straighten my toes, fix an underbite, fix a slight cleft palate, move my eyes closer together, prevent my skull from growing together too quickly, and fill dents in my forehead.

Although only one in 120,000 people are born with this condition, I was not alone. Four of my eight siblings had the same disorder.

This caused a major strain on my parents' finances, and as a result, there were times when we didn't have working plumbing or electricity. Life was hard. We used portable toilets, took weekly showers at a church or a motel, and would make due with battery operated lights and heaters. I wore hand-me-down clothes, was bullied, and wasn't taught how to properly take care of myself until the sixth grade. One morning my teacher pulled me aside, provided me a basket of personal care items, and said something like, “You reached an age in life where this would be helpful.” Until then I had never heard of deodorant. 

Through a loving mentor and friends, I began to realize that there was another way to live--people kept their homes tidy and would allow guests to come visit.

I decided it was important for me to go to college out-of-state and was happy to be accepted to Brigham Young University-Idaho. Imagine my roommates' surprise when they taught me how to use a dishwasher for the first time.

I was the first of my siblings to obtain a bachelor's degree. After I graduated, I went on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and started to realize that I had a hard time keeping goals. 

When I returned from my mission, I was working two part-time jobs; however, I had student loans that I could not pay off and was living paycheck-to-paycheck. I was at a point in my life where I felt very stuck, so I started to go to therapy. Through this process I discovered that my desire to be accepted and please others had gone too far--I would do almost all of the cooking and cleaning for my roommates.

I needed a change and that’s when a friend introduced me to the Circles program.

When I started the program I knew very little other than it provided resources to help improve my finances. During the first twelve weeks of Circles, they teach participants how to get rid of the poverty mindset, such as the misconception that it’s impossible to become self-reliant. However, when I found out that in order to graduate, I needed to make 200% above the poverty line, I thought, “There is no way I can get there.”

But there was a hope that I felt in class that I never felt before and started to believe that I could do this.

I realized that I was not alone in my experiences. I created new friendships and found new types of support. I was also able to take a class called "Managing Life Skills" that helped me learn better people skills. I learned how to be assertive versus passive and I learned how to forgive myself and others. I also learned better ways to keep toxic people in my life distant from me. After the twelve week class was over I became the community team co chair, because I have a positive personality and am welcoming. My confidence has grown so much from being in Circles. I am a different person because of it.

One of the most impactful things I learned through the programs was how to set and keep goals.

When I started the class I hated goals. As a child, I was never told that I could accomplish goals growing up. I was even sent to a school where there were no auditions or tryouts to get onto school teams.

After the twelve week program I was matched with two allies, Brooke and Sarah. I was nervous meeting them because I don't like being vulnerable. However, they were kind and ended up providing a safe friendship in which I could be open. Brooke and Sarah are now my “permafriends”, as I call them. They helped me accomplish my goals through weekly meetings, phone calls, and texts. Additionally, my allies provided resume advice and helped me improve my interview skills. With their support, and the support of Circles Coach Margie Fullmer, I was able to go from working two part time jobs, to one full time job with partial benefits at the Utah State Hospital. After a few months of doing rotations in all the units, I was hired without an interview in the boys unit because of my work ethic. This provided both a raise and full benefits, which helped me make 200% above the poverty line.

It’s empowering to know that I don't have to live in poverty and that I can do hard things.

I even have a savings account for the first time in my life.

Circles has given me the hope that I needed in order to improve my life. And to prove to myself that I can do more, and I can be more.