Graduating from poverty

Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealBecky Clemensen talks about the changes in her life since starting the Capital City Circles Initiative program.

Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealBecky Clemensen talks about the changes in her life since starting the Capital City Circles Initiative program.

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After 6-year-old James recently lost a tooth, he woke to find $3 under his pillow. But it was more than just an honored tradition. It marked a new beginning for his family.

"This kid's gotten IOUs in the past," explained his mother, Becky Clemensen. "That's coming a long way for the Tooth Fairy to be able to do that."

Clemensen realized more than a year ago that after losing her grandmother, whom she calls the family's matriarch and anchor, she had to make changes in her life.

She'd spent the last 20 years addicted to pain pills and methamphetamine, and had recently switched to heroin.

"After my grandma died, everyone looked to me, and I was messed up," she said. "I had to do it for my kids and me. It was time."

In the process of rehab, a friend's mother recommended she check out the Capital City Circles Initiative, a program to help people become self-sufficient and end the cycle of generational poverty.

After completing the 20-week course, Clemensen is ready to join her 10 classmates in graduating from the first phase of the program, Getting Ahead.

"Everything in this program was about everything I was trying to do," she said. "Between Alcoholics Anonymous and Circles, I have people to talk to, and everything is completely different."

She has nearly eight months clean and sober, with the goal to get off all forms of assistance programs.

She's babysitting now, but hopes to become a certified nurse's assistant.

"Nothing's easy," she said. "But it's just a matter of everything falling into place."

Candy Colbert knows how she feels.

Colbert graduated from the program last year and has moved on to be paired with what are called "allies" -- volunteers from the community who meet with participants to help them see life outside of poverty.

She encourages all graduates to continue on the path they've started.

"Don't think that just because the class is over, it's over," Colbert said. "If you listen to the allies and do the program, it works."

Colbert celebrated 2 1/2 years of sobriety -- and recently quit smoking, as well.

"I feel so much better," she said. "I get up in the morning, I get my kids up and we're out the drive. I'm more active."

She works a full-time, in-home-care job with benefits. She works hours she likes and has even been able to get her teeth fixed, which had been damaged from years of methamphetamine use.

She and her three children were also able to move from their two-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom house."My next goal is to get my GED," she said.

Circles coordinator Brenda Silis said the change in people comes about when they take responsibility for their own lives.

"It can be very painful," she explained. "It's easier to blame someone else."

But when they do step up, she said, they begin to make a true transformation.

"It's huge," she said. "You can see the change, and the light bulb comes on."


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