Great Circle prepares teens for independent living

Dec 11, 2013

Great Circle was formed in 2009 by the merger of the Boys and Girls Town of Missouri and Edgewood Children’s Center, two large organizations dedicated to helping children in need of treatment. 

In Columbia, Great Circle runs a small, six-acre campus that is one of seven spread across the state of Missouri. The organization services young people who have suffered from emotional disorders or abuse. Eighteen-year-old Erik, whose last name was requested to be withheld by Great Circle to protect his livelihood, was adopted into the United States hoping to get a fresh start to his life.

"It was me and my siblings," Erik said. "We were taken to America from an orphanage by an American couple, and what we thought was going to be a fresh start to our life turned out to be one of the most awful experiences. From there the hotline got called and me and my siblings got split to different foster families."

Erik was eventually adopted by his foster parents. At the time he was filled with aggression and began acting out so much that his family did not know what to do with him. In the end they had him sent to Great Circle in St. James, Missouri when he was 11 years old. His mother eventually had him transferred to the Columbia campus to be closer to her home in Shelbyville, and by age 15, he was enrolled in Great Circle’s Transitional Living Program.

"TLP is place that teaches me how to live independent, how to do bills, get a job," Erik said. "Now I’m going to be graduating in May so the main goal is to work on my grades, graduate and kind of just get ready for my future, which I’m going to be joining AmeriCorp, just to help people out."

The Transitional Living Program is for young people who that will not be reunited with their biological or adoptive families once they age out of the program. TLP teaches its participants to live independently in the community. During the program, they are placed in an off-campus apartment and taught to maintain it. Transitional Living Supervisor Jessica Luster says Great Circle sends the youths mock bills each month that they have to pay.

"When they get a job, 30 percent of their income goes into an account that they can’t withdraw from until they leave us, and that 30 percent is the beginning stages of what their bills are going to look like," Luster said. "But in the group home it starts off with 30 percent and then they save an additional 30 percent in their own account, so we start teaching them how to save and how to put aside money and pay bills."

Luster says a majority of the funding for Great Circle comes from state funding and child welfare agencies that refer children to the program. Once a welfare agency refers the child to the program, they pay for their services.

"We also have outpatient services where children still living in the home can come for like day treatment services and such," Luster said.

Great Circle Director of Communications Marie McGeehan says that the funds they receive from the state and outpatient services fulfill about 75 percent of necessary funds. McGeehan says that this prompts Great Circle to do fundraisers such as golf tournaments and Diamond Night.

"It’s a great night of dinner and a silent auction and a live auction, and area jewelers donate items for a live auction, and the funds raised help the children in our care," McGeehan said. "Our most recent Diamond Night, which was in November, we raised more than $75,000."

Erik spoke at the most recent Diamond Night, telling his story to the assembled audience. He compared his time spent with Great Circle to a diamond, saying that he came into the program a rock, but thanks to the staff at Great Circle, he has been turned into a diamond and the change will last forever.

"I’ve changed a lot," Erik said. "From the beginning, it was always blaming other people. I don’t know, I’ve matured a lot, I’ve gotten myself straight. I know what I want to do in my future. Now I don’t let people bug me as much and I just learned to do what I need to do to get out of here and join AmeriCorp and help people that are less fortunate."

Erik graduates in May from Columbia Public Schools. He says he looks forward to his future in AmeriCorp thanks to Great Circle.