Cookie’s Memorial: Circles™ of Hope

It has been a week since Cookie’s funeral and burial, but the flowers are still beautiful as they sit in our dining room window.  I’ve tried to resume a semblance of routine which has been hard since everything I do brings a reminder of Cookie.  As I went through Cookie’s papers earlier this week,  I saw the outline of her life story which she had shared in small-group a couple of months ago.  She also thought it could be the basis of her obituary.

Cookie’s first point was simple: poverty.  Not “I was born on a farm.”  Nor “I was the baby of the family.”  Not even “I played alone most of the time.”  Even though each of these is true and affected who Cookie later became, what Cookie chose to say was stark and unambiguous, “Poverty.”  Until they moved to town when Cookie was in 3rd grade, Cookie’s family lived in a house without indoor plumbing.  The source of water was a cistern in the front yard.  The toilet was an outhouse in the back.  Her Dad struggled to successfully farm land that probably shouldn’t have ever been plowed with its thin, rocky soil.  The straw that broke the camel’s back came when he bought a small herd of dairy cattle that had Bang’s disease rendering them infertile.   Refusing to go bankrupt the family moved to town and Cookie’s Dad and Mom both worked hard for more than a decade before paying off their farm debt.  When Cookie went to college, she didn’t expect nor did she receive financial support from her family.  But it was the era when the federal government had good student aid programs, so by dint of her own hard work and a good financial aid package, Cookie was first member of her family to graduate from college.

But childhood poverty has its effect even in adulthood.  When Cookie saw the financial advantages that friends continued to accrue from their families she struggled with envy.  She  chose to present herself as “different” rather than facing the feelings of inadequacy she felt.  She often felt trapped by circumstances beyond her control.  She was mulling over this one day while walking to the grocery store when she had what she would later refer to as her “aha” moment.  She went in one moment from feeling sorry for herself to experiencing deep empathy for those still in poverty and those facing racial prejudice.  “Oh my gosh,” she thought, “this must be how it feels to be poor.  This must be how it feels to be discriminated against.”  After that day, I never heard her compare herself to those who were better off than she was; her only concern was to lift up those who were worse off.

Beginning in  2004, the Newton community has held several seminars based on Ruby Paine’s book, “Bridges out of Poverty”, helping local educators, business leaders and church members to better understand how to work with and assist low-income families.  Peace Connections coordinated a class based on Phil Devol’s “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting by World” for those in poverty wanting out.  Organizations had to recommend and sponsor students.  This is where Cookie became involved, co-teaching the class with Pam, a social-worker with a local agency.  It soon became obvious that a class and the support of a sponsor was not enough; there needed to be more follow-up.  The community was ready, but the connections weren’t being made.

Scott Miller founder of Move the Mountain, author of “Until It’s Gone: Ending Poverty in our Nation, in our Lifetime”, says, “What truly helps families find a way out of poverty is to become part of a community of people with different socioeconomic backgrounds who have learned to care about one another.”   This was like music to Cookie’s ears.  In October of 2007, Cookie and Myrna, director of Peace Connections, went to Marshall, Missouri for a hands-on training for Scott Miller’s Circles™ Campaign. The key concept of Circles™ is that those in middle and upper class have not only financial advantages, but also have a circle of social assets which is often missing among those in poverty.  Participants in Circles™ are paired with local volunteers to provide those assets identified as a need by the participant. A “Getting Ahead” class which Cookie co-taught became the first cohort of Newton’s Circles of Hope.  Cookie became the local spokesperson for Peace Connection’s Circles™ iniative, speaking in local churches and organizations as well as at a state poverty convention.   She also helped coordinate the Scott Miller’s 2008 visit to Newton during which the Newton community shaped the future direction of the program.

When we left for India in July of 2009, the Newton Circles™ effort was small, but it had a strong group of volunteers.  By the time we returned in August of 2010 the program had gained momentum with group meetings often numbering over 50 people.  This fall seems to be the tipping point for the national campaign with stories about the program appearing on the CBS Evening News and CNN among others.

While we were planning Cookie’s funeral, someone asked me about the memorial; I had to admit that Cookie and I hadn’t discussed it.  But it only took me a few seconds to realize that Circles™ would be the perfect memorial.  It is, in fact, already a living memorial to Cookie’s dedication and joyful work.  Inviting others to participate by their donations assures its continued viability.  The flowers which I am still enjoying will eventually fade, but the lives changed by Circles™ will continue to be bright and beautiful.


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 David Wiebe
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6 Responses to Cookie’s Memorial: Circles™ of Hope

  1. I live next door to a man who was in one of Cookie’s first Getting Ahead classes. I am convinced that the choices he makes today are deeply influenced by what he learned there, not only from the curriculum, but from entering into relationship with Cookie herself. He remembers her fondly as someone who genuinely cared and walked her talk. She invited him to begin seeing himself as a person of worth.

    I just became an Ally in Circles of Hope myself, in part because of my neighbor’s testimony and Cookie’s example.

    I also just finished redesigning the Peace Connections website to provide more information about Circles of Hope. I invite readers to go to and navigate to Circles of Hope if you’d like to know more about how to support this great initiative born out of Cookie’s vision and passion.

  2. Caprice Becker says:

    I thougth of the two of you–now just you–again today during today’s sermon. The pasages were from Deuteronomy where God tells the people not to forget Him when they get into the promised land and Luke when Jesus tells the story of the rich fool, who wants to tear down his barns, build bigger ones and eat drink and be merry. Of course the theme was on being thankful and remembering God, with highlights reminding us how wealthy we are in the world view. You and Cookie were always so deliberate in being grateful for those around you rather than what you had around you.

    Keep up your good work and gratefulness.

  3. Caprice Becker says:

    Very timely, considering there was an article based on your and Cookie’s simple lifestyle choices in the current issue of MWR.

  4. Margaret Goering says:

    Thank you very much for selecting Peace Connections/Circles of Hope for Cookie”s memorial. It is a fitting tribute to her. Anyone who wants to learn more about Circles of Hope can stop by Peace Connections to read and hear about Circles of Hope. There are many success stories. There is a new class of “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World” starting Tuesday, November 15. There were more than twenty applicants for the class, but the class is limited to only thirteen or fourteen. We routinely serve 60 to 80 for the Tuesday night suppers, and have served more than 100 a couple of times.
    I enjoyed the time that Cookie worked with us at the Health Department. It was fun to see her “finds” from Meridian Grocery, Etc. Shop, or Salvation Army. She was very special. We wish you the best as you continue your life without Cookies.
    Peace, Margaret Goering, Peace Connections Board, Circles of Hope Ally

  5. rusty and mary lou says:

    Beautiful Dave. Thank you. This is a whole project I had no idea Cookie and Myrna were doing. What would be the simplest way to make a memorial donation? Also, the initiative sounds very relevant to our work here, so I would love any resources that might be next steps to engage our community. We love you, ML and R

  6. Cindy & Darren says:

    Who do we contact about making a donation in Cookie’s memory? This is exactly what we were looking for… a way to make a small difference in her honor. Please let us know how we can help…

    Cindy & Darren

Comments are closed.