S.M.A.R.T. Goals

My name is Charlene Pitchford. I am a Cohort-4 Leader of the Circles RVA.  I started out with my Circles RVA journey in April 2020 with a great sense of optimism that my life would change toward a positive future and I was right. I did not know how right I was at first but now I know. The reason why I know now is because of the goals setting objectives that Circles RVA has asked each Leader to make and commit to. I did not know how I would ever complete my goals at first but as I revalued my goals and put my goals into (S.M.A.R.T) goals I now have a much clearer path to complete my goals. I am now starting to make each goal in my life a goal that I plan to commit too and to use the S.M.A.R.T. goals method to accomplish my goals. I also know it is going to take hard work and a lot of sufficing to complete my goals that I have stated and that I want to complete. I also am very grateful that I have two wonderful Circles RVA Allies to support me in completing my goals.

In For The Long Haul

My story

I am Jannie Janine Joy Thomas (Laugh) Originally from Richmond VA.

I have been affected by poverty both by generational and conditional poverty.

Born to a hard working mother of five that worked in catering and as a chef at a later age and a father who worked as a Richmond public school groundsman. We had very modest means. I never thought we were in poverty despite living in Public housing because my parents had jobs and worked.  Growing up I thought the word poverty was something like a bad word. And despite my working hard and saving, Circles had me to realize that I fell in the same way of life as my parents and older siblings. I wanted out.

Before Circle I wasn’t involved with my new community that I had moved into, but was in need of connecting in a community setting like I’ve done before.  I was introduced to  CRVA through a client of my First cousin who thought it would be a good program that would help me start my business again. Little did she know she would change my family life forever.

Through CRVA I have received two wonderful Allies, Dick and Stephanie, and Great Circles staff  that have motivated me to push through even when I just don’t want to. As my Twin daughter will always remind me mommy you made a commitment..LOL.. Kids, But I did ,

I made that commitment to the program and most of all to my family and myself.

Through all of Circles Support from my Ally Family and Circles Family , I have Started that business that I wanted. I have cleaned up a lot of my credit and I sit  on the Board of Directors of Circles and am putting life into action  with a pay forward attitude in the way CRVA has helped me.

Today I am proud of being one of CRVA first Cohort and proud of being a leader of my own life. Starting my business is just the start of what’s to come from me. Now face with the Pandemic has pushed me to come up with other ways to stay in business and also be able to help my family and community safely.

To sum it up Poverty is real but it’s also a mindset. I chose to change both in my family. If we know better we can do better and also pass it on so others can do the same.  I thank Circle for all the organization does for the Richmond and surrounding  areas. My next steps are becoming an Alley and helping as my Allies have helped me and yes Dick, Stephanie,Helen & Kristin I’m here to stay for the long haul.

Thank you


Overcoming Hurdles


When I look back at my life, there is a lot of things that I regret but joining the Circles RVA program is not one of them. My journey to get out of poverty started back when I was around 15 years old. I was a mother of 1 child, a sophomore in high school, and lived with my mother in public housing where I was raised. 2/3 years went by, I was around 18/19 years old, in college (for the first time), when my sons father was murdered in the streets. For the next 2 years I was battling SEVERE depression and Suicidal thoughts and attempts. During that time, 18/19 years old, I became strung out on Herione. When you do street drugs, they make you do things that you normally wouldn’t do when you are sober and clean. I spent about 2 years in the streets using drugs and I ended up doing something that caused me to become a convicted felon. Little did I know, I would pay for that for the REST OF MY LIFE. People say everyone get a second chance, but I often wondered what a SECOND CHANCE felt like.

I got out of jail, successfully completed probation with NO INFRACTIONS, and PAID ALL OF MY FINES. At the age of 22/23, is when my ROAD TO END POVERTY officially started. Still a single mother of an almost 8 year old, out of trouble and off of probation I finally was able to remain CLEAN. I enrolled in college for the SECOND time and met a guy that I fell in love with. I ended up pregnant with my second child and sadly, I dropped out of college for the SECOND TIME to take care of my newborn baby girl.

Fast forward 7/8 years later, around the age of 30/31 years old, STILL CLEAN AND SOBER. I tried to go and get my drivers license, however, DMV told me that to my surprise I still had fees and fines to pay, after I had just paid off over 13,000 dollars in fines over the last few years and was told I was done. So now I was told that my new balance was $3,045 and NOONE knew where the additional money came from. I had brought on NO new charges or anything. So where was the money from? I STILL HAVEN’T BEEN TOLD! I have done my jailtime, completed probation and paid all my fines but yet I was still paying for my past! That was my life.

Over the years I knew I needed to get my life together because I never in my life loved anyone more than I loved my children. I would literally starve for DAYS just to make sure they had enough to eat. There have been plenty of times I had to go to the hospital because I was dehydrated and sick to my stomach from not eating and not even drinking liquid. That’s when I knew I loved my children more than I loved myself!

Two years later, my life changed a lot! I was now 32 years old, with my own place in public housing, my own vehicle, that I am sure had a lot of things wrong with it because sometimes it would start and sometimes it wouldn’t even budge, but because of where I came from I didn’t complain and I was blessed to have transportation, even if it wasn’t reliable.  My kids were all in private schools, on financial aid and scholarships, and I was what we call “SURVIVING”. For those who don’t know, surviving is when you pinch off of the electric bill to pay the rent, but you can’t pay the full amount of rent because you pinched off that to pay the car insurance. That’s SURVIVING! I was very good at hiding what I was going through. I didn’t want any help because I felt like if someone helped me then I was weak. So, I made due with what I had and what I didn’t have I shorted and starved myself to make sure my 4 kids had.

Right before my 33rd birthday, I was volunteering at a school event for my youngest daughters’ school. Her teacher who had been in our life for a few years, had witnessed my struggle but also seen my determination to get a better life for my babies. She pulled me aside and talked to me about a program she was volunteering at that gives leaders the tools that they needed to get out to poverty. I swear to you, I HAVE NO CLUE WHAT SHE SAID AFTER THAT, all I heard was “This program will give you the tools you need to get out of poverty” and that’s all it took! The next week I was in the program doing Leadership training. That program was the Circles RVA Program and I was a Leader in the FIRST COHORT.

Now, 18 months later, I am enormously proud to say that I have received so many tools and resources that I desperately needed to hold myself above water. I always had this inside of me and was determined, but I did not have the support, the encouragement, and the Push that I needed to keep it up. Now, I am 34 years old with 4 children, I have gotten my rights restored and for the FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE, I CAN VOTE! Which means that I matter, I have a voice and this year, I will be heard! Registering to vote may be the easiest thing for most people to do, but something as simple as that took me my entire life to be able to do. So yes, I am more than proud of myself.

My 18 month journey has been nothing but BLOOD, SWEAT, TEARS AND LAUGHTER. There are times I wanted to give up and walk out. Life throws us curve balls sometimes, we just have to know how to swing the bat at it. I have learned how to fix my credit score, how to save money, how to parent better, how to focus and how to grow. I have been surrounded by doctors, lawyers, beauticians, barbers, accountants, business owners, counselors, physical therapists, bankers, nurses, forensic scientists, and even pastors while in the Circles RVA program. No matter what goal I set, there was always someone who could help me and if there was not, Circles coaches and facilitators brought someone into the program to teach it to us and provide those resources to us. If there was a resource out there, we were going to know about it! That’s what Circles did for us. My biggest thing I enjoyed learning about was BUDGETING. We all love money, and when you learn how to manage your money, it’s amazing how much money you can save. I have learned how to communicate better, how to publicly speak, how to open a bank account and successfully keep that account open and running without over drafting. I have learned how to understand that not everyone have the same background as mine which means that they may not understand my struggle, but the fact that they are willing to walk with you was more than enough for me. I learned how to save money, and with that, I was able to get my first car fixed and buy a new truck with straight CASH that I had saved up. Now I am an owner of 2 vehicles. I was taught the proper way to create a portfolio, in which I did and that very portfolio helped me get a house. Yes, I am about to move into my new house that’s currently being renovated and I was able to put my own CASH deposit down on my house. I have gained so many friends and family members when I joined the Circles RVA program.

Now that I think about it, The ONLY regret that have is having to leave the Program! This program was one of the best things that has ever happened to me and my kids. I am now in College again and guess what? I am almost in my JUNIOR year in college when before I could never make it out of my freshman year. I have a bank account that finally have MONEY in it, like real live money. I do not have to overdraft my account to get gas or food. I have lost weight and set so many goals that I have accomplished back to back to back! I set a goal to pass ALL of my classes with a B or above, and I have had OVER 15 classes since I started and EACH ONE, I have passed with AT LEAST B+ or better. In school I have received the STUDENT OF THE WEEK TWICE. I have received MOST IMPROVED STUDENT, once. Also, I now have a job! One of the most amazing, laid back jobs I have ever had, making the most money I have EVER made before. The most I have ever made on a job was $8.25. No way I could properly raise 4 kids and take care of them on that pay, but now, I am being paid $14. When I started circles 18 months ago, my credit score was 574, 519, and 583. Now, my credit scores are 622, 675, and 699, and I have a 100% payment rate. Back before Circles, I was motivated, but I didn’t have the drive and determination that I have now. When you have the support and people backing you up, you will be surprised just how far you can go in life! There have been plenty of times I wanted to give up because I was battling mental health illness and suffering from trauma but my allies gave me 5 reasons (me and my 4 kids) why I HAD TO stay focus.

Of course, I had to do the work, but having my Allies and Circles Family has been an amazing feeling. My allies Alice and Davis has walked in my shoes for about 16 months out of the 18, because for about 2 of those months I was in training. Having my allies in my life has been the best feeling ever. Being able to tell them PERSONAL things In my life AND NOT BE JUDGED..

I am incredibly happy to be graduating but sad to be leaving all my family and friends. I love each and everyone of you, and I am blessed to have formed a relationship with you all. For the people that I haven’t been able to form one with because of COVID-19, I just want you guys to know that the Circles RVA Program has changed my life entirely. For the best of course, and if I could do everything I have done these last 18 months all over again I would, just to be with my Circles Family.

One of the MOST important things I’ve learned from my Allies was that “YOUR PAST IS YOUR PAST, NOW IT’S TIME FOR YOU TO LEAVE IT THERE”. Keeping this in my head gives me the drive and motivation that I have always needed, and I thank you Alice and Davis for being in our lives and loving us like your own family, you both have taught us another meaning of family. You guys showed me that skin color is just that, SKIN COLOR! It don’t matter what blood you have running in your body, your family is what you make it. You both have never judged me, never looked down on me, never disrespected me, and always pushed me! I will FOREVER be grateful to be in Circles RVA and I will NEVER forget my journey! THANK YOU…..

Making Progress


Friends introduced me to this program. When I signed up, they called me for when the classes start. And when I start coming here my blood pressure come down because I had been thinking about things, worried. When I’m a single mother by myself, I go to work. I come home. I don’t have other things to do. So I started to come here and people had the same problems too…

I listen to other’s opinions. They advise me. We talk together as a family. This place I think is a family, a home, to me because there’s a lot of people making me happy. This place, it’s just helped me a lot.

So then about 2 to 3 months later I meet Miss Jean. I said, “please can you help me write this sentence?”. She said “yes and I’d love to do it.” So from that day I told her my problem and she said, “oh is that your goal? You want to go back to school to learn to read and write?” I said, “yes.”

Jean is a good person and Mr. Joel, he makes sure I go to school. He takes me to class. He doesn’t want me to be late. Lovely people. If I wouldn’t have done this program, I wouldn’t have met them. So they are my angels.

It (Circles RVA) worked for me. I’m looking for a house to move to. I’m working on it and through these people (Circles RVA) I get the information. So they give me ideas on where I can go. It will take a year or a year and a half but I’m in the process. It bring a lot of sense to my head…