Circles, AmeriCorps help woman

Tina Thomas of Parkersburg has experienced positive changes in her life.

Thomas says she has broken the grip of poverty through the help of two organizations.

And now Thomas is trying to help others who face the same challenges and circumstances she has encountered.

Thomas, 37, credits the Circles Campaign of the Mid-Ohio Valley and AmeriCorps with improving her economic standing and self-esteem.

“Circles and AmeriCorps have transformed my world,” Thomas said. “I didn’t have the skills or path before to get out of poverty. They helped me to focus.”

There was a time when Thomas was held back by low self-esteem, she said. It was difficult for her to move outside a small world in Parkersburg.

Through these two programs, Thomas said, she feels comfortable talking to community leaders and speaking in front of groups. She even drove to Pittsburgh by herself for an AmeriCorps training session – something she couldn’t have done before, she said.

Thomas was a featured speaker, where she shared her story of transformation as a Circles leader, at a dinner to benefit Circles at Stout Memorial United Methodist Church in Parkersburg last month. She shared the podium with Mike Bartrum, Marshall University Hall of Famer and former National Football League standout.

Thomas moved out of the family home at 17, she said, and quit school three months before she was scheduled to graduate from Parkersburg High School.

“I tried to be grown-up before my time,” she said. “I did stupid things.”

Among the many low points in her life was a failed marriage, Thomas said. She adores her two sons, Eli and Jayden, from the marriage.

Tina and her sons live in the Wood County Habitat for Humanity home they moved into in 2000. As a healthy community developer with AmeriCorps, Thomas visits with neighbors and others in the community to discuss diabetes self-management and prevention.

Thomas, a diabetic, teaches classes on diabetes and other chronic diseases. She said she makes herself available as often as possible to her “students” who have questions or need assistance.

Through Circles – a community-based initiative that assists families in poverty through education and friendships – Thomas has been helped by an “ally,” or mentor, who works with her on goals and puts her in contact with people who might help her.

John Ruehl, local Circles founder and coordinator, suggested Thomas attend a community meeting on hunger in the Parkersburg mayor’s office at which time Thomas was introduced to an AmeriCorps representative, leading to her job.

Thomas wanted me to mention the support she has received from her family, her partner, Theodore “Teddy” Layton, and his family. The two families have planned a cookout for today.

But on Sunday, Thomas will be conducting a class as a healthy community developer for AmeriCorps, through the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, she said.

Ruehl said he is pleased with the “huge strides” Thomas has made in her life. He noted she was “struggling to find her way” and faced economic hardships when she began taking Circles (circlescampaignmov.org) classes two years ago.

“John (Ruehl) taught me how to deal with difficult situations and people,” Thomas said.

And to go into a situation with confidence, she added.

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Bobby Pierce of Hometown Cake in Parkersburg said it was an honor for him to be selected to make a special cake to celebrate the Blennerhassett Hotel’s 125th anniversary this week. He spent about nine hours over two days making the vanilla cake, which had fondant icing and buttercream inside. Pierce created the cake to look like an antique photo album with edible images of the hotel through its history. He also prepared, for the public to sample, 200 small cupcakes with edible Blennerhassett Hotel logos on top. Pierce, a former pastry chef at Ritz-Carlton luxury hotels, is looking forward to preparing three desserts for the Taste of Parkersburg on May 31 next to the Blennerhassett Hotel. New to the ninth annual Taste of Parkersburg is an Italian wine dinner led by Robert Cavanaugh, wine educator, on May 30.

Contact Paul LaPann at plapann@newsandsentinel.com