Jim Uzelac

2019 Dignity Award Recipient Jim Uzelac

The Circles of Support Dignity Award recognizes community entities, people, programs, organizations, businesses, or employers whose contribution improves conditions for people in poverty. The Dignity Award was created in 2010 as a way to highlight the interaction between the poor and our community as a whole. The award is a means of publically thanking those who reserve judgment and demonstrate kindness and respect.

In February 2004, an invitation to a community event to learn about a new program that would help people in poverty peaked Jim’s interest. “I attended a very eye-opening community presentation about Circles of Support and the extent of poverty in Itasca County. I wanted to try and help improve things in any way possible”.

Over the past 15 years, Jim has gotten a glimpse into the lives of over 250 low income people in our community. He regularly attends Thursday night Circles of Support meetings that are designed to help people in poverty build healthy and safe social connections.

His consistency in the Circles of Support community and willingness to share his knowledge, life experiences and many laughs has built trust and grown friendships. “I enjoy hearing how from one week to the next people are becoming more empowered and taking steps to get out of poverty. At Circles of Support you are part of a big family; there is a common bond with lots of sharing”.

Attending Circles of Support meetings and events can be difficult as transportation is a serious issue for many low income people. With the local bus schedule ending before 8 pm, Jim has saved countless people from a cold walk home on winter evenings. In addition to transportation worries, many who come to Circles of Support also struggle with mental health concerns that lead to social isolation and result in increased hopelessness and depression. Without being able to count on a ride home, some may opt to not leave the house.

Always very thoughtful with his words and actions, Jim is a role model of consistency and respect. He lends encouragement and appreciation to all and especially to those facing challenging life moments in order to help them hang on and believe that there is hope.

Although a quiet helper and never seeking recognition, when Jim notices an area where he can fill a need he does. He has assisted numerous low income people with life tasks that to them seem insurmountable with a lack of resources and connections. From moving a piece of furniture, finding a household item, or giving employment advice and recommendations, Jim is making a difference in the lives of people who often don’t have other social capital to rely on to help them get past day to day obstacles.

What is it about Circles of Support that keeps you involved? 15 years is a long time. “I’ve seen Circles of Support work and I believe in it. I’ve watched many people over the years improve their lives by being a part of Circles. I’ve never talked to anyone who has ever participated in Circles who has said it wasn’t a positive experience for them. The improvements that people make are things that they own. Circles programming, such as empowerment skills, money management, and building social capital helps facilitate this. It is great to watch this happen”.

Jim chose this quote by Woody Allen to describe his involvement with Circles of Support over the years, “80% of success is just showing up.”

We recognize Jim for his efforts to see the good in low income people, for his willingness to give each person a chance without judgement, and for taking actionable steps towards alleviating the stress of poverty. Through all of the years he has provided friendship and acceptance to all who seek hope at Circles of Support regardless of the diverse life struggles that many arrive with. We value this gesture as having unquantifiable positive impact in people’s lives. His efforts are an invaluable contribution to making our community a welcoming place for our residents who struggle with the stress and degradation of poverty.

Jim is employed as an engineer at Minnesota Power. In addition to Circles of Support, Jim serves on the Board of Directors for the Itasca County Historical Society along with other volunteer work.

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