Melinda Blankenship grew up near Springfield, Missouri as one of thirteen people in a three bedroom trailer (parked in her step grandparent’s back yard). With that many mouths to feed their family lived a “hand to mouth” existence and her mom and step dad did not have a particularly happy marriage or a healthy relationship.
Although she didn’t realize it at the time, Melinda’s formative years were spent in a textbook example of the “cycle of poverty. Melinda’s mother had grown up in a home where water and wood had to be hauled into the home. After her mother left home at 16, many of the homes she lived in had no indoor plumbing even into the late 1960’s and early 1970s.
By the time she was a high school senior, she had one dream and one dream only: to “get the hell out.” Melinda’s plan was to apply to Truman State College in Kirksville but didn’t have a driver’s license or a car and so she was dependent on family to get her to college. As much as her family wanted to help, they knew little about navigating college and financial aid and also had limited resources. Although it was a struggle, Melinda was able to enroll in MSSU in 1990. However, early in her Junior year in the fall of 1993, she quit college due to anxiety and depression.
Shortly thereafter Melinda met her now ex-husband, Chad. They were married in 1994 and their daughter, Julie, was born in 1996.
Melinda held a variety of jobs at this time including work at Pizza Inn, Granny Schaffer’s, Walmart and The City of Joplin.
But by 2000, Julie was exhibiting developmental issues & Melinda began looking for a day job so she could devote more time to parenting Julie. After a job search, Melinda was hired as a “Teacher’s Aide” in the Joplin School system, working with special needs and handicapped children, Title One kids, and occasionally, middle and elementary school children.
Melinda’s workload was around 35 hours a week. However, with school holidays, in-service days and weather cancellations, full checks were rare. For her entire life, money was always tight, and Melinda had already developed a poverty mindset. She figured “all I have is what I have today so why plan for a future I might or might not have?”
But, due to the extreme poverty she had experienced growing up, Melinda did want to raise Julie in a home of their own. So after hearing about Joplin’s Habitat for Humanity organization, she applied and was approved for a Habitat For Humanity home.
At this point, in late 2014, Melinda was a 42 year old divorcee with an 18 year old high school graduate and she had all but given up any aspirations for herself. As far as dreams for the future, she just wanted to pay off the Habitat home so Julie would have a home of her own & help Julie get a degree so she could have a better life. After that, Melinda had no goals for herself.
One day at the Habitat for Humanity office, Director of Family Services Barbie Huff introduced Melinda to the Circles (now Building Bridges) concept of “helping people to help themselves.”
She then applied to Circles and after a phone interview with Ryan Melton, was accepted as a leader into Class 2. At the time, she decided to attend Circles meetings, thinking, “What have I got to lose? Besides, it’s one day a week I don’t have to cook.”
However, after attending her first meeting, Melinda wondered “What have I gotten myself into?” She was surrounded by people with addiction and legal issues, Ascent graduates, people who have had to deal with domestic violence or homelessness, etc.
Initially Melinda thought, ”I haven’t had to deal with half of these issues, what are my problems compared to theirs?” Before long though, she began to see that “just because somebody else’s struggles look different from yours, that doesn’t mean you aren’t having troubles too.”
She began to see that, just like she deals with self-esteem issues on a daily basis, some struggle with substance abuse and addiction.
So what has Melinda learned from Circles/Building Bridges? In her own words...
“Circles taught me to think about how healthy my relationships are.”
She recognizes now that “life is better or worse depending on who I surround myself with.” And that Circles “shows and reminds me it’s not too late to dream for my own life” and that “God isn’t done” with her yet.
Circles “gave me the tools to make my own goals and plans, and surrounded me with people who encouraged me and made me accountable to do the steps to achieve my dreams.”
Where Melinda was once a person who struggled with self-esteem, Circles/Building Bridges has become a place where she has been “accepted and loved just as she is.”
And finally, now that Melinda is a Building Bridges Ally, she believes “It’s an honor to be allowed in someone’s life and to be able to walk with them on their journey to somewhere happier.”