With no roof over his head nor a family to support him, a desperate man seeks refuge in alcohol with the last five bucks in his pocket.

Jose Martinez, once a homeless man, said he carried around a 7-Eleven Big Gulp cup filled with alcohol as he wandered Central with the wish to attend UNM, back when that seemed, at best, a distant dream.

Now, with the aid of local non-profit Circles New Mexico, Martinez is five years sober and about to graduate with a degree in professional communications, he said.

“The main thing I love about Circles is that they see something in me that I didn’t see previously,” Martinez said. “But now I see so much potential that it is incredible, and for that I owe Circles.”

Circles is a non-profit organization that seeks to help families overcome poverty through peer and educational support, according to CirclesNM.org.

Delma Madrigal, program coordinator for Circles New Mexico, said she has struggled with poverty and wanted to join Circles because of her experience.

“Even though I am not a Circle Leader and I haven’t been through the program, I really see how intentional and focused the curriculum is,” Madrigal said. “What we are doing really does work.”

The program is an 18-month commitment, but by the end participants have established smart goals and have a better grasp of conflict management and financial literacy, she said.

The Circle Leaders and allies set the smart goals, and the focus is either on employment or education. About 60 percent of the focus is on education, she said.

“We are redefining what community is, and it’s a process because it’s all relationships,” Madrigal said. “If we are going to learn, it’s got to be fun.”

After many years of sobriety, Martinez applied to be one of the Circles leaders, he said

“It’s just great that I did a 180. I don’t have to struggle anymore,” he said. “As long as I know that I am focused and doing the right thing, I can’t lose.”

Diego Gallegos, executive director of Circles, is a retired educator and has been working with the organization since mid-January, he said.

“It’s a really simple, but powerful idea. This gave me the opportunity to focus on one thing (that is) potentially very impactful to a good number of families,” Gallegos said.

Circles New Mexico has helped Gallegos rethink the way he wants to support children. He said the missing piece is helping families be life-long advocates for their own children.

“ … Families that have more means are able to give their children a lot of different things that families in poverty don’t give their children, and that really impacts their ability to be successful in school,” Gallegos said.

Lauren Marvin is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. Contact her at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @LaurenMarvin.