Written by Jessica Miller

Last month Cody Martensen started as Community Action Services & Food Bank’s Circles Initiative Coordinator for Utah & Wasatch Counties. Six years ago, when he started as a Circles Initiative participant, no one would have thought that was possible–he had been in active addiction for 21 years, had thousands of dollars in debt from poor life choices, and had contemplated suicide after facing possible prison time.  

Ultimately, it was the realization that DCFS was not going to give him custody of his two sons that motivated Cody to face the hard truth that he had to change his life or he wouldn’t have a future. In that moment, he committed to the path of recovery and stabilizing his life so he could get his kids back. 

Although they don’t remember it now, it was a DCFS counselor who told him about Circles Utah Valley, an initiative that strengthens families as they do the work to change their circumstances and get out of poverty. He contacted Community Action Services & Food Bank, applied to participate, and began attending Circles’ each week. Every Circles meeting starts with a family dinner after which adult family members participate in classes or connect with mentors. The provided childcare engages kids in fun activities, and rewards them for positive behaviors and goal setting. It was the community aspect of Circles that really connected with him. He knew he needed the support of people who were also dedicated to creating positive financial and social change in their lives and families that would help him be successful. 

Life’s bumps weren’t on pause during this time, either. He remembers his car broke down, jeopardizing his job. His Circles’ community had his back though. His Circles Ally and other Circle Leaders took the time to search for an affordable car for him, so he didn’t have to take time off work to look. A broken leg also added to his debt, but he didn’t have to face challenges alone and that made it easier to keep working towards his goals. 

Circles’ financial education and mentoring also helped him change careers so he could financially support his kids as a case manager at a substance abuse recovery program. He was also able to pay off back child support and other debts.  

Fourteen months later, as a single dad, DCFS approached him to say he could have full custody of his two boys; a short time later he was also awarded full custody of his two daughters.  Getting remarried was the final motivation he needed to achieve an income of 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG) and graduate from Circles in July 2022.  

Since then, he and his wife–who is a therapist—have opened a therapy & life coaching business, HealWorthy (www.healworthytherapy.com) and Cody is a neuroencoding specialist, aka life coach. His only debt left is his student loan. He’s a devoted husband, and a dedicated dad who has worked to heal his relationships with his five children. 

Circles is also back in his life—this time he’s the one providing hope and support for the thirty nine (39) families currently participating in Circles. He knows it works. Four of those families are graduated June 18, 2024 having also increased their household incomes to more than 200% of the FPG.   

If you are interested in participating in Circles in Utah or Wasatch Counties, program enrollment is currently open with classes in Heber starting in August, Spanish classes in Provo starting in September, and English classes in Provo starting in October. Mentor-allies are also needed as are volunteers to help with childcare or dinner prep at Circles meetings. You can find out more on Community Action Services & Food Bank’s website at www.communityactionprovo.org/circles/.