Circles® was been developed to serve as a national model by the Move the Mountain Leadership Center. South Central Community Action Programs became involved with the initiative as a way to effectively engage the community to end poverty. The initiative builds intentional relationships across class lines bringing a broader networking spectrum and new skill sets to families living in poverty while providing more meaning and a greater understanding of community systems and barriers to families living in the middle class. Together these families work to eliminate poverty and help the community grow and thrive.
Circles® USA provides transformational leaders a structure to engage the community in ending poverty. Circles® works by bringing community volunteers (known as Allies) to partner with families who are pursuing economic well-being to end poverty in their communities. Circles® wrap volunteer families (Allies) around families who are moving out of poverty, and systematically support people to have enough money, meaning and friends - Circles® Model.
South Central Community Action Programs (SCCAP) is one of a number of Community Action Agencies and other organizations that coordinate local Circles® initiatives. The Circles® Campaign works to involve agencies committed to pilot the process within their communities.
SCCAP became active with Circles® to promote the agency’s vision to engage the community to end poverty by:
Building intentional relationships across class and race lines
Identifying barriers that keep people in poverty
Implementing innovative solutions
Creating effective partnerships to help families
Changing the goals of the system to support families and economic change.
SCCAP uses a flyer to promote Circles® and also developed a helpful overview of the initiative, as well as an outline of the Circles Initiative that lists important features including (a) creating staff positions such as a Circles Coordinator and a Circles Coach, (b) establishing a Community Guiding Coalition, (c) identifying and providing orientation for participant families, (d) recruiting and training Allies, (e) conducting meetings, and documenting results.
SCCAP initially targeted 12 families to be involved with Circles® with each family to be matched with 3-4 Allies. Two publications from aha! Process are used for orientation, training and ongoing Circles® work:
For Participant Families (known as Circle Leaders) – Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World: Building Your Resources for a Better Life by Phillip DeVol – the workbooks involve features such as an excerpt from Module 6 on support systems and a Mental Model of Personal Social Capital.
For Allies – Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals, and Communities by Philip DeVol, Terie Dreussi Smith, and Ruby K. Payne.
Circles USA's President and CEO, Scott Miller, is the author of Until It’s Gone: Ending Poverty in our Nation and in our Lifetime, which provides an overview of the Circles™ approach.
Another book, See Poverty, Be the Difference: Discover the Missing Pieces for Working with People in Poverty by Donna Beegle, can be used to help people gain a foundation, rooted in lived experience and research, for understanding poverty and addressing its impacts. It is designed to shatter stereotypes with facts about poverty and to provide concrete tools and ideas for creating programs and systems that are responsive to the needs of people living in poverty conditions.
SCCAP also helps create greater awareness about poverty and the case for change by presenting data from PathWaysPA. The Center for Women's Welfare at the University of Washington provides access to Reports on Self-Sufficiency Standards for many individual States. Another format for this type of information was created by the Fairfax County (VA) Community Action Advisory Board – see The State of the Poor Report.
Additional useful material and information can also be found through various other CAA initiatives with Circles®:
Colorado - Boulder County Community Action Program - Circles Campaign
- Utah - Community Action Services and Food Bank - Circles Initiative
Currently there are over 1200 low income Circle Leaders who have participated in an evaluation process which includes tracking of personal income, education, assets and social networks over time. Early results show positive gains that are being made by Circle Leaders across the country. Additionally, results demonstrate that for every $1 spent on the program, $2 in welfare and food stamp subsidies were returned to the state, and $4 to the community as new earned income.
A range of early outcomes were recorded through Circles® by MTMLC with data from participating organizations and findings such as:
- Reduced poverty within the community
- Increased income and stability among participating families
- Reduced crime, abuse and abandonment within the community
- General improvements in the economic status of the community
- Reduction in community tax revenues devoted to social welfare programs
Scott Miller, President and Chief Executive Officer