Coming Full Circle out of Poverty through the Circles Campaign: Part 1

By Katie Sobiech

It Takes a Community to Break through Poverty

bridges map

Recently noticed by CNN and CBS, the Circles Campaign (CC) formed to break the cycle of poverty currently exists in 70 communities and 24 states throughout the U.S.

It all began at “Move the Mountain Leadership Center” in New Mexico as a conversation between welfare recipients and social workers. There they discussed ways to address poverty, build relationships and connect people to services and resources.

Initial results from this campaign showed 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 (www.circlescampaign.org).

CC officially launched in 2007, encouraging people of every economic class to join in solving the problem of poverty in their community.

Gaining Momentum in Akron

MeganOne of its most recent groups has started up right here in Akron.

“The way it works is that we have this 22-agency collaborative that’s called the ‘Bridges out of Poverty Summit County Collaborative’. We do collaborative programing,” Megan Scheck, MSSA, LSW, Circles Administrator at Akron-Summit Community Action, Inc. said.

Getting Ahead classes, as well as the Circles Campaign, fall under the umbrella of Bridges out of Poverty.

The Missing Piece

“People in poverty don’t really have a lot of positive social support because they’ve grown up in generational poverty. They’re focused on the here and now of getting through the day. It’s really hard for them to connect with each other in a way where they can be future thinking and planning because they’re so focused on just getting through the day. That’s what takes up most of their time – getting the things they need for everyday life,” Scheck explained.

CC connects community leaders and volunteers with families who want to get out of poverty.

This helps families find solutions for daily problems, through a new perspective, so that they can begin to think about the future.

“Allies” are the people of wealth or middle class that volunteer to provide positive social support to help the “Leaders” (those currentlyin poverty) get where they want to be in the future.

It all centers around relationships.

“The idea is about relationships. It connects people who are volunteers that come from middle class and wealth to people who grew up in generational poverty. Typically people usually don’t really meet and become friends across class and race lines. It’s normally divided. So Circles tries to match people together that normally wouldn’t be friends. That really helps build positive social support and connections that can help people to move out of poverty,” Scheck said.

Circles1How it Works

In order to be a Circle Leader, one must graduate the “Getting Ahead” program. This is crucial in educating, tearing down the poverty mindset and creating a plan to put in action.

“They learn about the different mental models of economic class, different resources, look at their community and what the services are and where there are gaps, and what sorts of things they want to change about their own lives and communities,” Scheck said.

After graduating Getting Ahead, they have a plan that they use to get out of poverty.

“People have this plan, so Circles tries to match them with volunteers called Allies. Those Allies help them implement that plan. Allies might have gone through a Bridges out of Poverty workshop and thought it was cool and wanted to be involved. Or they might be people who want to give back in some way. Anyone who wants to give back in a way that involves time and caring – not money (is encouraged),” Scheck said.

Connection to Bridges out of Poverty

Bridges out of Poverty is the umbrella organization over CC.

“They’re all tied in together through this collaborative,” Scheck explained.

gettingaheadbook

This includes Bridges out of Poverty workshops, Getting Ahead classes (at 9 different sites) and Circles, which is the newest piece.

“Bridges is this overarching collaborative with all these agencies and (it’s about) implementing these all together so that we can end poverty in summit county,” Scheck said.

“Akron Summit Community Action is essentially the lead agency for Circles, so we’re the ones that have kind of taken it on as one of our programs,” Scheck said.

Weekly meetings will begin in Akron in January of 2013.

For more info. please visit www.circlescampaign.org .

Don’t miss next week’s story including testimonials of those who have gone through the programs and what’s coming in January for Circles here in Akron.

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