What Circles Is
Circles engages the entire community to own the solution to poverty by (1) empowering low-income participants to permanently move out of poverty and (2) increasing the poverty IQ of the larger community to motivate strategic action to resolve systemic barriers to self-sufficiency.
Circles combines best practices in several disciplines including community organizing, case management, SMART goal setting, financial literacy, peer-to-peer counseling and learning, and child/youth development.
Circles Grand Rapids was launched in January 2016 by United Methodist Metro Ministry of GR, along with the support of our partners Inner City Christian Federation, 5/3 Bank, Heart of West Michigan United Way, The Michigan Area of the United Methodist Church, and others.
How Circles Works
Moving from poverty to economic stability is a long and complex process. Circles supports persons throughout that process (at least 18 months) via long-term relationships of trust, support, and accountability.
After initial training, Circles matches one low-income family or individual (called a Circle Leader) with two middle- to upper-income community volunteers (called Allies) according to skills, interests, strengths, and needs. "Matched Circles" agree to create the intentional friendships that will support Leaders and broaden the Allies' understanding of poverty over the next 18 months.
Circles provides a stable, long-term community of trust in which Leaders address and begin to reverse the effects of poverty, establish income and career goals, learn new tools to secure and sustain better jobs, and take advantage of existing programs and services that will help accomplish their goals.
The Circles initiative flourishes via weekly meetings that build the Circles community. Weekly meetings include a free meal and free child care, provide peer and Ally support and accountability, teach strategies for attaining self-sufficiency, and build healthy relationships.
Whole Community Involvement: Big View
The larger community completes the Circle. One meeting per month is open to the public, and is focused on raising the poverty IQ of all in attendance. Typically, specific community leaders and decision makers are invited to Big View to collaborate with Circle Leaders in developing strategies together to relieve and remove specific systemic barriers so that both families and community thrive.