There’s something different about Circles Grand Rapids, and I’ve experienced the difference since stepping into my Coordinator position almost two years ago. Circles GR, the local chapter of a national organization, Circles USA, works to build community to end poverty and create equity. We do this good and important work through intentional community, education and connection to resources that empower families to lead themselves out of poverty and be supported by volunteers on their journey towards financial stability.
What’s different about the Circles model?
- Circles is a long-term approach to end poverty permanently in our community. Ending poverty – not just managing it – requires ongoing training, support, accountability and time. Circles succeeds by taking the time necessary, 22 months, to transform and empower people from every economic class to eliminate poverty.
- The Circles model centers around our Circle leaders, those working to exit poverty. Circle Leaders are the experts on their own lives. They decide what moving from surviving to thriving looks like for them.
- At Circles, we believe that everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn, regardless of one’s economic status. This belief is lived out and experienced in our weekly Circles meetings.
- Circle Leaders are matched with volunteer Allies, trained community volunteers. Together, they create circles of support empowering Circle Leaders to achieve specific goals towards self-reliance and deepening Circles Allies’ understanding of the experience of poverty.
- It’s a multi-generational approach. While Circle Leaders receive tools to help manage money and time, improve career skills, and progress towards goals, Circles children and youth are building their own communities of support and engaging in interactive and age-appropriate sessions on financial literacy, emotional health, relationships, and so much more.
Circles GR launched our 3rd cohort 6 weeks before the pandemic hit. Although COVID-19 threatened to halt the program, the Circles community has successfully pivoted to virtual learning and Circle Leaders continue striving to reach their goals.
Circles children are striving as well. When we asked Leaders how Circles could support their children, some of them identified the need for academic support. Over the past few months, five Circles volunteers have begun supporting children with tutoring in math, reading, and phonics. We are now seeking ways to connect Streams of Hope’s tutoring program to Circles to enhance outcomes for all.