Building Community to End Poverty

What is Circles Grand Rapids?

Circles Grand Rapids empowers people with the resources and community support they need to achieve financial independence. Circles GR has two goals: (1) to help individuals and families get out of poverty and (2) to remove the barriers that keep people in poverty.

Our success depends on building strong connections with people and resources in our community. We gather and train middle- and higher-income volunteers who befriend, encourage, and support families on their own paths out of poverty. These intentional friendships help those seeking long-term stability to find the information and build the human capacity that allow families and communities to thrive.

Circles GR isn’t about quick fixes or handouts. Circles GR is a long-term program that equips families and individuals with the relationships, confidence, skills, and knowledge required to be self-reliant. As part of Circles USA, the Circles GR Chapter opened in 2016. We joined with Streams of Hope in 2020 to strengthen our impact in fighting poverty and empowering those seeking financial independence to become strong and resilient members of our community. 

“I love that Circles GR helps me become a better version of me in all areas of my life.”

Amanda, Circle Leader

What is a “Poverty IQ”?


Poverty IQ is defined as the level of factual understanding of the complexity of poverty, including root causes, impact on individuals and community, and systemic barriers to exiting poverty. Every individual, organization, business, community and nation has a Poverty IQ. Circles GR helps to raise the Poverty IQ of communities to inspire and equip everyone to resolve poverty so that the whole community can thrive.

How does Circles GR work?


Each week, local families working to overcome poverty (Circle Leaders) meet with trained community volunteers (Allies) over dinner. Following the meal, and with the guidance of a professional facilitator, Circle Leaders work with their Allies to achieve specific personal goals toward self-reliance. Over time, incomes and savings improve, debt and public assistance decrease, and supportive social networks are built.

Circles GR takes a multi-generational approach to resolving poverty. While parents receive tools to help manage money and time, improve career skills, and progress toward goals, children of Leaders and Allies are building their own community of support. Children and youth programming includes interactive, age-appropriate sessions on financial literacy, emotional health, mindfulness, service and volunteerism, compassion, and much more.

The larger community completes the Circle. One meeting per quarter is open to the public, and is focused on giving voice to Circle Leaders’ experience, and raising the Poverty IQ of all in attendance.

Get Involved

Become a Circle Leader

Leaders are persons impacted by poverty who desire to lead themselves and their families into financial stability. They attend weekly meetings, beginning with a 12-week course in which they learn SMART goal setting, budgeting, and life skills, then create a plan to achieve financial stability. (Dinner and children’s programming are provided weekly.) They continue attending each week for a minimum of 18 additional months to receive support from Coaches, Allies, and Peers to accomplish their goals. Through this accountability process, Circle Leaders are able to increase income, decrease debt, and get off public assistance. They graduate from Circles GR when they have reached their financial goals and are able to maintain stability.

Become a Circle Ally

Allies are financially stable volunteers from the community who become intentional friends with struggling individuals and families by providing encouragement, acceptance, support, life experience, and social networks. Once trained and matched, Allies and Circle Leaders meet regularly to work on goals, address problems, and celebrate accomplishments. The influence of a friend can mean a lifetime of success for individuals stuck in the cycle of poverty. These relationships provide the Circle Leader an important sense of belonging and a foundation for success that lasts a lifetime. They provide the Circle Ally an up-close understanding of poverty that upends stereotypes and motivates systemic change.

Support the Circles GR Community

Meals are provided at no cost to everyone attending weekly meetings. Provide or fund one meal, or join our Meals and Hospitality Team to secure, coordinate, prepare, serve, or fund weekly meals for 55 persons.

Children/Youth Programming and Childcare are provided weekly at no cost to all Circle Leaders and Allies. Circles’ children and youth curriculum uses a developmental approach and is designed to interrupt the poverty cycle for future generations. Children/Youth volunteers are required to pass a background check.

Resource Teams are the volunteer engines that power the Circles GR program. Guided and supported by Staff, Resource Team members help maintain and drive the process. Small, flexible, and responsive, each Team consists of 3-4 members. Monthly time commitment can vary between 3–10 hours/month depending on team and current project. Resource Teams will be re-forming in 2021, focusing on Meals and Hospitality, Children and Youth, Big View (systemic change), and Community Resources.

Invest in Circles GR

Support this program by giving a secure online gift:


Can supply snacks or supplies for the children’s program for a month


Can cover facilitation and professional care for the youth program for a week


Can provide the weekly meal for the Circle Leaders, Allies, volunteers, and their families


Enables ongoing program and resource team development


Can provide the Circles GR program to a family of 3 for 6 months

Circles is…

A Collaborative Initiative

Rather than an isolated program, Circles partners closely with others to provide holistic support and resources for participants, as well as awareness and advocacy in the larger community.

A Hands-Up Approach

Circles does not provide financial assistance. We seek to resolve the roots of poverty rather than manage the symptoms of poverty.


Circle Leaders create their own goals and identify ways in which staff, Allies, and the community can support their journey to financial stability.

Deep and Wide 

By working with small groups of participants, Circles provides high-quality and sustained interventions. And by multiplying the number of small groups served over time, Circles sustains decreases in the overall poverty of a community, raising the quality of life for all.

Community-Level Change

Circles raises the community’s Poverty IQ and engages in community advocacy to address systemic and community-level barriers to prosperity for all. Those most affected by systemic barriers are at the resolution table to help develop strategies to remove them.