CIRCLES-USABuncombe Street United Methodist Church and SHARE joined forces to launch Circles Greenville County in September 2015. This initiative uses a nationally recognized, proven model to help families move out of poverty.

Circles is not a budgeting class, but a relationally-driven program that benefits from the long-term relationship of “circle allies.” Circle Allies are community volunteers who want to be in a supportive, intentional, befriending relationship with an individual or family (Circle Leader) that is working to get out of poverty and even more importantly, stay out of poverty.

This program is having an amazing impact on our community. When these families emerge from poverty and prosper, our community will share in that prosperity. We extend an invitation for you to be a part of this ministry.

Website: www.CirclesUSA.org
Organization Contact: Sandra Bullock at sbullock@sharesc.org
BSUMC Missions and Outreach Contact: Judy Brown at judybrown5975@gmail.com or Jay Howle at jayandkatiehowle@gmail.com

Success in nearly any endeavor is often influenced by the people and resources that surround us – our circle of friends, our sphere of influence, the cyclical nature of habits and even the sweeping hands of a clock. When we encircle ourselves with positive support through mentorships, education, training and the right resources – anything is possible. That’s what the circles represent. Each circle is a continual source of influence, each linking to the other and creating the greatest impact.

CirclesUSA is the result of more than 20 years of research and the development of leadership tools for communities by Move the Mountain Leadership Center. The Circles model was developed after the organization discovered that social service agencies could reach only a small portion of the population living in poverty with real long-term solutions. Since that time, Circles has worked to address poverty by increasing the capacity of communities. Our approach combines best practices in several disciplines including community organizing, case management, grassroots leadership, S.M.A.R.T. goal setting, financial literacy, mentoring, peer-to-peer counseling/learning and child/youth development.

Our mission has always been to inspire and equip families and communities to thrive and resolve poverty. We believe strongly that responsibility for both poverty and prosperity rests not only in the hands of individuals, but also with societies, institutions and communities. It’s the underlying foundation of the Circles model – engage people and organizations in the community to end poverty. We have discovered that Circle Leaders who adhere to their plan earned an increased income of 181% on average. Even with this progress more work is needed. A person who is well below the national poverty level, and who receives an increase in pay, can still struggle to reach economic stability.

That’s because public assistance ends when a person’s income increases to a certain level. The sudden loss of assistance programs such as SNAP, childcare, medical care or public housing can create that is called a “cliff effect.” When the gain in income earned does not cover the needs of their family once assistance is dropped off, it can cause someone to turn down a raise or even promotions. This produces a negative result for an individual trying to work their way out of poverty, provides no incentive for improving their independent living.

Solution: Circles recognizes there are systemic barriers to escaping poverty, which is why we partner with and educate local and national policy makers. We help them understand the issues faced by families striving to move out of poverty. While we know that assistance programs are essential for people achieving economic stability, we view them as just that – assistance programs, not permanent, long-term support. We believe assistance programs should be there for time of need and are most effective if they are phased out as people earn enough income to cover these needs on their own. We advocate for changes in policy that eliminate the negative “cliff effects” in favor of the gradual reduction of support throughout the entire journey out of poverty and to an economically sustainable future.

As you consider Circles, we would ask you to keep in mind that reducing poverty is not just the right thing to do; it is also crucial to our economic and work force wellness. This challenge is both a moral and an economic imperative for our community. Circles gives us the platform to engage in helping someone lift themselves out of poverty, one intentional relationship at a time. In doing so, we break the assumptions that are divisive to our community and allow us to discover the issues at the root of generational poverty, both individual and collective, that must be overcome to create real, systemic change.