How We Work
The Circles® model centers on a “Circle Leader,” someone living at 150% or less of the federal poverty guideline, who wants to move out of poverty. Circle Leaders are courageous, motivated individuals who have made some progress in meeting their basic needs. They are ready, willing and able to move out of poverty with added social support.
Each Circle Leader determines their own specific path forward towards economic security: asset building, debt reduction, credit improvement, home ownership, entrepreneurship, etc. Circle Leaders lead the process. Circles RVA empowers and supports them by providing the social network, financial tools and emotional encouragement that activate their economic growth.
- Participate in 12-16 weeks of financial and life skills training, all facilitated with a focus on self assessment and goal-setting.
- Cast a new life vision that they then break down into specific, attainable milestones.
- Are matched with one or more volunteer Allies who serve as intentional friends, helping to broaden their network of support.
- Establish and actively work on specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely goals that will move their family towards economic stability.
Volunteer “Allies” make an intentional commitment to build a relationship with a Circle Leader. Allies become cheerleaders and accountability partners. Their primary aim is to expand the Circle Leader’s network, thereby helping the Leader gain access to resources, navigate bureaucracies, and leverage social relationships he or she might not otherwise access.
Allies and other volunteers are trained and continually coached on how to build healthy relationships with Circle Leaders and their families. The approach emphasizes that all relationships are based on mutual respect, where everyone has an opportunity to give back in some meaningful way.
The Circles RVA community hosts weekly meetings that include community-building activities, educational programming and space for Leaders to work on their specific needs/goals in partnership with their Allies.
Prior to COVID, weekly gatherings were in-person, structured to prevent potential barriers to participation by including a free meal, a free children’s program and free transportation. In response to the current pandemic and social distancing restrictions, Circles RVA has temporarily moved programming online while still delivering meals and children’s program materials to participating families.
Circle Leaders participate in weekly meetings for approximately two years as they work through the entire Circles process. Over time, incomes improve, debt and public assistance decrease, and transformative relationships are built.
Circles RVA’s process includes a youth program in order to offer a multi-generational approach that can truly break the cycle of poverty. While Circle Leaders are participating in weekly meetings, Circles volunteers run educational activities for ages of youth. The program focuses on relationships building and empowerment, while implementing Circles USA’s 18-month curriculum that teaches general life skills as well as financial literacy.
During the pandemic, Circles RVA is supporting the youth through e-mentoring. We look forward to re-engaging in person in the future.
In addition to individual change implemented by the Circle Leaders, there are systemic barriers to breaking the cycle of poverty that must also be addressed. Big View is a monthly program offered by Circles RVA that facilitates macro-level discussions regarding complex challenges of poverty. The intention is to educate the Circles RVA community on unbalanced distribution of wealth, opportunity, and privilege while also advocating to change the community-wide conversation from managing to ELIMINATING poverty and racial inequity.
Big View topics are proposed by Circle Leaders based on their experiences, challenges and needs. Circles RVA collaborates with partners that facilitate monthly Big View discussions. These partners:
- Educate the Circles Community,
- Listen to the voices and experiences shared by Circle Leaders
- Offer suggestions for self, peer and systems advocacy.
To support the Circle Leaders and their Allies in their journey out of poverty CirclesRVA has several teams available with specialized knowledge and connections in such areas as jobs and education, professional service, financial advice, connections to social service agencies etc.
There is an opportunity cost for Circle Leaders that invest their time in the Circles process. They are giving up opportunities such as overtime, an added class, or time with family in the hopes of something better. They are taking a chance on themselves, believing that with added support the future they dream of is within reach. In recognition of these sacrifices, and the lack of historical opportunities for asset-building, Circles RVA created a Leader Gift Program. Key milestones met by Leaders are met by Circles RVA gifting funds into a savings account. In essence, a Circle Leader’s graduation gift is an emergency savings account that serves as a security net moving forward.
Join our Circles Community
Circles RVA would not function without the wonderful volunteers who support us week by week. Want to learn more about how you can be involved? Use the menu above to explore opportunities.