How does Circles® 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 create an actionable life-plan and define their goals. They build financial, emotional and social resources through a required 12-week training curriculum. They are equipped for their journey by the provision of discipline, motivation, relationship building tools and the leadership skills they will need to be successful. A Circle ‘class’ starts with up to 25 Circle Leaders. The entire coaching process lasts 18 to 24 months. The Circles model does not permit direct financial assistance to Circle Leaders.
The “Circle” consists of volunteer Circle Allies and Resource Teams who support the Circle Leader for the duration of their involvement in the program. The volunteers’ primary aim is to expand the Circle Leader’s networks – helping them gain access to resources, navigate bureaucracies, and leverage social relationships and networks they might not otherwise have access to – whatever is needed to help them meet their life-plan and personal goals. This concept of bridging social capital is a foundational element in Circles’ theory of change. The primary program outcome is defined as a Circle Leader achieving an income 200% of the poverty level, which is considered the equivalent of a living wage.
Circle Allies and Resource Team 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.
Each week the community meets to share a meal prepared by volunteers, often another community organization. Circle Leaders and their Allies spend time together to focus on the Circle Leader’s life plan journey and goal fulfillment. Members of the Resource teams are available to assist by providing specialized know-how.
Many Circle Leaders attend with their children. During the meetings the children participate in directed learning activities. Volunteers organize and lead these programs
In addition to supporting individuals on their journey out of poverty CirclesRVA works on breaking down the systemic barriers to breaking the cycle of poverty. Using the experiences of the Circle Leaders as the basis CirclesRVA identifies the barriers that have the most effect, seeks out ways to work on eliminating or reducing those barriers. This could include educating the community about systemic barriers to breaking the cycle of poverty and mobilizing civic action to break down those barriers.
One weekly meeting a month focuses on the systemic barriers.
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.