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Circle Initiative: A Long-term solution to poverty

Community champions are in the process of discussing the current Band-Aid approaches our town and county have used to diminish poverty.

They have clarified what poverty is, what it looks like and what strategies might work to diminish it.

Strategies like poverty simulations and Bridges Out of Poverty classes were introduced to educate our community to a method to better understand the day-to-day realities faced by families living in poverty that, in turn, impact behavior.

Three to five years ago, social service agencies were all too familiar with families that had been entrenched in poverty over generations as well as the largest sector of poverty, the low wage working poor. But now, our town and county are experiencing workers that have never had to access help before and are facing as much as 50-percent cut in wages or more without additional education and jobs.

Please take a moment and recreate in your mind the places you’ve been and the people you’ve interacted with over the last week. Think specifically about not only how and where you spent your time, but with whom.

If you’re like the average American, you probably spent the majority of time, if not all your time, with people that live in the same economic group as yourself. Or, if you were interacting with people outside your economic group, it may have been in the context of a professional arena (employers, employees, investors, clients, customers). You see, I believe we’ve learned to associate with people from similar economic backgrounds. As this happens, we tend to keep our distance from people living with a lot more money, or a lot less. If you are from wealth or middle class, you may take on social causes that help “those in poverty” but very rarely will build meaningful relationships with someone with significantly less income.

So we live in this kind of existence where it is easy to become insulated from the pain of poverty. In our own quest for understanding or sometimes apathy, we create in our minds our own mental models of why poverty exists. Like anything else, the way in which we work together and the strategies that we use to deal with any challenge is based on our belief and definition of the challenge.

Our community has recently discovered an evidenced-based, long-term solution to diminish poverty in our community. The Circles Initiative was birthed from the Bridges Out of Poverty class and the poverty simulation exercise. The Circles Initiative builds relationships across class and economic lines. Accepting the definition of poverty as the extent a person or family does without resources; then one resource for a person living in poverty is relationships: intentional relationships across class and economic lines.

Do you see yourself as someone who could be a friend to an individual or family living in poverty? If you do, please contact the Circles Initiative at 264-5517. Bridging the gap between those that have and those that do not can be as simple as a statement at a Circles meeting from a father of family living in poverty: “If you have come to help me, you can go home again. But if you see my struggle as part of your own survival then perhaps we can work together.”

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