Circles coordinator says poverty program works

Having celebrated Circles Marion County’s fifth graduation class last week, coordinator Mark Rogers sums up the local impact of the program in two words.

It works.

“We have data showing that we are making a difference,” Rogers said. “The people who connect with our program and follow through, it does make a change in their life.”

Financial well-being is not the only indicator of whether someone is living in or out poverty, according to Circles.

“Economically is one way to define poverty, but it also makes a change socially because we’re more about connections—social connections, friendships, networking with people in different places in life,” Rogers said.

“The more variety you have in your life with connections, the happier you tend to be and the more possibilities are available to you to do what you want.”

People who desire to leave poverty through Circles join a class as a “leader.” Each leader is matched with an “ally” from the middle class who serves as a friend and encourager.

“An ally also goes through training on how to appreciate poverty, how to understand all the ramifications,” Rogers said.

People who maintain the leader-ally relationship and remain connected to Circles by attending meetings on a somewhat regular basis are considered “active” in the program.

“We see that the more active a person is, the more change happens in their life,” Rogers said.

Circles gathers data from active members through their first 18 months in the program.

“We have data here showing that we are making a difference,” Rogers said. “The first three classes have made it 18 months and the data show that after 18 months there is income increase and debt reduction—in fact, a huge change in debt reduction.

“We see that the more active a person is, the more change happens in their life.”

Remaining involved in Circles benefits more than leaders.

“We’ve seen that for people who get involved, change happens for the positive in their life—whether you’re a middle-class person or a person in poverty,” Rogers said.

Poverty, by Circles’ definition, means success in the three Rs: resources, relationships and reason.

“Resources is one thing—do I have enough money to pay the bills? But we also measure poverty by relationships—how many connections do I have in life, and what is the diversity of those relationships.

“We also measure poverty in reason,” he added. “How much reason do I have to live? Is there meaning in my life? Do I feel like I’m gaining something in life? Do I feel like I’m giving something back?”

Not every person who associates with Circles, whether leader and ally, sticks with the program.

“Some people leave town for a variety of reasons—jobs, family, broken relationships or found a place to live that was cheaper,” Rogers said. “Sometimes the relationship between the leader and the ally doesn’t click. And people who come to us can be shy—it can be intimidating.”

The next Circles group will be forming this fall. To learn more about becoming a leader or ally, contact Rogers at 620-877-0899.