Mark Rogers of Hills?boro works 10 hours a week as coordinator of the two-year-old organization. He said accepting the role reflects his natural progression in the volunteer-driven organization that has the goal of helping people in poverty find their way out of it.
Rogers, who continues to work full time with Prairie View, became involved with the local Circles group early in its development.
A conversation with Linda Ogden, one of the organizers, brought him on board. He had known Ogden from their mutual in involvement with Families And Com?munities Together Inc., which seeks to link families with needed services.
?I said, ?Linda, I like helping people, I understand people have needs, but I wish there was something more we can do,? Rogers recalled. ?She said, ?Come join us Thursday night at Circles.?
As he observed the organization at work, he became convinced that it was achieving its objective.
?In January, a group of us decided let?s look toward getting a coordinator,? he said. ?We sent out some advertising for that position, interviewed some people?and they selected me, amazingly enough.?
In that role, Rogers said his primary job is to look beyond the organization to find the resources Circles needs. Primarily, those are people and money.
?We need lots of people,? he said. ?It takes lots of volunteers.?
In addition to volunteers, Rogers said he helps recruit ?leaders,? who are people living in poverty and want to get out of it, and ?allies,? people from the middle class who want to help by developing intentional relationships with them.
Leaders and allies are paired during a 15- to 18-week class that explores many aspects of poverty.
?We found if we can teach people in poverty how to examine their life?the 18 different life domains?and see what they?re good at and what they?re not so good at, then we should ask them, what would you like to change? Then, we show them how to set a goal to change one aspect of their life,? Rogers said.
Circles has offered the class twice over the past two years and is looking to launch a third class later this month.
Rogers said of the 13 people have completed the class, seven are still involved in the local Circles group. Organ?izers hope to have 10 participants in the next class.
?We have 30 (allies) trained, but we?re going to need more with another class of 10,? he said.
Ways to help
Circles? need for volunteers goes beyond leaders and allies. People can get involved in a variety of ways.
?We get together once a week for a meal, so we?re looking for groups or people to provide that meal,? Rogers said. ?I?ve done it a few times, (spending) from $30 to $60 to provide a meal for 30 or so people. It?s just a simple meal, but almost anyone could do that.
?We also need volunteers in our day care because we provide child care during the meeting on Thursday nights.?
Another key resource for Circles is money, especially with the addition of a paid staff position. Rogers helps solicit those funds with help from several other resource teams within the organization.
?It?s exciting to see the county get behind us,? Rogers said. ?We?ve raised more than half of our budget. People are stepping up. We?re really grateful for the care this county has.?
Being the Circles coordinator is the kind of job you?d like to work yourself out of as people find their way out of poverty. But Rogers said in reality the trend is moving the opposite direction.
?We are nearing a crisis point in our nation and our county with poverty,? Rogers said.
?At Circles USA, the research we?ve come up with is that 50 million Americans, including 16 million children, are in poverty,? Rogers said. ?That?s about 18 percent of our population.?
He said the 2012 Kansas Hunger Atlas from the Kansas Association of Community Action Pro?grams reports that poverty in Marion County is at 10.9 percent overall and 14 percent for children under age 18.?
The Kansas Hunger Atlas also reports that ?food insecurity? in Marion County is 12.6 percent and 44.6 percent of enrolled kids in county schools are on free or reduced-price meals.
?I?ve talked with superintendents across our county, and all of them tell me that the number of students on free and reduced lunches is increasing,? Rogers said.
?So poverty is not going away, it is increasing for a multitude reasons.?
Making a difference
Rogers said the Circles approach is making a difference around the country and locally.
?Marion County Circles has a good solution here of building relationships across class lines, social lines?whatever you want to call it?and then learning together as equal points around the circle.
?It?s all about encouraging people, empowering them and listening to their story,? he said. ?It?s affirming what they?re trying to do, teaching them how to set goals and then listening to them as they follow through trying to reach that goal.?
Even with support and encouragement, leaving poverty is not an easy path for many.
?There are some tough steps, but as we give people tools to answer their questions, we see people getting out of poverty,? Rogers said. ?It?s an amazing story.?
To learn more about Circles Marion County or to ask Mark Rogers to speak to your group or organization, call 620-877-0899 or email him at email@example.com.