CIRCLES lifts famiies out of poverty

The Capital City C.I.R.C.L.E.S. Initiative (CCCI) is a Carson City-based cooperative community effort to elevate people out of poverty by intentionally creating relationships across class lines, and empowering people in poverty to chart their own course toward economic self-sufficiency. Our mission, since 2006, has been to inspire and equip families and communities with the tools they need to thrive, not just survive. We believe strongly that the responsibility for both poverty and prosperity rests not only in the hands of individuals, but also with society, institutions, and communities. This is the underlying principle behind CCCI’s model — engage people and organizations in the community to end poverty.

A “Circle” is comprised of motivated families from the community who desire to escape from poverty, and the community volunteers, called “Allies,” who support them on their journey to financial independence and stability. After completing a 13- to 14-week “Getting Ahead” workshop, the families, called “Champions for Change,” are matched with two to three Allies to form a Circle. From that point on, each Circle meets once or twice a month to build friendships and to work on each participant’s dreams, plans and goals toward achieving economic self-sufficiency.

Each family undertakes the process of identifying, understanding and breaking the barriers that keep them in poverty as they move through our highly participatory curriculum that includes family finance, effective discipline, workplace behavior, and goal setting. By putting families living in poverty on a pathway to financial stability and self-sufficiency, our model seeks to break entrenched family cycles of unemployment and under-employment, inadequate education, and government dependence.

Succeeding on this journey empowers our Champions to live happier, healthier, more productive and dignified lives. These positive changes affect the whole socio-economic trajectory of a family and its future generations, while benefiting the families’ communities and society at large.

The outcomes that result from participation in C.I.R.C.L.E.S. impact the lives of our families in many positive ways. Families can expect to achieve specific short-term, mid-term and long-term milestones.

Upon completion of the “Getting Ahead” workgroup, participants have increased their social connectedness by establishing relationships with the facilitators and fellow workgroup members. Families have options as well as a sense of control because they have identified the behaviors and choices that need to be changed in order to begin their journey towards self-sufficiency. They have learned about basic budgeting and debt, which provides them with the knowledge they need to make improvements in their finances, thus reducing the stress on the family and allowing for more stability in their home life.

About 12-months following completion, Champions for Change families continue to meet and set goals. They also begin reciprocating by volunteering within the C.I.R.C.L.E.S. organization and the community at large. Their social capital grows to include people outside of their usual sphere of friends. In addition, our Champions have identified and are actively pursuing skill development opportunities such as enrollment in GED classes or continuing education. With a noticeable improvement in their finances, families no longer use predatory lenders and can increase their assets. Finally, our Champions also see an improvement in parenting skills and in the overall quality of their family life as a result of being more actively engaged with their children and their children’s education.

With long-term outcomes ­— 18 to 24 months — our Champions have effective support, relationships and communication within their Circle. In addition, our Champions are actively involved in their community and have achieved or are close to achieving financial independence by having reduced or eliminated their reliance on public assistance. The families have either completed their skill development or are continuing to take education courses. At this point in their evolution, our Champions have adequate employment that is both stable and gainful.

Ultimately, the success of C.I.R.C.L.E.S. is measured by the number of families who complete our two-year program and permanently transition out of poverty and into lives of financial stability and self-sufficiency. Although sometimes difficult to quantify, the benefits to society are many. We know, for example, that the average cost of putting a family through the 24-month C.I.R.C.L.E.S. program is $16,000 ($8,000 per year times 2 years), and the (conservative) public savings once that family moves off of welfare and gains financial self-sufficiency is $33,801 per year. From both a humanitarian and an economic standpoint, that is an excellent return on a donors’ charitable investment in the families we serve.

The average time it takes a family to get out of poverty while working in a Circle is 24 months. Once a family becomes self-sufficient, they are expected to practice reciprocity — pay it forward — by supporting a new family on their journey out of poverty, thereby completing the Circle.


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