Community Action Services: Winning the War on Poverty, One Family at a Time | News, Sports, Jobs

Sammy Jo Hester, Daily Herald file photo

Kiera Cook, a program manager, speaks during a meeting with the Circles Initiative on Tuesday, February 2, 2016.

In 2019, 10.6% of the population in Utah County lived below the poverty line. This represents approximately 62,800 out of 591,000 people in our community who are struggling financially. After the pandemic, our local community is experiencing even greater effects from inflationary prices.

How can we help our community members and neighbors deal with these stifling challenges? Walk in Circlesa support division of Community Action Services determined to win the war on poverty, one family at a time. Here is a brief overview of what Circles is, how it helps alleviate poverty and how you can get involved.

What is the Circles program?

Circles gives people the resources and community support they need to achieve financial independence. Currently they provide education course (approximately 12 weeks of evening classes), during which participants learn how to budget, create vision boards and develop SMART goals. Each circle, or cohort, is supported by a leader and allies. Members continue to meet weekly until they reach self-sufficiency. These courses can be individual or offered in groups. Child care, food support and other services are provided to members who attend. Although graduation is offered to those who complete the program, simply attending class has many benefits.

“I was matched with a Circle Leader for about three and a half years, watching her go through her struggles (domestic abuse, childcare, losing her job and her home),” says Helen Card, the current coordinator. “She continued to work through it all to provide for her children – such resilience and strength!” Helen has witnessed many successes from the program’s efforts.

What do Circles do to help reduce poverty in the community?

There are two program approaches. The first is to break the cycle and bring participants to safety/stability.

Take “Joan”, for example: a young graduate, divorced, with two young children. The goal of the program for Joan was to help her focus on a long-term career rather than a job. Although she received a lot of family support, she worked full time, went to school full time and tried to raise her children. Her job during school was in customer service; however, it couldn’t make ends meet for his family. With a change of major from early childhood education to business, she was able to change careers, receive two promotions and even get a raise. Through this change, she was able to become self-sufficient and eventually qualified to purchase a new home.

Success in this program looks different for different people. “Cody” came as a single father. He was a drug addict for 21 years. One day he woke up and decided to change his life and get custody of his children. Since graduating from the Circles program, he has been granted full custody of five of his children and is now married. He continues to participate in the Circles program, helping others achieve their goals.

The second approach of the circles is to help the participants’ children, teach them how to budget and give them life skills as soon as they are teenagers. To succeed in breaking the cycle of poverty, we must also help the second generation.

How can the community get involved in the circles?

Circles recently introduced a new program, “Fast Forward”, which is a shorter turnaround (twice a week for four weeks) for people experiencing poverty. This allows circles to reach more members of the community. Do you know anyone who could benefit from this program? Be sure to refer them to the organization’s website.

Circles also recently offered their first Spanish cohort as part of My Hometown, which included all typical classes, while also addressing cultural differences. Circles hopes to design more cohorts for other ethnic and cultural groups to ensure that all members of the community are served.

But the participation options don’t stop there: give a meal at one of the Circles events. Volunteer to become an ally, where intentional friendship helps lift others out of poverty. Offer donations. There are so many ways to help. You can make a difference.

“Relationships and community are what breaks down poverty,” says Helen. “If it’s a war on poverty, we help them win the battle; and they are ready to face the next battle. Community action circles and services are dedicated to winning the war on poverty by serving one family at a time. This is a program that we can all follow!


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