Circles Opelika Offers Poverty Prevention Program

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BY MAGGIE CARAWAY

FOR THE OPELIKA OBSERVER

Circles Opelika is currently accepting applications for the July Cohort for Circle Leader Training.

Circles is a program created with the intent to reduce poverty. Their website states, “Circles is a national relationship-based movement to help communities become educated about the causes of poverty and the barriers that keep people in poverty and directly helps individuals and families living in poverty to achieve self-sufficiency. Circles is in more than 70 communities throughout the U.S. and Canada.” Additionally, Circles Opelika’s goal is to “employ long-term solutions versus short-term fixes to lead to economic stability and sustainability for families in Opelika.”

Program director, Regina Meadows, says there are two parts to this goal. First, “Get our families that participate in this program to at least 200% of the federal poverty guideline,” she said. “And the other is to increase their social capital. And I like to refer to social capital as their ‘people power’, making sure that they understand what resources are available here in the community, how to access those resources and just how to make sure that they can reach self-sufficiency.”

The Circles program begins with a 12-week training session. “In those twelve weeks we talk a lot about behaviors and mindsets and perceptions and planning,” Meadows said. Families are paired with an ally that helps them stay accountable. The Circles leaders are encouraged to attend weekly group meetings and set three goals during the first 12 weeks. These goals include a financial goal, a career goal and an educational goal. The goals are the basis of the relationship between the leader and the ally. The leader and the ally will then work together to accomplish those goals over the course of the next 18 months.

Circles leaders need to be at least 21 years old and able to make decisions for themselves. As well as “having a willingness to do what it takes to get the program completed, and that’s being committed to the process and committed to the time frame that we’re asking you to,” said Meadows. She also states that leaders will need to make sure their basic needs are met (food, clothing and shelter) prior to entering the Circles program.

Circles is a family-oriented program and children are encouraged to be involved. There is a component of the program that allows children to be working while the parents work.

Circles has many partnerships that aid the process of reducing poverty. One, for example, is with PRF Institute. They created a step-by-step process called poverty reduction and it is offered to families in the Circles program. It paints a clear image of what they need to do individually by reviewing their credit report. Circles also offers a “helping hands loan program” which produces emergency loans to families in need.

photos contributed to the opelika observer

The Circles network believes that the Cliff Effect is the biggest barrier when getting out of poverty. Meadows explains, “The Cliff Effect is something that so many of our families experience. As soon as you start to gain more income, your income increases then you lose federal subsidies …  If you get a $200 raise, you may still lose $600 in federal subsidies, so there’s a $400 deficit in your household. That is difficult and extremely challenging to plan for so it’s really a deterrent,” she said. “There have been some situations where people have had to turn down raises because they could not afford to live without. That’s a real challenge.”

Circles has many partnerships that aid the process of reducing poverty. One, for example, is with PRF Institute. They created a step-by-step process called poverty reduction and it is offered to families in the Circles program. It paints a clear image of what they need to do individually by reviewing their credit report. Circles also offers a “helping hands loan program” which produces emergency loans to families in need.

If you are ready for a life-changing experience and are interested in becoming a Circles Leader call 334-203-1860 or email rmeadows@myops.net. For more information about Circles Opelika visit circlesopelika.org. 

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