Our Work with Circles -- It All Started with Radishes and Chilies

May 2, 2013
by Sandy Duckert, Albuquerque RESULTS Volunteer

What do farmer’s markets, dog parks and concert lines have in common? They are all great places to make connections for RESULTS. One of our Albuquerque members, Roxanne Allen, found herself at the farmers’ market talking with Dee Ivy over radishes and chilies some time back. Dee is a volunteer with Circles New Mexico. Their meeting led to a later conversation between Roxanne and Scott Miller, CEO of Circles USA (Move the Mountain). As a result we have a growing collaboration between RESULTS Albuquerque and Circles New Mexico which aspires to become a budding relationship nationwide. Circles has programs in 21 states and 73 communities at this time.

According to their website, CirclesUSA.org, Circles® is an action plan that brings together the best efforts and resources of individuals, organizations, communities, and government in a program proven to raise people out of poverty. They believe that responsibility for both poverty and prosperity rests not only in the hands of individuals, but also with societies, institutions, and communities. Circles engages entire communities in owning the solution to poverty in the following ways:

  • Mobilizing volunteers, community leaders and organizations
  • Developing leadership
  • Increasing the capacity of existing social/community services
  • Addressing systems barriers faced by families trying to move out of poverty

Each Circles group consists of 25 low-income families (Circle Leaders) who enroll in Circles Leadership Training Class to build financial, emotional, and social resources, as well as an Economic Stability Plan that sets goals unique to their own needs and dreams. These families, called Circle Leaders, are paired with trained middle to high-income community volunteers, called Allies, who support their efforts to achieve economic stability. Each week, Circles groups meet to discuss strategies for attaining economic independence and to provide peer support. Monthly Big View meetings feature community discussions around systemic barriers to prosperity and strategies to remove them.

After Roxanne and Scott’s conversation, I was able to become involved with Circles NM. My first contact with them began just as our mayor was proposing cuts to the workforce housing budget. At one of the Big View meetings we spent some time using the EPIC laser talk format to train Circle Leaders and Allies to speak at city committee and city council meetings. Circles members followed through at city meetings and some Circles folks also had one-on-one contacts with council members. As a result, about three quarters of a million dollars was reinstated to the budget for workforce housing projects.

Since then we have been working on ways of involving more RESULTS strategies in Circles Big View activities. RESULTS U.S. Poverty Campaigns Director Meredith Dodson and Scott Miller have met here in Albuquerque to discuss possibilities for the future. RESULTS members here continue to meet with Circles Leaders and Allies. I am volunteering with their Operations Team to assist with educational activities. Our next Big View meeting will address specific state and national legislation involving the “cliff effect.” The “cliff effect” describes what happens when government or local funding is reduced or removed because a family in poverty makes progress toward improving their situation. For example, Jane gets a raise from $10 to $12 an hour. It sounds like she should be in better shape, doesn’t it? She is in worse shape because the raise makes her ineligible for child care support. (I prefer to call this “cliff effect” the “scam effect” [systemic components affecting movement] or the “slum effect” [systematic limitations undercutting movement], but no one else is on board with me yet.)

At this next meeting we hope to stimulate interest in letter writing to legislators and media regarding the cliff effect. Ongoing advocacy for and from our local families in need is a core feature of the Circles’ approach so the tools and trainings of RESULTS are a good match. We have also been able to collaborate in meeting with our local PBS TV station and share in a meeting with Senator Martin Heinrich. As a part of the Big View and other meetings, local high school students who volunteer to cook and clean up after the meal and babysit for the Leaders’ children have been involved in discussions about advocacy and letter writing. In addition, Circles NM is looking into starting their own RESULTS U.S. poverty chapter here in Albuquerque. Meanwhile, Circles Leader(s) will be a part of the RESULTS International Conference. That’s a lot in a few months. I wonder if Roxanne, Dee and Scott knew that local chilies and radishes could be so powerful? At least they found some food for thought.

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