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December 29, 2014 - Kim Moore [see other posts]

Circles of Hope

Hope Grows in Circles

For almost four years, I have been part of a local project called Circles of Hope. It is a fairly complicated structure to explain, and the terminology is prone to misunderstanding, but the impact is clear and immense. The start of a new year with all its possibilities and resolutions to make seems like a good time to talk about transformation -- and that is what Circles of Hope is all about.

In Circles of Hope, two groups separated by class (middle income and persons of limited resources) start learning separately about the issues of poverty and class division. Those with limited resources have highly structured sessions on budgeting, class differences, community resources, self-awareness, planning, and more. After the series of lessons, those with limited resources decide if they want to continue as leaders of Circles; if they do, the select prepared persons of middle income as allies to join their individual circle (one leader or co-leaders, if spouses). Meeting at least once a month, and often more frequently, the Circle members all set goals to work on -- with accountability to the group and access to the group's ideas.

We all know that change is hard; deciding to change from living with very limited resources is a huge undertaking. Many hidden class barriers will need to be crossed. Limitations of resources beyond financial (family systems, expectations of friends, limited education, undependable transportation, etc.) compound the task and those are what the Circle works on -- one goal at a time. Each session opens with the New and Good reports, and, surprisingly, we all generally have more than one to share. The session may focus on budgeting or losing weight or managing health concerns. Plans for transportation to community college may be developed. Parenting issues may be explored. Within a few months, the Circle is less a mentoring group and more a group of friends sharing in one another's lives.

In our own little Hutchinson brand of Circles, we have celebrated a marriage or two. We have gushed with enthusiasm as one of our Circle leaders became Chair of the local United Way campaign. We have witnessed a leader move up to assistant manager at a local restaurant. We have heard testimonies of how finances are in order for the first time in many years. Access to health care has been re-acquired for some. Most importantly, we have become acquainted. Almost every Thursday night there is an opportunity to have dinner together with the larger group and learn about community resources, play family games together, attend additional classes or hold your own Circle meeting.

Transformation is not a straight line or always a quick one. My own goals have lagged way too much, but being together with new friends does matter for all involved. We are social creatures and Circles capitalizes on our innate desire to enjoy others to create new human capital.

You can learn more about Circles of Hope at circlesusa.org. There are several Kansas programs and many in other states. 2015 would be a great year to join this intimate and compelling program to reduce poverty and reunite America across class divisions. Think about it.

p.s. Conservatives, liberals, and moderates all seem to find Circles their kind of program.