Happy 18 months!

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By: Liberty Ferda

A Q&A with Circles Coach and Open Hand Family Development Coordinator Tammy Thompson, on the recent Circles celebration. Circles  is a nationally known, proven, and innovative way of connecting people across socioeconomic lines in an effort to move people and families out of poverty.

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Why is 18 months in the program cause for celebration? When people sign up, we ask for an 18-month commitment. That’s a year and a half of showing up, working hard, participating. It sounds daunting at first, but nobody ever leaves after 18 months which is interesting. At the celebration we acknowledged that they met the commitment requirements. We recognize each cohort at this milestone. This celebration was for our second cohort, which included 6 leaders plus their allies.

What are some achievements you’ve witnessed from this group? All have increased savings— every one. All have reduced debt. All have identified specific self-sufficiency goals. Two people are close to becoming homeowners. One person is finishing a master’s program in journalism/communications at Point Park University this semester and is hoping to launch a broadcasting career. She’s amazing, very energetic, and I’m sure she would have done it without us but I’d like to think we helped as we walked alongside her.

What’s your favorite part of the Circles program? My favorite part about Circles is watching people grow. I love watching people realize that their current situation is not the end of the story. When they actually realize this depends on the person and circumstances. For folks continuously let down by life and people and society, it might take them longer to overcome some of the traumas of poverty. One of our families is experiencing situational poverty, not generational, so her thought process is very different; she’s already seen what getting to the other side looks like. For another person, it could be different. An important part of Circles is how we work directly with  people and with the understanding that everyone is in poverty for different reasons. We give them room and space to work as individuals, instead of lumping everyone into the same category and expecting them to grow. We know that not everybody is going to reach the finish line at the same time.

What’s next? We will meet to assess the goals of this cohort, adapt action plans if necessary, and continue to provide support. We look at whether their goals are achieved and whether goals need to change. Leaders who have met their goals can transition to becoming allies for others if they want.

We just started our fourth cohort and are currently going through the training process.

If you are interested in becoming involved in Circles, contact Jodi Salant for more information at Jodi.salant@eastliberty.org.

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