In October of 2016, the Delaware County based program Teamwork for Quality Living merged with the Second Harvest Food Bank. As Second Harvest’s mission to provide Help for Today and Hope for Tomorrow, it was a natural fit to join forces in assisting families by providing food resources but also by providing a resource for families to become self-sufficient. The main program focus of Teamwork has been the Circles program based in Muncie, which has been operating since 2005.
Circles is a nationwide campaign to end poverty, which believes that all individuals have the capacity to become independent, secure and financially stable provided they have access to the necessary resources, reasons, and relationships. The Delaware County Circles program is designed to engage local community members in efforts to increase the economic stability and vitality of struggling households. Each Circle is comprised of two to four volunteer community “Allies” and one family or person with a goal to leave poverty.
Allies are community volunteers living in middle income or wealth who want to be intentional friends and accountability partners to someone enrolled in the initiative. Allies work alongside participating family members to focus on reaching family-prioritized goals of:
- Increasing income,
- Acquiring needed education or training, and
- Enhancing personal social capital.
A successful Circle can help to generate creative solutions to family dilemmas not always addressed through social service programs.
Circles is a community engagement strategy designed to reduce and end poverty by building both individual and community assets. While traditional “safety net” social service programs are critical to help provide for families’ most basic needs, these programs usually do not engage the broader community in developing relationships with households who have a focused goal to get out of poverty.
A unique aspect of the local work is that two dynamic actions occur simultaneously:
- Low-income people receive personalized support from community volunteers, increase their ability to access community resources and opportunities, and develop hope for their futures; while
- Community volunteers (Allies) learn what it takes for people to leave poverty permanently.
Volunteer Allies are trained and learn to identify and address the policies and systems that need to change in order to make “leaving poverty” possible. This successful model provides a framework for a local community to build relationships across class and race lines and enables neighbors to work together to advocate for positive change in their communities.
The guiding principles of the program are:
We are committed to and understand that building relationships will serve as a driving force for our efforts, shaping our goals, and methods of alleviating poverty.
We are committed to educating ourselves and others on the various facets of poverty beyond material deprivation, in order to create lasting collective mindset change.
We believe building intentional and authentic relationships across economic communities has the potential to inspire and unleash gifts and human assets that can transform neighborhoods and communities.
We are committed to engaging families in poverty as persons with unique gifts, leadership qualities, and perspectives that can greatly contribute to communities as they drive for solutions to alleviating poverty.
We are committed to the process of inspiring, inviting, and re-engaging middle/upper-income individuals to help solve the toughest issues facing poverty in America.
We value the leadership of low-income individuals are committed to providing a forum for them to offer lasting solutions to alleviating poverty.
We are committed to the long haul in order to realize lasting transformation.
The Circles Program helps to support and build relationships with people who want to be financially independent. Our team journeys with them to the finish line, helping them build resources and give back to our organizational community and the community at large.
More than 24,280 people in Delaware County live at or below the federal definition of poverty. Twice that number struggle to make ends meet. The numbers are dismal:
- To afford a two-bedroom apartment, a worker needs to earn at least $12.00 an hour working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. At minimum wage, this equates to nearly 2.5 full-time wage earners, or one full-time earner working more than 90 hours per week.
- More than 30% of single-headed female households in the country are living in poverty.
- In Muncie Community Schools, over 74% of all children qualify for free and reduced lunch.
- Muncie has the highest poverty rate of all cities in Indiana (32.2%) only behind Gary (37.1%) and East Chicago (35.5%)
- Delaware County has 31.2% of children (under 18) living in poverty, the highest rate in Indiana.
- 15,937 Delaware County residents receive food stamps every month.
- Nearly 35% of older adults in Delaware County live in homes in needs of repair.
- Approximately 600 homeless people live in Delaware County each year.
With loss of the manufacturing base and cutbacks in services to the poor, the growing group of those living in poverty is expanding quickly. Many outstanding current services and models help people manage their poverty, but few do anything to help them get out of poverty.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Download these pdfs to learn more about the Circles program and how to understand poverty.