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CASFB: Reducing poverty: Understanding the bigger picture and success initiatives

By Helen Card - Special to the Daily Herald | Mar 18, 2023


Escaping poverty is a success that is often hard-won but achievable with the right group of supporters. Just five months after joining Circles Utah Valley, Hazel (name changed for privacy) received her high school diploma. This achievement did not come easily — it required a journey of 10 years of hard work, dedication and challenges, including overcoming drug addiction and single parenthood. 

In January of 2020, Hazel’s husband, who had been her greatest support in her recovery, passed away. Not only did she lose the love of her life, but she was suddenly faced with taking care of her young children and paying the house bills, all while trying to complete her studies. Despite these challenges, Hazel recognized she could set an example for her children by finishing high school. 

Faced with nearly insurmountable odds, Hazel turned to the Provo Circles initiative to develop a support system that would guide her in building the skills she needed to help lift herself out of poverty. “Circles has been so supportive and willing to listen and understand,” said Hazel. With the support of her Circles Leader and Allies, she not only received her high school diploma but has also gone on to complete a CNA certification and enroll at UVU to become a nurse. 

In order to reduce poverty, individuals facing food and housing insecurity need a support system that understands their unique challenges, a way to create lasting and sustainable changes and a community that understands the issue and wants to get involved.

Build a support system: Circles initiative

CirclesUSA has helped and supported people like Hazel since 1998, spanning 80 locations found in the US and 19 locations in Canada. The initiative was created to reduce poverty through a support system of middle- to high-income volunteers who support families in poverty. Supporting and teaching through example, Leaders who have obtained jobs, applied for housing and managed household finances assist participants in gaining similar skills that will help them achieve long-term financial stability.

CASFB of Provo built its Circles program to specifically assist those in our local community with a focus on creating groups that help lift each other out of poverty with new-found skills and support.

Spark sustainable personal change

In the Circles Initiative, participants are empowered to use their life experiences to help create change. By sharing their stories about low-income housing, the Child Tax Credit, local zoning laws, domestic violence and financial challenges, they begin to form a circle of peers that listen, suggest solutions and give continuous support as they look for resources. 

The Circles initiative is not just about teaching skills but rather aims to create connections, support individual growth and build relationships. Graduates of the Circles initiative often return as Mentors, called Allies, in the program to help others facing similar circumstances. 

The cycle of poverty can be broken when one individual sparks change in their own life and then in others’. The key to the Circles’ program success is its sustainable and scalable growth for its participants.

Dive deep to understand poverty

Utah County — with all its beautiful resources and incredible people — is not without its challenges. With 9% of the population in the county living below the poverty level, nearly one in every ten people is facing the insecurity of not knowing where their next meal will come from. Poverty in our community may look different than you might imagine. It may be a young married couple, a single parent, a senior member of the population or a homeless individual. It affects all races and genders and can be caused by a decrease in earnings, an increase in need or a change in the household. As many as one in every seven children will be born into poverty each year. 

Poverty can sometimes be difficult to recognize. Some signs can include a lower income, lack of education or schooling, inability to take advantage of medical care, hunger and homelessness. But other signs can be difficult to spot on the surface. Because poverty is sometimes very personal and kept private, it can be challenging to help support someone in need. CASFB offers “Bridges Out of Poverty” classes for community members to help them better understand when, how and where to get involved.

Get involved

Now that you understand what poverty looks like and how real change can be sparked with the right support group, it’s time to get involved! Ending poverty cannot be done alone. It takes systemic change from the community. Here are five ways you can help support people within the local Circles initiative as they work to change their lives: 

  1. Attend a Free “Bridges Out of Poverty” Class.
  2. Become an Ally and build intentional friendships with participants.
  3. Volunteer to assist with childcare, provide a meal or help set up or take down for weekly events. To learn more about volunteering, contact Shannon at sthackeray@communityactionuc.org.
  4. Donate gas cards to help with attendee travel costs.
  5. Share this initiative with friends, family, coworkers and the clubs and organizations with which you work.

To become a part of the initiative, contact Helen at helenc@communityactionuc.org to get involved on an individual or community level. 

Through the help of the Circles initiative, Hazel’s life was forever changed. There are many additional success stories like these from those who join this program. There are also countless people who volunteer and work with these individuals to help them better their experience. With a firm understanding of the bigger picture and an initiative that drives sustainable success, we can truly make a difference in our community!

Helen Card is the Coordinator of the Provo Circles initiative in coordination with Community Action Services and Food Bank.


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