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Ashland, VA Residents Step Up to Co-create Poverty-reduction Circles
Circles offer a relationship-based, community-driven response to poverty

David Cooper is feeling renewed hope after seeing his fellow residents of Ashland, Virginia step up to support a unique poverty-reduction effort.

Circles Ashland is a relationship-based, community-driven response to poverty.

Following a model now present in more than 80 communities in the U.S., Circles Ashland is centred on the idea that the person or family in poverty should be the leader of any effort to lift them out of their current circumstances.

Circle allies are two or more people from the community who are not living in poverty, and who commit to providing volunteer coaching, connections and encouragement to the leaders.

A resource team surrounds the leaders and their allies. Their supports range from providing childcare and meals for the weekly gatherings of the leaders and allies, to offering insight on the “big view” — the systems in place that are both barriers to getting out of poverty and those that can be openings to moving forward.

Leaders commit to participating in a circle for 18 months. They agree to meet with their allies once a week and also create their own plan for moving forward.

One indicator of success is that families reach 200 per cent or more of the federal poverty level (most circle leaders typically start below 150 per cent of the federal poverty level).

“Another really important goal is that the circle leaders feel that they have accomplished their plan for their lives,” says David, who brings valuable skillsets and connections in community and organization development as well as a deep passion to leave his community in a better place than it is currently.

An ordinance passed last November limiting hotel and motel stays in Ashland made poverty real and visible in a new way in the community. It also led to a demonstration of just how much residents care and want to join in creating effective responses to the issue of poverty.

“The townspeople are really motivated, really interested. We’ve had a huge number of people sign on to participate as volunteers in Circles Ashland,” David says.

Ashland is a community with a lot of deep woundedness, he also notes, “and there is also a lot of opportunity to rise up out of that woundedness.”

“One thing I’d really like to see is people be engaged in ways that they have not been engaged before, to embrace one another as a whole community, rather than creating ordinances and regulations and theologies and ideologies that exclude,” David says.

Circles Ashland will be launching in early spring.

To learn more, click here.

To learn more about the Circles approach, click here.

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