Written by: Shane Clarke

It’s tough to define exactly what Circles is. To some, Circles is an employment program. To others, it’s a support network. To others still, Circles is a family.

On a typical evening at Circles, you’ll see kids running around and laughing. You’ll see people cooking and you’ll smell amazing, home-cooked food. You’ll see some people working on their homework. You’ll hear others unloading the stresses of a tough week on sympathetic, non-judgmental ears. You’ll see people laughing and sometimes you’ll see people crying; when this happens, you’ll see people coming together to support each other. It feels like home.

You’ll see Leaders: program participants who are trying to take steps forward to improve their lives and the lives of their children. You’ll see Allies: community volunteers who are willing to lend their time, energy, knowledge, and support to help our Leaders to move forward and change their lives.

We always start with dinner. Dinner is where the magic happens. Teams of amazing volunteers from the community come in and cook us dinner. Staff teams, faith groups, service clubs, and others have stepped up to support Circles and prepare us some delicious and nutritious meals. The food tastes great and is greatly appreciated. The meal is where the relationship building happens. As we eat, we get to know each other. We break the ice by breaking bread.

After dinner we send the kids off with our volunteer child minders for some fun while the grown-ups meet. The kids play boards games, do crafts, play sports, and make friends. Often, the kids are just as excited to come to Circles as their parents are.
With the kids in good hands, the grown-ups start the “New and Good’s”. We start each meeting this way. Each member of the group takes a turn saying one thing that is both new and good in their life. This gets our meeting off on the right foot. We celebrate each other’s successes and start each meeting from a place of positivity. We try to make viewing the positive a habit.

Next it is time for some discussion. We bring in presenters from the community to lead discussions on a variety of topics, most of which are requested by Circles Leaders. We talk about important topics like financial literacy, voting, mental health, and relevant legislation that effects the lives of our Leaders. We talk about how to advocate for systemic and structural change to remove the barriers beyond an individual’s control that keep people stuck. We talk about how to fight poverty. We talk about how to support each other. We talk about how to be our best selves. We talk about how to build a better, more inclusive community where everyone has the resources to not just survive, but thrive.

We are changing lives. We are changing our community. We are Circles.