Tim Mescon: 'Circling' to fight poverty

October 15, 2013 

Just about one year ago, I wrote about the launch of the Circles in Columbus program, part of a national attack on elevating neighbors out of poverty that has been so wonderfully led and managed by Kim Jenkins and her team at Open Door Community House. This grand initiative to help empower 10 percent of the greater Columbus community and help them to help themselves out of poverty, is seen as a tipping point to frontally attack core challenges leading to poverty and help our region reach a tipping point in addressing these challenges.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Circles in Columbus program, this United Way-supported agency is hosting Poverty Awareness Week, Oct. 17-24, 2013. The week brings awareness to issues related to low-income families in our community. Throughout the week, community members will have an opportunity to participate in a variety of activities that bring them face to face with the barriers so many impoverished people in Columbus experience on a daily basis. The week will highlight the work Circles in Columbus is doing to end poverty and build community in our city.

The concept of Circles is quite simple. Circle Leaders commit to work with Allies, community supporters and advocates, and commit to the heavy lifting to bring them permanently out of poverty. At this point in the process, there are currently 16 Circle Leaders, 43 active Allies and 12 regular volunteers involved in this program. Every Thursday night, religiously, the group meets at Open Door on Second Avenue, has a quick dinner, childcare commences and the work begins. The output of the work over the past 12 months is inspiring.

The data reported from Circles Columbus, directed by Meg Olive and a truly passionate group of professionals, presents some powerful metrics about the power of this program.

The Circle Leaders (participants) who have been involved in Circles in Columbus for 12 months have seen:

• a 26% increase in their income

• a 22% decrease in public assistance/benefits

The second round of Circle Leaders (participants) who have been involved in Circles in Columbus for only 6 months have seen:

• an 85% increase in income

• a 27% decrease in personal debt

All participants report a significant increase in the number of positive relationships they have leading to an increase in social capital. And the circle continues. Because the next group of Circle Leaders, committing to boosting themselves out of poverty, to living the "American Dream" is soon finishing the "Getting Ahead" class that prepares them for entry into this program.

On Thursday, to wrap up the week, Circles in Columbus will celebrate its one-year anniversary and hear a report of Poverty Awareness activities and experiences. The event will be at the Elizabeth Bradley Turner Building at Columbus State University from 6-8 p.m.

Timothy Mescon, president of Columbus State University; www.columbusstate.edu.

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